The suspense is palpable tonight. It is 15 May 2014 at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta (USA), and the former US president is about to arrive at ‘his’ museum to inaugurate the Kongo across the Waters exhibit. His visit to the museum is a rare occurrence and takes place only twice or thrice a year, says museum director David Stanhope. The guests are all dressed up for the occasion.
Then a voice in my ear whispers that the former president would make a stop in a small room, away from the public eye, for a photo session with the directors and exhibit curators.
I follow in the footsteps of one curator and find myself in the room, one of a select few allowed to take pictures of the group with Jimmy Carter. After a few test shots, the moment arrives and we see the smiling faces of Jimmy Carter and his wife as they enter the room. Time is limited and photos are taken rapidly. Despite his age, the 89-year-old Carter remains very active, and his schedule only allows for an hour-long stop.
The opening speeches come next. After the speeches of David Stanhope, Dean Jacqueline Royster of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts (Georgia Institute of Technology), and Georgia Tech President ‘Bud’ Peterson, it is Jimmy Carter’s turn to speak behind the podium, to rousing applause from the public. The audience is enthralled; the years have not dulled his sense of oratory. With no notes to help him, he talks of his college years, the Carter Center’s activities in DR Congo, the joint efforts of Belgium and the United States there, the exhibit’s importance to Atlanta, and his latest book. His speech is liberally sprinkled with humour.
Jimmy Carter is not the only one to have come all the way for the event. Johan Verbeke, the Belgian ambassador to the USA, has made a special trip from Washington D.C. for the first time. His speech is followed by ones delivered by Alexander Cummings, Chief Administrative Officer de Coca-Cola; Kwanza Hall, Atlanta City Council member; and finally Guido Gryseels, director of the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA).
The speeches are followed by a guided exhibit tour led by the four curators Susan Cooksey, Robin Poynor, and Carlee Forbes of the University of Florida, and Hein Vanhee of the RMCA. A dinner brings the intense evening to a close.
(Jonas Van de Voorde)