|By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, July 14, 2001 - 11:06 am: Edit Post|
Brush with Power: a volunteer in Senegal meets Peace Corps Director, Carol Bellamy
Somehow, my past experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer came up. The security man immediately thrust out his hand. "Thank you for your service," he said to me. As completely cheesy and staged as that sounded, I rather appreciated the gesture. He said it with such an official tone that it sounded like the Government itself was expressing its gratitude to me.
This put me in the mind of another brush with powerful people that I had when I was in Senegal. The new worldwide Peace Corps Director, Carol Bellamy, was coming to the country for a couple days, and was slated to meet the President of Senegal, Abdou Diouf. The in-country Peace Corps administration selected three volunteers to accompany her to the Presidential palace, and I, inexplicably, was one of them. I quickly realized that there I had a major problem on my hands: I had nothing to wear.
I came to Dakar with my friend Elizabeth a couple days before the event, and we began hitting clothing shops in search of a decent suit. Negotiations were frequent and often fruitless. We finally found something reasonable, bought it and took it to a tailor for alterations. Unfortunately, by this time I had more than blown my monthly Peace Corps dole, and had no money left for shoes. All I had was a pair of ratty leather boots, which looked painfully shabby next to my new blue suit. So, on my way out to meet the head of Peace Corps and the President of Senegal, I had a sidewalk shoeshine stand coat the boots with a thick armor of black goo, obscuring the color completely and filling in all the scuffs and scrapes. They looked passably like dress shoes, particularly if you factored in that I lived in a hut at the time.
I rode to the Presidential palace (also called the "White House") in the company of two fellow volunteers, the head of Peace Corps Senegal, the Regional Peace Corps Director for Africa, and Carol Bellamy. While we waited to be ushered into the President's office, someone complimented my suit. I couldn't resist telling everyone the whole story of the grubby shoes and my ingenious low-cost solution. I held out my feet for everyone to appraise the success of my efforts, and they all agreed that you could hardly tell I had on the same boots that I wore while riding my motorcycle.
In about a year, Carol Bellamy, onetime Peace Corps Director, became the head of UNICEF. Well over a year later, my sister was in a meeting that Carol Bellamy attended. Amy approached her after the session and mentioned that I had met Ms. Bellamy some time ago.
"Oh, the Volunteer who didn't have enough money for a suit and shoes!" Carol Bellamy exclaimed.
The President of Senegal seemed like a quiet and terribly nice man. The head of Peace Corps Senegal introduced him to the Regional Peace Corps Director for Africa and Carol Bellamy, and we all sat down around a low coffee table in the back of the President's office. Carol Bellamy read a letter from President Clinton. I sat beside my two fellow volunteers and tried to keep my shoes hidden under the table. One of the volunteers passed along greetings from the people of her village, in Wolof, and President Diouf answered and spoke to the three of us for a while in Wolof. I looked across the table at the blank faces of the Director of Peace Corps Senegal, the Regional Peace Corps Director for Africa, and Carol Bellamy, Peace Corps Director, and I thought: what a great moment. The President of Senegal is talking to me, and neither my boss, nor his boss, nor her boss has a clue what he's saying, or what I'm saying back to him. They must be pretty worried over there.
So we chatted in Wolof with the President for a while.
Savor this moment, I told myself -- the working world offers few like it. Being powerful must be fun, but it offers few thills like subverting power.