Coming from a state as small as Vermont (pop. approx 600,000; our town of Thetford, approx. 2000), a metropolitan area as large as Dakar can be daunting. That is, until you meet your first Vermonter. The day we arrived, now just over four weeks ago, we ambled over to the American Embassy even though our official welcome appointment was not until the next day. As we were going through security, trying to explain our purpose to the guard (“just stopping in to say hi”), a fellow Upper Valley resident walked in. Several people back home had recommended that I contact Will Conquest while he was on home leave this summer, but it was one of those things that kept slipping to the bottom of the exhaustive and exhausting to-do list. And so when Will introduced himself, smiles blossomed across our tired faces. Within minutes, he’d whisked us through security and up to his office, and introduced us to his colleagues, including fellow Vermonter Joni Pentifallo. (And signed us up for the embassy softball team. But that will be another post.) Joni coordinates a National Guard program that pairs states with countries on initiatives that go beyond military issues.
The Vermont National Guard first partnered with Macedonia 14 years ago. A year ago May, Vermont added Senegal as its second partner with this concurrent house resolution. On the surface, my old and new homes have little in common: tiny, landlocked state v. large, coastal country; anglophone, common law jurisdiction v. francophone, civil law country. But as we ate lunch at Chez Fatou, an open air resto overlooking this side of the Atlantic, I heard conversation about energy independence, sustainable development, higher education, and good governance and how they inform the kinds of projects this partnership would take on. Stay tuned. We’re looking forward to the next big partnership meeting in May, 2010.