Fiftieth Anniversary

More progress on planning for Peace Corps 50th Anniversary

Here are some more details on the Washington Celebrations

By Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63–65)

Washington, September 2011: here we come

THE PLANNING FOR THE SEPTEMBER 23–25, 2011 Peace Corps 50th Anniversary party in Washington has been, well, a bit fragmented. Should this be a surprise? No. After all, in Peace Corps, nothing comes easily. Smooth is not in the vocabulary, not even in this no-drama presidency. You may have noticed that it is really hard to tell what is going on.  If you tap into the Peace Corps website looking for information about the 50th, you’ll find a lot of enthusiasm for the historic event, but not much detail about what — if anything — Peace Corps is planning for that celebratory weekend.  Much the same is true of the newly revised website of National Peace Corps Association which sports a rough calendar of events and a message board, both of which are helpful. Local groups and country-of-service groups are posting some of their activities on the site. But many of the events listed will take place outside of the September 2011 window in Washington. And many are not sponsored by NPCA or Peace Corps.  So it is not surprising that I keep getting emails from E&E RPCV friends asking: what’s happening? Fear not. Don’t cancel your plane reservations — in fact, get ready to make them if you haven’t. E&E RPCVs president Marian Beil (Debre Berhan 62–64) has been working to make sure that there will be plenty of activities for our RPCVs on the calendar in September. Gigi Ott Wietecha (Makele, Dessie 63–65)  and Judy and Dane Smith (Asmara 63–65) have been schlepping around Washington in search of the perfect headquarters hotel and for a venue for a grand injera and wat banquet. The anniversary celebrations for E&E RPCVs are firming up nicely.


The Marriott Crystal City: great rooms, fabulous bar, indoor pool, great transport

For starters, we have locked in a wonderful hotel as the headquarters for E&E RPCVs.  We’ve blocked off rooms at the Crystal City Marriott at National Airport in Virginia, a extremely nice hotel one Metro stop from Reagan National airport and just a three Metro stops from the National Mall and four from the Smithsonians. This is a great location. Okay, it is not quite as good as being in a downtown D.C. hotel, but the Crystal City Marriott is offering us a rate for truly fine rooms that can’t be matched in the District — which is known for the high hotel rates it squeezes out of visitors. We have 100 rooms set aside for Friday and Saturday night at $109 a night. We have also reserved a meeting room and a hospitality suite where we can gather casually, both at very good rates .

Yes, of course, we tested the doro wat and kitfo at the Harar Messob. Terrific.

The hotel is walking distance to scores of shops and restaurants, including — get this! — Harar Messob, a good Ethiopian restaurant with a charming owner from Harar who is eager to greet old PCVs. The Metro entrance for trains to the District and all points in the Washington area is right downstairs in the hotel. The hotel has an indoor pool perfect for group parties.


Here’s the schedule as we see it firming up:

Friday, September 23, 2011 Evening: An injeria and wat dinner at the

Ethiopian Embassy

Ethiopian Embassy for E&E RPCVs.  Dane and Judy Smith have started working on the arrangements for this.

Saturday, September 24, 2011 Morning: a general meeting of all E&E RPCVs at the Crystal City Marriott for a country update, memorials, and get together. We are wide open to suggestions of possible speakers or activities for this event. Send your suggestions to Shlomo Bachrach — —who is handling the country update part of the program or Leo Cecchini — — who is doing so for the group update portion. Afternoon: Time for individual training groups to meet. Start contacting training-group friends now and begin to plan your own mini reunion. If you would like a copy of the contact information E&E RPCVs has for members of your group, email Marian Beil at Evening: NPCA is planning what they are calling a “gala” which probably means a pricey banquet with heavy duty speakers at a central D.C. hotel.  Some people may prefer to organize less expensive outings.

Sunday, September 25

John Kennedy's grave

Morning: the Washington D.C. RPCV group is planning the traditional visit to JFK’s grave at Arlington Cemetery, a march across the Potomac with country of service flags, and a rally at the Arlington Cemetery ampitheatre or on the Mall – or both.


Not much, as it turns out.   At a meeting of NPCA group leaders this summer, a Peace Corps official said that “If you folks throw parties [for the 50th anniversary] we will be attend. But we aren’t going to be sponsoring big blow outs.”  The problem, she explained, is that Peace Corps can not afford, financially or politically, to spend money on big parties, gala events or even large scale conferences such as the one it helped sponsor a few years ago in Chicago. Recently Peace Corps successfully lobbied Congress for more funds for expanding programs, and it is not about to bring down the wrath of a congressional hearing by spending that hard won cash on celebrations, even one as worthy as the 50th anniversary. Peace Corps is not ignoring the 50th, of course. They are wringing as much publicity out it as they can. But they are letting others do much of the heavy lifting. So Peace Corps is joining with various universities like the University of Michigan,,  and the University of Wisconsin.  Peace Corps is also working with the Smithsonian (which is paying the bills) to join in on the Smithsonian’s annual Folklife Festival on the Mall in August. But otherwise. Not much else.  This has led our good colleague John Coyne to correctly kvetch over and over again on the excellent Peace Corps Worldwide blog that Peace Corps seems to lack imagination in marking this important milestone in our history.


The two big items on the NPCA calendar are the gala promised for Saturday night and the march on Sunday which will be organized by the super active Washington D.C. RPCV group. The NPCA is keen on sharing the spotlight with universities and the local RPCV groups. The NPCA is running a data base of activities.  It’s not very up-to-date, but it’s a start.  And  they keep promising more details soon.


First, make your hotel reservation.

You can call:


for a reservation at the Crystal City Marriott. Be careful to reserve at the right Marriott — the Crystal City Marriott At Reagan National — because the Marriott has a half dozen hotels in the Washington area, all with similar sounding names.  Tell them you are with the:

Ethiopia And Eritrea 50

so that you get the preferred $109 rate. We have only 100 rooms at the preferred rate, so first come, first reserved.


You can reserve online:

  1. Go to
    where you will find the home page for the Crystal City Marriott.
  2. On the right side of the page is “Check Rates & Availability” (It should have a – in a small box in front of that text. If there is a + inside the box, click on it to get the +.
  3. Enter the dates, number of rooms and number of guests you would like to reserve.
  4. Several lines below is “Special Rates & Awards” with a + inside a box in front of this text. Click on the + to get a – in the box.
  5. Find “Group code” in the list below.
  6. Enter PECPECA for our group code.
  7. Click the red button “Check Availability”
  8. On the new page you will see under the “Special Rates” tab “ETHIOPIA ERITREA 50”
  9. Click on the circle in front of “109.00 per night” to select it and more options will appear from which to choose.
  10. Once you’ve made these selections, click on the red button “Continue.”
  11. Fill in your personal and billing information.
  12. Click on the red button “Continue.”
  13. Review your registration information.
  14. Click on the red button “Complete Reservation.”
  15. In about 30 seconds you will receive a “Confirmation Number.” Write it down.
  16. You will also receive an email confirmation of your registration.

Second, we’d like to get a list of people planning to attend so that we can organizing programs and such.  So please email E&ERPCV Board member CJ Smith Castagnaro, (Harar; Debre Zeit; Addis Ababa 65–66, 67–69)
 at  CJ has heroically offered to organize the group list. Let her know whether you’ll  be attending.  She’ll take it from there.

Third, we’d love to hear any ideas you have for activities on this historic weekend.  You can add a comment below for all to see — and for us to act upon. You can include ideas in your messages to CJ. or send a message to Marian Beil. We will be needing help organizing this event. So feel free to volunteer — five year rule is hereby waved! — by sending an email to Marian or CJ or leaving a comment below. Whether in St. Paul, or Chicago or Atlanta or San Diego, E&E RPCVs has always had a great turn out for Peace Corps celebrations — and a great time as well. Our RPCVs have been asking about plans for the 50th for several years and we look forward to enjoying it with each and every one of you.

10 responses to “Fiftieth Anniversary

  1. Ideas for the reunion:
    As you probably know, Haile Gerima, who taught Amharic to the Ethiopia Ten group at Camp Wekeela in Maine the summer of 1968, is a professor of Film at Howard University and lives in the D.C. area (according to Wikipedia). I’d love to see him at the reunion. Maybe he’d show some of his films? He has never responded to my emails, so I don’t know if he’d be amenable, but could someone in the D.C. area try to recruit him for the reunion?
    Obvious suggestion for the reunion: Some way for people to display or otherwise share their photos, slide shows, etc. It would be totally great of there were some kind of technology to make it easy for individuals to make a fast copy of a photo if one attendee has a photo that another attendee would love to have.

    Performances by Ethiopian musicians would be great.

    Wouldn’t it be great to have a tour of the White House as a group?

  2. hi Barry & Marian,
    I’m a docent at the Library of Congress and will be happy to investigate if
    we might be able to get Senator Kerry Or a member of Congress (now that Dodd & Kennedy are retired/gone) to sponsor a special event for us at LOC, perhaps using the African Reading Room team (Fentahun, etc) to spornor us as well as gettign folks like the Ethi scholars. Let me know ASAP because many of their meeting spaces ARE FILLED years in advance.
    We can always cancel later…. Clare
    to speak, etc.

  3. I wonder about the embassy dinner. Should we be sitting down with these thugs?

  4. Regarding dinner at the Ethiopian embassy: Yes, I think we should have dinner at the Ethiopian embassy if it can be arranged. Refusing to talk to people with whom we disagree is not a way to influence them. I’m afraid that’s a large part of what’s wrong with politics in the US today – – people on the left and on the right are locked in their little ideological boxes refusing to mingle with anyone except those who already agree with them.

  5. Will there be an opportunity to express our opinions about jailing the press and the opposition? I doubt it. If not, I’m not going, and I urge others to show our disapproval of this rotten gang by not honoring them with our presence.

  6. Barry Hillenbrand

    Come on, Dick, not all the people who work in the Ethiopian Foreign Service, the Ethiopian government or the Embassy here are members of the rotten gang. The Embassy belongs to the entire nation, and just as one could go to an American Embassy function during, say, the Bush or Nixon Administrations, we can use the Ethiopian Embassy as a venue to celebrate the long relation between Ethiopia and Peace Corps. After all, using your line of logic. you could could argue that Peace Corps–and you and I– should not have been in Ethiopia under the Emperor who did some nasty things in his prisons — or now under a government which cheats on elections and imprisons journalists and dissenters. As Carl says, you may be able to register view with some Embassy people at the dinner. We are the PEACE Corps and should engage people in dialogue.

  7. Dick, we would not be “honoring” them with our presence. I don’t think we are so exalted that our mere presence “honors” anyone. We would be having a reunion of RPCVs at the embassy of the country where we served. Whether or not anyone attends a Peace Corps reunion event is not likely to have a noticeable effect on the Ethiopian government. However, if it will make you personally feel better, by all means, do not attend. My purpose in attending the reunion is to experience the joy of meeting old friends and to share fond memories – – some of them true! :>) If I were to quarantine myself from every group with whom I disagree, I’m afraid I’d lead a sad and lonely life.

  8. I just want to know if Scott Morgan would be at the 50th anniversary. I am looking for his adress. He served at Debre Zeit , 64-66. I am one of the students of the American peace Corps. They have instilled a big big influence in the ways I lived my life. I miss those golden days of my Country Ethiopia.

  9. I have been in speaking to Patricia Johnson, wife of Steve Johnson III, who was the US Embassy Cultural Officer in Addis until her retirement in 2008. Pat has lots of contacts that she could help us with in setting up the 50th.
    Some ideas we brainstormed:
    1. We were an education project. It would be good to have an overview of education in Ethiopia today–curriculum changes, first-language instruction, etc. Also, there is a huge project to set up teacher training and model schools in each of the 13 regions. This might be something the embassy talks about; I’d also like to hear from the person heading the US funded project.
    2. Preservation–Beyond Lalibela and Gondar. Pat Johnson was working with Princess Mary and others on historical preservation projects. Some of them include the Teferi Makonnen House in Harar, the Rimbaud House(a French project also in Harar); the Mohammed Ali House in Addis (Prin. Mary’s project), a shrine in western Ethiopia. Pat has the contacts on this.
    3. Reading by Ethiopian authors, such as Nega Mezlekia, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award in Canada, and author of several books (Notes from the Hyena’s Belly, etc.). Others who have written about Ethiopia based on their experiences there are Camilla Gibb, Abraham Verghese. (I’m going to a reception for him this week. Gibb lives in Canada).
    4. Dr. Tadesse Wolde Gosso of the Christnesen Fund has 14 projects going in southwestern Ethiopia. Among them is a huge annual music festival. I have met with Dr. Tadesse and I think he would be a great addition to the program. Films have been made of some of his projects.
    5. Book sales. Many titles concerning Ethiopia are available in Canada and only in Ethiopia. If authors are invited, they could perhaps bring copies of their books to sell. I would also suggest inviting Ghassan Begash of BookWorld, the largest bookstore in Ethiopia, and publisher of Shama Books. The number of books published in Ethiopia on topics such as rock churches, etc. and unavailable in the US is astonishing. If given enough time, Ghassan may be able to arrange to bring some along. Steve Johnson (Eth III) is the contact for him.
    5. I agree with Jan W.M. that organizations that are doing good in Ethiopia, such as Ethiopia Reads, should be included. Dr. Rick Hodes is my personal hero; he has lived and worked in Ethiopia for the past 20+ years. The Fistula Foundation has also been doing good work, even if they treated one of our fellow volunteers who broke his heart for them shabbily.
    6. Population. Travel to Ethiopia and the exponential growth in its population is the first thing that strikes you. Is anyone doing any work on population control?

  10. I love those suggestions from Alice. I don’t know if there’s much I can do to help from here in cosmopolitan Mossyrock, WA, but let me know if there is.

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