The Cold Hand of History, Part 5

The Volunteers arrived in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa,” Gary May continues, “on September 7. (They had finished Training on August 20, 1962, when 278 were inducted into the Peace Corps. Training had started with 340 eight weeks earlier. While some had left Training on their own, most others were De-Selected in the final days.)

As the PCVs arrived in Addis they were greeted by a gathering of American USAID and Embassy types. They disembarked, carrying musical instruments, cameras, and piles of luggage, and the sun appeared-“most unusual in this period of heavy Ethiopian rain,” one official remarked, as May quotes a cable from Addis to the Secretary of State, “conspired to make their arrival a festive occasion.”

The volunteer passed quickly through customs. May quotes from John Coyne’s Ethiopia novel A Cool Breeze For Evening on how the new PCVS spoke to every

Waiting for Arrival of Ethiopia 1

Waiting for Arrival of Ethiopia 1

Ethiopian that moved. “We were all trying our Amharic. We wanted to prove immediately that we weren’t ‘Ugly Americans…’ A few Volunteers approached one Ethiopian, shook his hand and said, “Babor Tabyaw?” The Ethiopian pointed out the location of the railroad station and went on his way. The Volunteers then climbed on buses for their ride to the University College, where they would live during a two-week orientation period.”

Thirty-four percent of the group was assigned to Addis and Asmara, where the majority of the students were located; the rest were in twenty-eight towns throughout the Empire. At the time Wofford estimated that the Peace Corps’ presence permitted the enrollment of approximately five thousand new students.

(When Ethiopia II arrived there were 442 PCV teachers in-country, increasing the country’s secondary school capacity by 80% to 25,000 students. In 1964, the Ministry of Education requested 600 additional Volunteer teachers.)

The highlight of their stay in Addis Ababa came on September 20 when the Volunteers were invited to Jubilee Palace for a reception with His Imperial Majesty. Wofford had instructed them to follow royal protocol, May details this: when approaching the Emperor they should dip their heads and bow low with both handed extended.  “When Francis Fisher shook his hand, Selassie looked into her eyes and said in French, “I am glad you are going to be in my country.” Fran, who was fluent in French, replied in Amharic that she was very happy to be there. Selassie smiled and said, “Your verb tenses need some work.” Fran later wrote her parents that the criticism had not bothered her: “I’d never been corrected by an Emperor before.”

Paul Tsongas Greeting HIM with two hands

Paul Tsongas Greeting HIM with two hands

The Emperor then addressed the group, welcoming them. Wofford spoke for the Volunteers, saying among things, “These men and women before you, ranging in age from 19 to 66, come from 47 American states; they are graduates from over 200 colleges and universities. …..I present to Your Majesty these Volunteers who constitute the large singe contingent yet to go to any nation. Ethiopia Lezelalem Timur [Long Live Ethiopia]!”

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