Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cigarette diplomacy

As a Facility Manager, I am just as much of a diplomat as any other American working the Embassy.  I'm just as important to diplomacy as the Consular Officer, the Public Affairs Officer, or the Ambassador.

My role keeping the buildings up and running makes me no less of a representative for America than those that meet with heads of state or show up on the local news.  I might even make the case that those of us not in the spotlight can make a greater impact on the host country opinion of the USA than those who meet with the top levels of the local government.

Case in point...

Behind Embassy Libreville is a small, home-made "snack shack" run by a Gabonese man named Djino.  Djino is the guy in green and you can see his modest store behind us.  He doesn't sell much: cigarettes, mints, baguettes, and candy bars.

The man in blue is Ibrahim from Senagal.  I never got the names of the other two guys.  But they all new "Monsieur Chris" from the Embassy.

These 4 guys as well as the 10 or so other regulars that came and went from Djino's store throughout the day knew who I was.  Not all of them knew me by name, but they knew I was the guy that fixed stuff at the Embassy.

A few times a week I'd take a break from my work and go back to Djino's store to share a Dunhill with him.  I don't smoke, but I acted like I did because everyone who came back to Djino's store smoked Dunhills.  Djino and I always discussed the news of the day...local news, international news, USA news.  We also discussed politics...a lot of politics.

Djino asked me a lot of questions about how the US Government functioned.  He asked me that if the President of the US wanted to make a law, could he just "make it" since he was the President.  So I explained the three branches of government (as best as I could in my French), I talked about the Constitution, and how no one branch could do the job of the other.  Djino was amazed at this....the government in Gabon did not function with the same checks and balances as America.  He had me explain it again a few days later to 5 other people...a local police officer, a lady selling bread, and a few other guys who happened to be walking by.

We discussed foreign aid; we discussed freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press.  Sometimes the discussions got loud.  I remember one time a lady walking by with a basket of fruit on her head heard us talking and got into with me about foreign aid.  She said Gabon should get more aid from the US, I disagreed and round and round we went.  In the end, we smiled and shook hands agreeing to disagree.

After a long talk Djino always ended with "Wow, c'est bien organize'."  (Wow, it's very organized.)

This went on week after week, month after month during my tour.  My short "cigarette breaks" gave me the opportunity to talk about America with them and gave them a chance to meet an American who would actually sit down and engage even a lowly street cleaner and treat everyone as equal...because in America we really do believe that all are created equal.

This is diplomacy in its simplest form - cigarette diplomacy.  An American citizen meeting tete-a-tete with the locals in a home made snack stand on a dirt road.  No press, no cameras, no fancy suits - just a Facility Manager, curious locals, and a pack of Dunhills.

You are a diplomat.  Never forget that.

Well, this makes things interesting....

FAA extends travel ban to Israel for another 24 hours.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bear with me....

...while I make some design changes to my blog.  It might get a little messy over the next few days! :)

Kirk was better.

State Department Briefing.

Very happy to have been able to attend a briefing today at Main State concerning developments in Paraguay. Great opportunities during PCS this year.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lunch at FSI with the new FM's!

Today I got a chance to spend some time with an outstanding group of new FM's going through training at FSI.  These fine folks represent the future of the FM section and the Department should be proud of the professional men and women taking care of our overseas facilities.

Good luck everyone!!

I'm the dashingly handsome guy on the right....but you already knew that.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Going away party pics.

It took a while to post these, but here are pics from my FM going away party on my last day.  My best memories of Gabon are my moments with the FSN's.  I sure won't forget 2am emergency calls to get power back on at the Embassy, water leaks everywhere, Ambowe problems, etc...all with my trusty FM staff there by my side!

Thanks for all you did!  I'll miss you!

Let the feast begin.

Mombo, Chris, & Ludovic

More of the FM team!

Felicien and Chris

Mireille and Tima - kept me sane for 2 years!

Some of the housekeeping ladies.

Masala the plumber.

Saibou from GSO who just came for the food.

My man Jean-Baptiste!


Wearing my new shirt and showing off my gift!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My empty desk....

The nerve center at Embassy Gabon remains empty.  Good luck to the next FM in Libreville whoever you are..