Mayor Sejdini, host families, new and old Peace Corps volunteers, our talented Peace Corps staff, ladies and gentlemen,
When I say old Peace Corps volunteers, I am reminded just how many years ago it was when I was in your shoes waiting to be sworn in by my ambassador.
Being in the Peace Corps is a little like being in love for the first time — it’s exhilarating, confusing, life-altering, and just a little bit scary.
Today, I’m going to tell the story of my first days in the village after being sworn-in as a new Peace Corps volunteer. Then I want to say two words about why the Peace Corps is such a valuable resource between our two great countries. Finally, I have some words of thanks to our generous host families.
In my time in the Peace Corps we had motorcycles. I was not a very macho motorcycle rider and I fell over more times than I care to admit. To get to my village for the first time I had to cross a bridge made of palm tree logs. They were not placed in row causing a bumpy ride. They were three logs placed lengthwise so that with great skill (which I lacked) I had to drive down the center of middle log and pray that I did now slip off or I would end up in the river with the motorcycle on top of me.
I took the leap of faith and hit the accelerator and zoomed across the bridge faster than I had planned. And that’s how my life was for several days. I took a big breath and a leap of faith and bulled forward.
A car from the Peace Corps office with my Associate Peace Corps Director for health programs, Dr. Juxton Smith, dropped off my two suitcases and a box of food I had brought from the capital. When he drove away, I remember the profound sense of abandonment. They avoid that here, I understand, because they just pack you up on a furgon to Elbasan and wish you well.
I was 22. I learned how to navigate with limited language skills. I learned how to cook and clean for myself. I learned how to make friends with people I shared little in common with. I learned how to ask for help from my neighbors. It was indeed a little bit scary, but as I look back it was one of my favorite times in the Peace Corps.
In your life you will be at various times more and less open to new experiences. I offer to you that this moment today is one of those times when you are the most open that you will ever be in your life. Now all you have to do is hit the accelerator and hold on for the ride.
Why Do We Have a Peace Corps Program?
When I was in the Peace Corps, many people believed that the purpose of the program was nefarious. There are whole books written in West Africa about how Peace Corps volunteers were used to topple governments and control the people of West Africa. Let me assure you that this is complete nonsense and that the last thing Washington wants to do is control West Africa, Albania or other 77 countries where we have the Peace Corps.
What we are committed to doing is helping the 8,655 volunteers currently serving in the Peace Corps be better global citizens. We hope that you will take away a more sophisticated and nuanced view of America’s role in the world. We hope you will learn languages and help to share with people around the globe what Americans are really like — beyond the images from Hollywood and the media.
When I joined the State Department 25 years ago, one-fourth of my entering Foreign Service class had been Peace Corps volunteers. We had learned to love the adventure of living in other countries; of speaking exotic languages; and of making connections with people who have had a different life experience. I hope for all of you that your time in Albania will be the same kind of life-altering experience that I had as a young Peace Corps volunteer.
And finally, allow me to say a word of thanks to our host families.
Dear host parents, thank you for sharing what is best about Albanian culture — its unbelievable sense of hospitality. I hope that you will remain in touch with your Peace Corps children. I know that many of your biological children and Peace Corps children will be lifelong friends and travel back and forth between Albania and America. You have made these men and women better ambassadors of their country.
I’m sure it hasn’t always been easy. You have known them when they were just beginning to learn about this country. When they go to their new communities in Librazhd, Shushicë, Thanë, Belesh, Bishem, Pajovë, and Peqin, their new friends and host families will ask them how they learned about tav kosi, saying me shëndet after a haircut, or how to properly drink raki. I can assure you that every time this happens your Peace Corps children will think of you. Thank you again for your wonderful hospitality.
Peace Corps trainees, before I send you across your imaginary palm log bridge with no motorcycle, I have one more job to do.
If you would please stand for your oath of office and raise your right hand.
I, state your name, do solemnly swear or affirm
that I will support and defend
the Constitution of the United States
against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
that I take this obligation freely,
without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;
and that I will well and faithfully discharge
my duties in the Peace Corps.
So help me God.
New Peace Corps volunteers, Gëzuar!