Elaine Chao, the Peace Corps Director,
in the fall of ‘91. Petite, well-coiffed,
dressed in a smart business suit, she spoke
of her emigration from Taiwan
to the United States as an 8-year-old.
Her international heritage,
she said, gave her broad insight
into the Peace Corps experience.
But her delivery seemed off-key somehow.
At noon, under an overcast sky filled
with harmattan dust, the villagers
staged a parade for her. Hausa riders
dressed in their finest gowns strutted
by on their horses. Griots lifted
their praise above the polyrhythmic pulse
of the talking drums. The village chief
presented a ram to Ms. Chao as a gift
(which she couldn’t, of course, take with her).
She handled herself graciously enough
as she thanked the village chief
and spoke with my fellow trainees.
But she also gave us the impression
that she was flying on autopilot
with her sights set on a far horizon.
When George W. Bush appointed Ms. Chao
as Secretary of Labor,
I wasn’t surprised.
Even now I can’t help but think of her visit
as a harbinger of that ill wind.