First Person: Weird Damascus and Those Karachi Marines in Bath Towels

Amy Tachco is a 36-year-old Foreign Service Officer (FSO) originally from Southern California and Central Ohio who joined the Foreign Service over ten years ago. She was featured this past week in Gadling’s A Traveler In The Foreign Service, in a Q&A with Dave Seminara, a former FSO and apparently her A-100 classmate.

Below are a couple of interesting tidbits from the Q&A. The first one is about “weird” Damascus when she was asked about leaving Syria as the US Embassy was evacuated:

No one wanted to get out of Dodge?

“No. Syria’s a beautiful place. I knew for probably six weeks or so before we were finally evacuated out that the decision was coming. But strangely enough, when it came, I felt like my whole universe just crashed. I cried big time because I felt like I was abandoning the people.”

The local staff and your friends there?

“Them but also the opposition. I was responsible for dealing with the Syrian opposition. On my last day there, I sat with one of the leaders in his office for about 2 hours and two weeks later the regime raided their office and arrested them all. It wasn’t because we left, I don’t think, but there was definitely that feeling. That’s why I asked to be sent to Istanbul, so I could continue doing my job from there. When you work in a country where people are fighting for their lives, you get emotionally involved.”

Were you concerned for your safety in Syria?

“The violence wasn’t in the middle of Damascus. The thing that was weird about Damascus is that you could walk the streets and see people drinking coffee and smoking nargiles in the cafés. Bizarre knowing that three kilometers away people were getting shot.

I took the Ambassador to a few meetings where we were sort of assaulted by regime thugs. On one occasion, we went into a meeting with a member of the opposition and a big group of regime loyalists started chanting at us and they followed us in and were banging on the door. And I got hit with a tomato.”

Did it splatter all over you?

“It didn’t and I was wearing a red dress anyways. They were trying to pelt us though. We ended up getting trapped in the building for more than two hours. We had to call our RSO’s (Regional Security Officers) to get us out of there in some armored cars. They got attacked with rocks and concrete through their windows.”

Then this one about working at the US Consulate in Karachi after it was bombed.

Pacific Ocean (Nov. 8, 2005) – U.S. Mari...

Pacific Ocean (Nov. 8, 2005) – U.S. Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit perform physical training on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5). Peleliu is underway off the coast of Southern California for an Expeditionary Strike Group exercise. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Zack Baddorf (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was it like to arrive at post in the wake of that incident?

“We had a Marine expeditionary unit in the consular section. They had their guns pointed out the upstairs windows to keep people from entering the big hole in the wall. There was a bathroom with a shower right next to my office, so these Marines would come by my office just draped in their bath towels. They had been on a ship for the last six months, so they liked to stop by my office to say hi on the way back from their showers. They hadn’t seen women in a really long time.”

Active link added above. Read the whole thing here.