He thought he would make an exceptional ambassador one day. He lobbied hard to get a stretch assignment even in the belly of Africa but was not quite lucky. Instead he got a Principal Officer’s assignment in some backwater country. It was not the ambassadorship he had hoped for but the country was large and his consular district straddled two-thirds of the country. So he was not entirely unhappy.
He was in one of his trips to the southernmost part of his district when he realized that people had difficulty trying to understand his title as principal officer of the consulate. He thought of introducing himself as the American Consul, but his hosts often think of that as exactly the same level as the Honorary Consul of Belgium or Liechtenstein or some other old European country. In one of his radio interviews, he explained his role as kind of the “ambassador to the south.” And before long, he was being introduced as the U.S. ambassador to the south. He was quite popular wherever he went. He visited just about every large city in his district and a few smaller towns with ethnic and indigenous populations. He shook hands and chatted with politicians in fancy clothes, tribal leaders in colorful attires, farmers working in their fields, housewives carrying babies, students in town hall meetings and more. He listened and dutifully wrote a cable after every trip. He told himself that sooner or later, somebody was going to discover the wisdom of his insights, as well as his reporting skills, and send him somewhere important.
In May, he received word that the US ambassador wanted to host an official 4th of July celebration in his district. It was going to be their largest reception ever, as the U.S. ambassador wanted to meet all their local contacts in the southern part of the country. By early June the list had been finalized, the invitations all sent out, and his office was conducting telephonic confirmation for all the missing RSVPs.
The 4th of July reception at the residence was the talk of the town. On the night of the reception, the principal officer happily introduced his local contacts to the U.S. ambassador. Some have travelled from the far ends of his district.
A man in a colorful tribal get-up with a large smile walked excitedly towards where the principal officer and the U.S. ambassador were greeting the guests. The officer remembered him as the senior leader of a large tribal group.
“Mr. Ambassador, I’m so glad to see you again, sir!” the man said as he shook the principal officer’s hands.
The principal officer quickly introduced the tribal leader to the ambassador, hoping the latter would put the incident to nothing more than ignorance on the part of the guest.
But the tribal leader was not to be deterred. “It is nice to have two ambassadors here; it shows that we are a very important country,” he declared.
“Mr. Salamuddin,” the principal officer interrupted, “we only have one American Ambassador here. I work for him.”
“But I don’t understand, you are the ambassador to the south, no?” the tribal leader persisted.
The principal officer dared not look at his boss’ face. With an arm across the tribal leader’s shoulder, he quietly walked him away from the receiving line.