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Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Peace Cops Senegal Memory

A Grand Grand Opening
by Chuck Gamina
 reprinted from the Baobab, June 1964

This year the city of New York has seen many Grand Openings.  The Huntington Hartford Museum of Art, the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, and the World’s Fair are a few to mention.  There was glamour, excitement, lights and music which accompanied these events.  There were celebrities, enthusiasm and a great feeling of accomplishment.
       Now the town of Sedhiou is a small town in the Casamance and has very little resemblance to New York, and probably wouldn’t want to.  But Saturday night, June 6th, there was much excitement in this town and to the people who make Sedhiou their home, things were just as festive.  It was the opening of the Cinema Sedhiou.
        The two biggest celebrities on hand were Mike Yanasak and John Hand and deservedly so for it was theculmination of all their efforts.  Like Hartford, Bernstein and Moses of New York, this was the night to find both thegratification and pride or as is sometimes the case, some added frustratios for a job well done.  Luckily it turned out well.
      The theater itself is quite an impressive sight.  It can hold 1300 people comfortably, 1500 uncomfortably, and close to 2000 people when it is opening night and free.  It has a screen way high (I forgot to ask for dimensions), a modern projection booth and can be easily used by the Maison des Jeunes for other events.
     The celebrities who attended the opening were: Dembo Coly, the Minister of Health and Social Affairs and also theMayor of Sedhiou, who treated the American entourage to a nice dinner beforehand; Mr. Abdoulaye Biaye, the director of the Maison des Jeunes, who gave John and Mike much appreciated cooperation and the Commandant de Cercle.
       Among the other celebrities were Mr. Hoffman, Mr. & Mrs. Carter, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Easum of the U.S. Embassy and Mr. Foon and Keba Jr., our friends from Banjul.
     There we also a number of Volunteers who were there for a number of reasons.  (Free meals, free movies, free rides to Sedhiou among their inferior reasons, moral  support a superior one.)  They were:  Dianna Paviso, Judy Leidy, Terry Allen, Daves Volk and Harnish, Ben Johnson and myself.  Impressive group, huh!  The occasion began late, in the true Sénégalese fashion and was led off by a few very complimentary speeches by the Sénégalese officials who had a few very nice things to say about the Corps de la Paix Americain.  It sounded great but we didn’t know whether to clap for ourselves or not.  The speeches were followed by the national Anthem of Sénégal, perhaps the first time ever presented accompanied by maracas.
      The film presentation, which was donated by the French Cultural Center, was, as it should have been, the highlight of the evening.  Actualities Sénégalaises, followed by a Buster Keaton real old and real funny short started the audience off.  Good ole Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly Ranier finished them off as they waited for the train that was going to Siffler Trois Fois.  (It took me about ten minutes to figure out that it was High Noon.  I swear it only siffled two fois in theAmerican version!)
      Applications are now being taken for jobs.  All PCVs interested should write directly to Cinema Sedhiou.  There are openings for ushers, ticket booth ladies, candy counter sellers etc.

Below: Mike Yanasak and me in the projection cabin and the Cinema of Sedhiou

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