Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Ambassador

The ambassador was in Cuenca yesterday.  It's not every day one gets to meet an ambassador, and a good number of expats decided to make plans to meet him in person by sending their reservations to the consulate.  The agreed upon meeting space was at the Camara de Comercio - Chamber of Commerce - of Cuenca, which had a meeting room on the ground floor that could hold around 150 seated attendees.  

This man, who looked to be in his 50's, had traveled to other countries during his life and had life experience behind him in knowing where some desirable places to live were in the world. . . and where there were some - ahem - real hell holes.  It was a "Town Hall" style meeting, and naturally there were a number of questions asked of him on a wide range of topics.  Knowing the type of crowd that was present, a request was made to *not* release what was discussed to the general public, and I think that request was honored, respecting the person from whom it came from.  It's helpful to have people from one country working together in a unified direction and having a common purpose.  Nice to see that for a change.  

Here's an ambassadorial story that came from a high source: one who had joined the Foreign Service some time ago knew of a newly appointed ambassador to a foreign country.  To be appointed by the President of the United States of America for such a post was indeed a high honor, and this new ambassador was bursting with enthusiasm upon selection.  The day came not too long afterwards when he got the call from none other than the then US Secretary of State George P. Shulz, who had the honor of serving under President Ronald Reagan.  "Why don't you come up to my office for a chat before you go and leave Washington," he messaged this new emissary.  The reply was immediate, and he went up to Foggy Bottom to pay a visit shortly afterwards.  

"Where exactly is your country on a map?" Secretary Shulz inquired.  The eager young ambassador looked at a globe on a nearby shelf and grabbed it, spinning it around to where his country was.  "Here, Mr. Secretary, here's my country!" beamed the young appointee.  "No. . . that's not your country!  HERE'S your country!" retorted Mr. Shulz in a fatherly tone as he spun the globe back to the Western Hemisphere and pointed directly at the United States.  ". . . And don't you ever forget it!" he barked at the wet behind the ears confirmee.  

Quite a lesson on whose country we represent from a Foreign Service perspective. . . one that quite likely still gets passed down throughout the Foreign Service Officer corps over the years.  

It really is an honor meeting an ambassador.  Not everyone is one, of course, and so seeing one in person is special.  Getting to know an ambassador means getting to know the country he represents, its people, its purposes, and even benefitting from the gifts it gives to the world.  

An ambassador is also a public face from one country to another.  So the ambassador put on slacks, shoes and socks, a clean shirt, and came looking like the professional representative he is. 

Everywhere the ambassador goes, whether he realizes the high position of his office or not, he creates either good or bad will towards the people who see him.  At least in Ecuador, according to one ambassador, the people in Ecuador look favorably on Americans (United Statesians, to be precise) and this is especially true here in Cuenca.  Good behavior creates goodwill, to be sure, and that ambassador surely enjoyed experiencing it as he came to Cuenca for the very first time.  

Reading up on Ecuador, his new assignment, the ambassador quickly found information on the large and increasing expat population here in Cuenca.  He read some of their weblogs, viewed a number of photographs extolling the beauty and opportunities here, and even viewed some of the videos uploaded to YouTube. . . and laughed at a number of comedic moments they captured!  What talent among the expats!  What an engaging, welcoming community that awaited him!  He couldn't wait to get here.  

On the other hand, the ambassador had experienced less than desirable living locations and situations at previous diplomatic posting locations.  Riots and their aftermath with the ensuing ethnic and spiritual tension, effects of illegal drug trade, deprivation up to and including loss of life lie in the back of the ambassador's mind.  Recently one such ambassador has had to experience the grief of hearing of the massacre of a fellow ambassador and the associated death of fellow embassy officials while living in that part of the Muslim world.  In answering a question about the Quito embassy facility, he remarked, "I too lament that a visit to our embassy often is a less than welcoming experience for those of our country.  But, in light of the very real threats towards our country and its diplomatic corps, one has to understand the need for that kind of security.  It's very much required, frankly."  

You may have thought I have been speaking of newly appointed US Ambassador to Ecuador Todd C. Chapman in my reflection above.  Not totally.  Actually, I too am an ambassador. . . I too represent my country wherever I go, like it or not.  How do I know this?  Mr. Chapman astutely stated so in his remarks to the assembled audience he spoke to at the Camera de Comercio in Cuenca.  I take that duty directly from him.  And there's a whole lot more of us US expats here in Cuenca and Ecuador than him.  We see plenty more people in country than he ever will.  The official US Ambassador is merely the tip of the iceberg so to speak when it comes to (high level political) representation of the US towards Ecuador.  

Few know it, but I am also the nephew of a since deceased US State Department official who gallantly served his country in the European Theater of World War II, as well as in the Korean War.  He was one of the very few survivors of the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, as it turns out. . . something that a member of what television journalist Tom Brokaw called in his eponymous book "The Greatest Generation" would never mention to his extended family on visits.  After serving in the US Army during both wars in succession, my uncle William Cox had a career in the US State Department, serving in such posts as Canberra, Australia and Tehran, Iran.  It was his Tehran experience that lent him to perform his last official duties, briefing the press each morning for 444 days on the Iranian hostage crisis, where 52 fellow Americans - a good number of whom he had to have known and worked with - were held against their will at the US Embassy compound in Tehran, Iran.  

ABC News' Ted Koppel, creator of "Nightline," originally envisioned to be a temporary news update program on the hostages in Iran, never featured my uncle. . . likely due to a different time schedule Mr. Koppel worked that prevented him from attending those morning press briefings.  He was instead mentioned as the State Department spokesman in the daily AP news wire stories.  All my uncle wanted was to be allowed to turn in his retirement papers so he could visit his extended family across the country in his gold 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle.  He had been diagnosed with cancer, and time was of the essence in making those family visits he so cherished.  You see, at the core of being a diplomat is personal and especially family relationships.  

The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth a second time, made the case for representing Christ Jesus.  As one who walks with Jesus Christ, I take heed to the following words: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  (2 Corinthians 5:20, English Standard Version)

That, my friends, is the ultimate ambassadorship!  I for one do not take that position lightly.  I thank US Ambassador to Ecuador Todd Chapman for his seasoned, well considered perspective on being an ambassador for one's country - the United States of America.  Yet, according to the apostle Paul elsewhere in his letter to the church at Philippi, "but our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ"  (Philippians 3:20, English Standard Version)  Those of us who name the name of Christ are dual citizenship: of earth, and of heaven.  As is true of any ambassador, the world is watching us.  It's doubly true here for my wife and I in Ecuador.       

1 comment:

  1. Excellent content and very well written! Kudos, David.