13 December 2007

We left early this morning from Welisso. My mama cried. It was probably a blessing that I was too frazzled over the ridiculous quantity of miscellaneous items I was trying to tote with me – acquired from Christmas packages, as well as my mama's attempts to provide her motherly support for the next two years – to feel sadness over leaving.

Upon arriving in Addis, we hit the ground running. We had just enough time to unload our luggage and carry it to our rooms before our scheduled meeting with the worldwide director of Peace Corps, who, due to the importance of Peace Corps' reentry to Ethiopia, would be attending our swearing-in ceremony later in the day. (And whose last name sounds exactly and tantalizingly similar to a certain kind of cheese, definitely unavailable in Ethiopia, which we have all been missing terribly.) It was a nice gathering in which we presented our training staff with certificates, spent time reminiscing by viewing a photo slideshow we compiled from our ten weeks together, and listened to some motivational pep-talks from Peace Corps administrators – which, while admittedly cheesy, are honestly reassuring here in a situation so full of uncertainty and so prone to doubts.

In the afternoon, we officially swore in as volunteers. Swear-in was a rather incredible affair. 120 invitations were sent out; 235 attendance confirmations were received. Attendees included Peace Corps administrators, our pre-service training staff, former PCVs in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Minister of Health, representatives of local non-profit agencies, and press officials, both local and international. The American Embassy was astounding. Three different fortified, mechanized gates – along with a handful of armed guards – protected the compound. We entered into an oasis of manicured lawns and pristine white buildings; we were on American soil again. Many of we trainees-becoming-volunteers wore traditional Ethiopian dresses given to us by our Welisso host families. Mine was long and white, adorned in gold stitching on the skirt and brightly colored embroidery on the bodice. As I walked across the grassy lawn of the embassy, African afternoon sun shining on my long blonde hair worn down and uncovered for the first time in Ethiopia, white flowing dress swishing around me, I was told by several friends that I looked like a seventies flower child attending a peace rally. The ceremony itself went smoothly, aside from the fact that the Peace Corps flag, which had been set up in the background of the proceedings alongside the American and Ethiopian flags, fell over three times in the evening breeze. Our country director joked that it represented the three different times Peace Corps has entered Ethiopia. We all wondered if it was a portent of things to come.

Peace Corps makes a concerted effort to reserve the title of Peace Corps VOLUNTEER for those who have sworn in, and some people were very emotional at having made the significant step from Peace Corps Trainee. I have to admit personally feeling no different after swear-in from how I felt before, but then again, I've never really been one for ceremonies. Many people likened swear-in to their college graduation ceremonies. I wouldn't know; I didn't go to mine. In any case, there were warm congratulations all around. Partly, it made me realize how much we had accomplished in making it this far. (It should be noted that out of 43 of us accepting the invitation to serve on the project, 42 swore in, which is highly unusual. The returning PCVs on this project all report swear-in rates of around 75 percent in their previous assignments.) Mostly, though, it made me realize that this journey is only just beginning.

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