Malian formal wear
Peace Corps celebrated it's 50th Anniversary this year, and 40 years in Mali. To mark the occasion, our group of 60+ volunteers was invited to the Malian presidental palace for our
Swear-In ceremony. The Swear-In, typically done at the US Embassy, is the culmination of training after taking language and technical skills tests. With the milestone this year, the red carped was rolled out for us.
The presidential palace and grounds were quite a contrast from the mud huts and the training center... This is the equivalent of having a ceremony at the White House with the President in attendance, an awesome honor.
The ceremony was held in the ballroom, and was attended by trainees, trainers, current volunteers, village chiefs, mayors, Peace Corps staff, American foreign service persons, and Malian government officials. We were sworn in with a Congressional oath, and fantastic speeches from the Ambassador, the Peace Corps Country Director for Mali, our training director, and the President of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré . Five trainees were chosen to give speeches in the five different African languages that we had been learning.
I gave the Bambara (majority language) speech...to 500 people, the President, and on Malian national television. My speech was about the occasion, the importance of Peace and building understanding between different peoples, and some Bambara proverbs. Because I was focusing on keeping my lunch down because I was so nervous, Bintu was responsible for all of our personal photography.
After speaking I met the president and presented him with a Peace Corps baseball cap (apparently he loves baseball caps) on behalf of the Peace Corps. I had made a joke about his family name in my speech (Joking Cousins is a tradition of teasing between specific family names, and the President just happens to be my joking cousin), and he returned the favor in his speech by making fun of my Malian family name. He was very warm and friendly, and gave an inspiring speech in French about his admiration for the Peace Corps work. (He has an interesting history, worth exploring: ATT)
I saw myself on TV the next day four hours away from the capitol, and was recognized by a handful of people on the street, they LOVED that we spoke in native languages.
...Fast forward three days, back to reality, and we are in Segou trying to figure out how to get ourselves, a mattress, trunks, bags, a stove, and two bikes to our village 150 K from here. We are going to show up with half of our gear at the bus stop today and see what they will strap to the top. We will check back in on the blog/internet in a month or so, wish us luck...