Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Glamorous Life of a Foreign Service Officer

We've all heard the stereotype: the Foreign Service Officer as a wine sipping, party going, international elitist.

If you believe that image, it is going to blow your mind when I tell you what I got to do last week.

Ready?

I got to drive an hour north of Amman, in the direction of Syria, to attend - wait for it! - a groundbreaking ceremony for a waste water treatment facility.

What? Not quite so sexy as you were picturing?

Yeah, me neither. It was, well, waste water. Not a glass of wine or a fancy tart to be seen.

Truthfully, though, I'd have to say that this was a pretty realistic view of what the typical Foreign Service officer does. And, while it might not be the most romantic place in all of Jordan, it's probably a pretty important place nonetheless.

Here's how it happened. The Ambassador was invited to go to the groundbreaking ceremony for the As-Samara Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion, which was funded in part by the U.S. - we provided $93 million in supporting grants to help the Jordanians get this expansion built. When it is finished, it will give Jordan 133 million cubic meters of treated water - more than 10% of their water supplies will come from here.

It's kind of a big deal, here in Jordan, because in terms of water, we're the fourth-poorest country in the world.

Okay, but let's back up. Before he went to the treatment plant, the Ambassador wanted to stop by Hashemite University, up in Zarqa, and because I technically manage a little program up there, one that he wanted to visit, I got tagged to go to Zarqa.

And that's how I happened to be the only girl in the room when he met with the president of the university. After that, we all walked over to the American Corner at the library to sit down and chat with some students about the future of Jordan, and the ways in which our two countries work together. It was interesting to eavesdrop on both of those conversations.


I'm right behind the Ambassador. For some reason the photographer didn't think I needed to be in the picture. Go figure.

But I snuck into this photo! Look at me, all carrying my notepad, ready to write down important things!
I'm not in this picture either. But I was there, taking photos of my own...

From there, I was all set to hop in the car and drive back to Amman. I figured I'd make it back in time for a late lunch. But just as we were packing up, I got word that I needed to join everyone else for the trip to As-Samara. So I jumped into the caravan of cars and headed to the next event, not quite sure what my role was supposed to be.

Loads of people turned out for the ceremony. I couldn't get anywhere close.

As-Samara Waste Water Treatment Facility. Ain't she a beauty?
We drove over dusty, bumpy, windy back roads, and by the time we got there, I was feeling both carsick and in need of a restroom. But no time for either sensation! There were crowds of people waiting for me! Okay, well, I suppose technically they were waiting for the Ambassador, but you get the idea.

I jumped out of the car and started trying to photograph the event, in competition with the actual real live professional photographers who had been sent from various news outlets to take pictures. I could feel their withering glances as I dashed around with my tiny point-and-shoot, but no matter: I was there, darn it, and I was going to take pictures. (Oh, ADA, how I could have used your mad photography skills...)

At some point we all headed into a giant tent to listen to speeches, in Arabic and English, that used phrases like "sludge management." Which would have been fine with me, except that they were serving lunch. Mansef was on the menu - in case you don't know, it's a famous Jordanian dish of lamb and rice. That you eat with your hands. In a waste water treatment facility. It's okay, though - I was still busy pretending to be a professional photographer, so I decided to take more pictures instead of eating. Also, the situation in terms of the restroom was getting desperate, but I couldn't find one. The irony: I was in the middle of a gigantic waste water treatment facility, and I couldn't find a restroom.

(Eventually, I snuck out of the tent and into a nearby administration building. I wandered the hallways until I finally found a nice gentleman on one of the upper floors who was able to help me locate a restroom. Thanks be. I did not want to drive all the way back to Amman in such a terrible state. Even more importantly: I did not want to get left behind when the caravan took off again for Amman, all because I was wandering around in search of a bathroom.)

I made it back into the tent as dessert was being served to the guests. Across the room, I spied a colleague standing next to a USAID representative, who was being interviewed by a reporter. My colleague waved me over. I have to go help the Ambassador, he said.  You stand here and act like a press officer.

So that's exactly what I did. I pulled out my trusty little notebook and stood at the edges of the interview, nodding sagely when the USAID guy said something profound, and scribbling importantly when the reporter asked another question. They didn't seem to notice me, which I took as a sign that I was doing something right. Only a few minutes into my stint as a press officer, the Ambassador's control officer stood, and it was time to go.

I was back in Amman by 3 in the afternoon, starving and nauseous as can be - those back roads are awful if you get even the slightest bit carsick.

But, all in all, I'd have to say: it was an interesting day.













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