Ambassador Bleich’s Strangely Interesting Experience Down Under

This one from US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich (Read Journal: Getting my hands dirty):

“Today I added another unusual chapter to the strange, and strangely interesting, experience of being an ambassador. Not only did we have a good family day, but I will never look at my suits the same way again.

Photo from US Embassy Australia

Our family spent the morning at the Royal Canberra Show, where I’d been invited to sash the winning Poll Hereford bull and the grand champion Merino sheep. The show was far grander than any state fair or livestock show that I’d ever been to in the States. In addition to several stands for judging livestock, there was everything from fashion shows to amusement park rides to a shopping mall (we purchased more than our share of Cadbury chocolate “show bags”), exhibits, horse and buggy races, produce displays, demolition derby, diving pigs, and motorcycle jumps. We toured the whole range of activities with the president of the show, Rod Crompton and his wife Leonie.
As I watched the judges examine the merino sheep, they explained to me how they examined the thickness or length of the sheep’s coat (the “staple”), the size and consistency of the crimp in each strand (which helps the wool hold dye), and the fineness of the strands. The judges explained that people like me who have to wear a suit to work, are driving demand for fine and superfine merino sheep wool. They even introduced me to a few handsome rams who, they believed, might be responsible for one of my suits in the future (if I’m lucky). While the final choice of a grand champion was tough (we left it to the experts), we ultimately settled on a very impressive — and loud – ewe.”

Active links added above. Read more here.

FCO’s Grace Mutandwa Blogs Farewell

Reverse side of the defunct ten cent coin feat...Image via Wikipedia

We are sorry to see one of our favorite FCO bloggers say goodbye last week. We hope she will blog again about life in Zimbabwe in the coming months. Hers is a voice of hope and reason in a country that has been choked for far too long under the eyeballs of an aging dictator.  Excerpt from her farewell post:

At the end of March I leave the employ of the embassy to re-focus my energies on other things. It has been a journey of self-discovery, a riveting trip down the international relations road but more importantly it brought me together with an amazing array of people. It also paved the way for me to create new friends at British Council and the Department for International Development.

When I started work at the embassy, the offices where in the city centre. I leave when the embassy has moved to its new home in the low-density suburb of  Mount Pleasant. Landscaping is taking shape and somewhere in the long grass around the property, a leopard and its cub have established a home. A duiker and some guinea fowl have also graced us with their presence. A month or so ago a huge snake was sighted on the property.

The presence of all this wildlife has become a subject of intense discussion between embassy staff and our neighbours in the European Union building. We are considering co-ownership rights.

When I have not been distracted by wildlife issues I have found time to blog about life in Zimbabwe. Some readers of my blog have asked me why I am still in Zimbabwe and if it is safe for them to visit.

I am still here because this is HOME and because I am a believer. I believe that my country will rise once again and take its place in the company of fellow great nations. I believe more than ever that the dark cloud we were under is passing and the sun will shine again. We will laugh again. In God’s time we will dance again.
The economy needs to get back on track. The politics of the country is still befuddled but one day we will get it right. That, is what keeps me here and that, is what makes me determined to help rebuild my country.

And when, South African President Jacob Zuma says it is up to Zimbabweans to make things right, he is right. It is our responsibility. We owe it to our children and future generations to find it in our hearts to do what is right for our country. We need more reflection and less fighting. We need more positive action and less bickering.

Beautiful! Read her entire post here.

Quickie: Foreign Service Employees and the Mexican Drug War

US-Mexico border south of El PasoImage by WordRidden via Flickr

The Dallas Morning News recently covered the Foreign Service employees serving in our Mexican border posts (Read: For Foreign Service workers in Mexico, Juárez slayings stress the increasing danger in drug war | 12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, March 21, 2010). Excerpt below:

Laneice Brooker has not felt the direct fury of the vicious drug war stretching along the Mexico-Texas border.

But the unpredictability of that violence has gripped the 27-year-old Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros. She avoids certain parts of town and tries to alter her daily routine. Most of all, she wonders when it might hit near her office, her house, her family.

“You don’t know what may happen or where,” she said last week. “It can happen in the best neighborhood or the worst.”

The drug-fueled tension in Mexico weighs heavily on Foreign Service workers posted along the border. Many who came to Mexico with the expectation of a mostly low-key assignment have been jolted by the brutal warfare among the drug cartels that has ripped apart communities and killed more than 18,000 people across Mexico since 2006.

The recent gangland slayings of an American Consulate worker and two others in Ciudad Juárez, a city across from El Paso, is yet another reminder of the danger faced by Foreign Service workers in Mexico and across the world.
Postings in dangerous and potentially violent parts of the world are recognized as part of the job, several veteran diplomats said. Diplomats receive special training to avert threatening situations, and those in especially risky posts receive hardship pay.

The most visceral reminder of that sacrifice is seen in the State Department’s lobby, where a plaque honors the more than 230 American Foreign Service officers who have been killed in the line of duty.

But the attacks have been particularly jarring in Mexico – one of American’s closest allies and where vacationers have flocked for years. It’s not Kabul. It’s not Baghdad. It’s not Islamabad. And that could be part of the problem, a career diplomat based in Mexico City said.

“This is a country that as Americans we all grew up feeling pretty safe in, pretty comfortable,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We tend to drop our guard. And that puts us in a more potentially dangerous situation.”
“Certainly, everybody in the building was aware things were getting worse outside,” said Laura Dogu, the consular section chief at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez, who noted the increasingly dire travel warnings put out by the State Department.
Even before the attack, edginess and security had increased at the Juárez consulate, said another employee, who asked not to be identified. Staffers, for instance, were told to stay away from certain areas, including a favorite local hangout, El Reco Bar, near the consulate.

“It’s not normal here anymore, at least not now,” said the employee, whose activity now consists only of going to work and going home. “The sad thing is we’ve seen this violence for years around us, and I knew it was just a matter of time something like this would impact us.”

Earlier last week, senior U.S. officials said the consulate office in Juárez had been the target of recent threats.
And consulate staff members are refusing to give up one of the basic tenets of diplomacy: connecting with people face to face.

Even in Juárez, where employees are coming to grips with the horrific killings, that willingness to interact with locals won’t change, said Dogu, the Juárez consular section chief.

“We all joined to be able to serve in a variety of situations, including this one,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we will go about it blithely, but we will adapt and do our best to get the job done.”

Read the whole thing here.