Janet Lee (Emdeber 1974–76)
Hurricane Katrina, ten years later
It is hard to believe that this much time has elapsed. Ten years ago, my son was conducting field work for his dissertation topic on Katrina. As a very recent graduate of Loyola New Orleans, he knew the city inside and out, biking from one ward to another. I had many opportunities to visit and volunteer in the aftermath and my own personal guide to show me sites seen by few others. I am pleased to say that the American Library Association was the first major convention to return to the Big Easy, bringing much needed revenue to a city highly dependent on convention and tourist trade. Anderson Cooper was one of the featured keynote presenters.
Naturally, my son and I both felt a need to return to the Crescent City to attend the many commemorative events on this 10th anniversary. We were in good company: Obama, Bush, Clinton and, of course, Anderson Cooper. However, who would think that a trip to New Orleans would have so many Ethiopian connections:
As I disembarked the shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal at DIA in Denver, I thanked the Ethiopian driver. Shimelis’ eyes lit up to hear Amharic spoken.
I walked through the busy concourse and stopped and greeted the young woman behind the counter in Amharic as I ordered a pastry. Rahel and I joked back and forth. “Do you get to speak Amharic often?” she asked. “Every time I am at the airport,” I replied.
We arrived at New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport and hailed a cab. “Teshome, in det neh?” I asked. He looked at me in the mirror and grinned. “You know Amharic!”
Air Force One was parked on the tarmac, President Obama having arrived just a few hours earlier. We talked about Obama’s recent trip to Ethiopia, the first sitting U.S. President to do so. Yes, it was exciting, but many Ethiopians were upset about his “democratically elected” remark.
“Never in my six years in New Orleans have I met someone who has been to Ethiopia.” He was from Nazret (now known as Adama). He leapt from the cab when we arrived at the hotel and shook my hand, still grinning ear to ear. I am sure he was still grinning when he arrived at the cab stand later that afternoon.
Somehow I happened upon one of the two Ethiopian restaurants in New Orleans, and I saw an aged Ethiopian flag raised high in the Second Line by a Rasta near the Arena, Bill Clinton speaking inside.
But back to the task at hand.
It was with great disappointment, but not a surprise really, when the Board of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Returned Peace Corps Volunteers received the resignation of Marian Haley Beil (Debre Berhan 1962–64) as President after oh so many years. I am at a total loss for words. Fortunately, former editor Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 1963-65) is not, and he has written both a tribute to Marian and a challenge to the membership to step up and not let this grand organization falter.
On a much happier note, Berhane Daba, president and founder of Ethiopian Women with Disabilities Association received the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award during the National Peace Corps Association conference in Berkeley, CA. Mary Bruckenstein (Addis Ababa 1968–70) was at her side when she was a very young girl and was at her side as she received this very prestigious award. Mary recounts the exciting event and the days leading up to it. Congratulations to both Mary and Berhane. You make us very proud.
Earlier in this introduction, I mentioned seeing Air Force one at a distance. Forrest Copeland, the Peace Corps/Ethiopia Volunteer Leader for Communications and Outreach, has written a blog about his and other Volunteer’s experiences surrounding the visit of President Obama to Ethiopia, and how he ALMOST met Obama. Forrest is a third-year Volunteer assigned to the Peace Corps office in Addis Ababa, with a previous stint in Abi Adi, Tigray from 2012 to 2014.
We know that our experiences in the Peace Corps were profound. These experiences influenced our job choices, whom we hired, and perhaps even whom we married. But how many of us think about how much they affected our children? Christopher Tombari, an RPCV from Mongolia, had an opportunity with Aurora (CO) Sister Cities to journey to Ethiopia where his parents, Carol Sue Tarbox Tombari (Dessie 1967–68) and Marty Tombari (Gidole 1966–68), were Peace Corps Volunteers. As he likes to say, “I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for Ethiopia.” What an adventure to go back in time and see where your parents met!
Our newest board member, Karen Preskey Glover (Agaro 2007–09), regales us with her experiences of finding Ethiopian food in Fargo, ND, but more importantly writes of her work in Agaro creating a Mothers’ Support Group for Women with HIV/AIDS. Be sure to check out her video demonstrating a traditional coffee ceremony.
I unexpectedly was copied into an email from Dwight Sullivan (Yergalem, Dodola 70-72) about a library that he was helping to construct in Axum, Ethiopia. Little did he know that I have been supporting this library for a couple of years, but in much different fashion, I as a librarian and he as an engineer. He is not all bricks and mortar, but is interested in showcasing local artists in the great reading room. Interested in joining him? I know I am.
Finally, my favorite, book reviews. When I first discovered that James McCann’s (Burie 1973–75) latest book, The Historical Ecology of Malaria in Ethiopia was published, I picked it up with a bit of trepidation. No book with ‘historical”, “ecology”, and “malaria” in the title would be typical bedside reading. I am so pleased I made the effort. I found it to be quite enjoyable and informative and plan to read his other books. Check out the review for the names of those titles.
To echo Barry’s initial plea, please consider joining the Board of the E&E RPCVs. We really aren’t as cantankerous as Barry makes out.
And don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/eerpcv/