My Life Since Asmara, Eritrea
Leo Cecchini (Ethiopia 1962-64)
I was born and raised in Washington DC so was always surrounded by people from other lands. There are literally hundreds of embassies, consulates, cultural centers, international organizations, and foreign communities in DC from which one gathers an idea of the world. I recognized that man’s knowledge of the universe is rather limited but I could at least learn about our planet, its lands, and its people. I set out to learn as much as possible about our world. By age ten I could not only name every state and its capital, but also every country in Europe and its capital. I wanted to see it all.
My college work was heavy on geography with generous doses of world affairs and economics. I took the first opportunity out of college to learn about the world. The Peace Corps took me from DC to Ethiopia where I taught geography at the top high school in Asmara, then a regional capital, now the capital of an independent Eritrea.
My father gave me some advice for my journey. He said sport was the most universal enterprise and was a great way to meet and get to know others. I followed his advice and took on the job of coaching my school’s football (soccer) team. Imagine the consternation I caused, here was an American teaching Ethiopians their sport. However, I won over my hosts by leading the team to two consecutive league championships. In the process, I earned the name “Coach” by which I am still known in Asmara. Through this I became a close friend of dozens of young Eritreans and since high school soccer was the top sport in Asmara, I became known by all of its 200,000 residents. Thirty years after leaving Ethiopia I met the Eritrean Ambassador to the UN who told me that his dream and that of all his schoolmates at the junior high school next to my high school was to play under my tutelage.
From the Peace Corps I entered the Foreign Service at the Department of State. I served in several lands in the process of learning five foreign languages. I followed my diplomatic career by retiring to head a new joint venture between a Turkish and American firm in Ankara, Turkey. To the pleasant surprise of all, with yours truly being the most surprised, I made it a success. From that initial entree into business, I worked in several businesses in several lands including the USA. My latest work was on the 2020 Census and the 2020 Election. I also from time to time provide consulting services to winemakers in Spain since I did have a wine import business.
My diplomatic and business pursuits took me to live and work in 18 countries and see most of the rest. In the process, I have learned about the customs, values, aspirations, desires, hopes, abilities, habits, and more of many different peoples. In doing so I have had to adapt to many different cultures. I recall a business lunch when I was the commercial attaché at our embassy in Ankara, Turkey with a Turkish friend and his American associate both of whom were enormously successful men. At one point the American praised my knowledge of Turkey and its people and asked me, “How long have you been here?” My reply stunned him, I said, “Three months.”
And that was my formula. We were sent to foreign posts for tours of two to four years. We learned the language before going to post but had to adapt to our new post rapidly. I did this in about three months. Of course, the longer one was in a post the more one learned about the people. However, one had to be ready almost immediately to work in that environment. I credit my Peace Corps experience with preparing me to do this.
I have come to learn about a host of different people in many lands. In doing so I have always been recognized as being an American. And I have had the pleasure of describing these many lands and peoples to my fellow Americans. In sum, I have never stopped being a Peace Corpsman in that the three goals of the Corps are to show other peoples what an American is, learn about those other peoples, and bring your learning back home to your countrymen.
Leo served as an American diplomat for 25 years and has been in private business around the world for 30 years. His wife Sandra is also a retired American diplomat. They have two daughters. Leo is on the board of DACOR in Washington DC an Association of Foreign Affairs Professionals and the Treasurer of Southwest Florida MENSA. He has been Vice President of Ethiopia and Eritrea RPCVs since its founding in 1991. He also served on the board of the National Peace Corps Association. Leo spends his winters in Ft Myers Florida and his summers at his home on the island of Mallorca, Spain.