The foreign service is filled with much diversity. Not only in the people, but the job, the lifestyle and the emotions. Be ready for it.
On Friday, we had a huge reception for the 4th of July. It's customary for the US Embassy to invite all the important people from the host country to help celebrate Independence Day. We had a huge party for about 300 people. I actually got up on 4th of July morning and put on a sort of cocktail dress. That's the first time in my 50 years of living that I wore a dress on 4th of July! (later you will read that I wore another dress later in the evening...so two dresses on 4th of July will be a record that probably won't be broken!) The dress must have looked pretty good, because many of my co-workers at the Embassy smiled in awe as I walked in to start my shift. My job was a "meeter" which meant I escorted the guests from the security checkpoint to the front door of the embassy. It's quite a walk and I did it for about an hour plus. The funny part is this: it was windy that day. My beautiful hair got all messed up. I was wearing a sort of lose, low cut dress; which would have been fine if it wasn't windy. So here I am....escorting the minister of defence, presidents of companies and various dignitaries and the whole time I'm afraid to look down and see if my dress is blowing in the wind and exposing my black victoria secret bra! The trick about being comfortable is to not think about the problem...because in this case I could do nothing about it! Just smile, say hello, and hope I'm covered...literally! There were various speeches, toasts with champagne, and finger food. By the way, we as Embassy employees are told not to eat any food or drink anything until we are sure all our guests are served. We are literally told to eat before we do an event...so we don't take food for the guests. We are literally working the event, not being a part of it. And for those of you curious...no we did not get paid overtime for working; even thought it's a national holiday and all the people in the US are having picnics and wearing jeans. All part of the job.
The second dress of the evening came in the form of dressing for a wedding reception. Only I can meet a nice young girl on a Friday at the manicure shop, talk to her about her wedding, and be invited to the reception the next week. So, I put on a summer cocktail dress, some strappy sandals and went to the reception around 9pm, which is what time things start around here. The young couple seemed so sweet and happy and for a little while it made me believe in love again.
The next day, Saturday, was local elections in Sierra Leone. The US Embassy sent a team of about 50 people to local polling centers to observe if the elections were fair and free. I worked the Ops Center (Operations center) which means I took in calls from the teams in the field and reported what was seen. It was really busy...I answered calls non-stop from 8am to 4pm. It's really exciting to be a part of the democratic process. After the elections, someone from the Embassy made a report to Washington, DC. Who would have thought I would be doing something like this? And no, for those of you keeping track; we didn't get paid. We do this as a service for our country.
Saturday afternoon I had the very best chicken I have eaten since my grandmothers recipe. I walked to a little Lebanese bakery near here that has rotisserie chicken and amazing Lebanese bread. As I was walking home, I slipped and fell in the rain! No, the chicken did not get ruined, as it was in a plastic bag. I will say that all my African neighbors were quite worried about me, as I fell really hard and actually got a little hurt. But mostly I felt humiliated and tried not to think about the fact that my first introduction to my neighborhood was falling on my face! Humility is everything...
Saturday evening, I went out with a friend to a casino. We played black jack and I actually doubled my money! I was loosing at first, but it got easier. I was always so intimidated to play in Las Vegas, but this was a small operation and actually quite fun. The guy next to me helped me "double down" and "pay insurance" and I learned quickly to watch and see what the "deck" was doing. It was cool to win!
Sunday was spent at the beach. I find it so relaxing to forget the issues of the week and just stare at the beauty all around me. I call it therapy! It's not crowded; and in fact, the only people around were the people in our group. Everyone here has servants and they cook the lunch, serve the drinks, open the gate to let you car in, etc. We listened to music on my Ipod and played in the surf.
Now for the difficult news. This afternoon, my cousin died. He was 52 and he died of cancer. I found out the news from an email my sister sent me. Not the way to hear that the person who was like a brother to you, has died. But I'm living in Africa, and that's just the way it is here. My phone is not reliable, my internet is not always right next to me, and I have to get news somehow. I knew he was very sick and I had talked to him on Friday afternoon...but it's still not easy. That's a part of this job that I will probably always hate....if something bad happens, you will not be there to get hugs from people you love. You will not be able to be consoled by your family. And in my case, I have not been here long enough to make a close friend to share this news with. Comfort will be hard to come by tonight. I talked to my Dad and cried. I talked to my sister and cried. I tried to talk to my daughter, but the internet was not cooperating. Welcome to life in the foreign service. Death away from home is not easy. I have been asked to write a eulogy, so I'll wait until I can think about my cousin who was like a brother to me and see if any words some to mind. Besides prayer, it's the only contribution I can make from here.
Appreciate every day you get as a gift. It may literally be your last some day.
Love from Africa,