Sunday, April 7, 2013

Another One

We lost another colleague yesterday.

If you're in the Foreign Service yourself, doubtless you know this already. If you're not in the Foreign Service, well, the news might have passed right over your head as you went about your day.

A few hours ago, a Foreign Service Officer serving in Afghanistan was killed by an improvised explosive device. She died alongside several members of our military and a local doctor. Several others were injured, at least one critically.

The woman who died was young, only in her mid-twenties. She was midway through her second tour. I didn't know her, but it's a small organization, so we're just one degree of separation, she and I. We have mutual friends. Had mutual friends.  

She was delivering books to a provincial school when she was killed.

Funny world we live in, isn't it, when you can get blown up for giving books to school children?

This fact hits home for me, because this is one of my main jobs here in Jordan. I spend a good part of my day looking for books by American authors that ought to be translated into Arabic - books that might do some good in the Arabic-speaking world, not just in Jordan, but regionally. I work to secure the rights to these books, and to get them translated, and then to put them into the hands of people who most want them.

And while it's true that some of my friends tease me good-naturedly about my books (looking at you, CL...), it's actually an important thing we're doing. Some of these kids don't have very many possessions of their own. But we give them our books, with a tiny flag sticker on the back cover, to show that the books are really from you, my fellow Americans. Some of the books are for adults - we translate books on autism for struggling parents, and memoirs for people curious about America, and law books and books on journalism and self-help books and Pulitzer prize-winning novels.

This is not glamorous work. This is not the kind of work that will make you famous. It really isn't the kind of work that ought to get you killed, as happened to Anne yesterday.

But in a world that is increasingly divisive, in a world where lots of people simply don't like us, for reasons both good and bad, this is important work. It's small work sometimes. There are days when we deliver just fifteen books, for a college book club discussion, or maybe twenty, to parents whose kids are hospitalized with cancer. That's not a lot of people to reach on any given day.

But we reach them. We find them where they are, and we give them these small gifts from America, about America. We teach them to read, to think critically, to smile broadly. We show them, through our books, that America is a vast and wonderful place, full of all sorts of people and amazing ideas. So: a small, small program. And yet so big. What could be bigger than a book, really?

This is what Anne died doing. It is important. Her work was important. And I'm betting that if she'd reached that school yesterday, she would've had an amazing story to tell. Those schoolchildren would have each gotten their own books, still smelling of glue from the print shop. At least one of those kids would have hugged her by way of thanks. And she would have gone home smiling.

She died instead, and I guess those books were destroyed in the attack as well, pages fluttering down the highway, useless.

I hope her parents know that there are people like me all across the globe who know exactly what she was doing there, and who are proud of the work she accomplished in her short life. I hope they know that there are teenagers in Afghanistan tonight, reading books that she gave them, thinking new thoughts that she helped put in their heads. I hope they know that there are young girls holding their own textbooks thanks to Anne, and that there are parents reading to their children tonight because of her gift of books.

I don't know how that knowledge can help them as they grieve. But I know they raised a daughter who made a difference out there in this wide world of ours. She made a difference.

Thank you, Anne.


Anonymous said... [Reply]

Beautifully written and extraordinarily true.

Ellen Kelly-Lind said... [Reply]

Thank you, Anne

Joan McKniff said... [Reply]

As I worked on ARS books program, French for use in Africa, I especially appreciated your essay.

retired FSO PAO and so on.

joan mckniff

Kristen said... [Reply]

A beautiful tribute Donna. Thank you for putting words to all of our thoughts.

Heather W. said... [Reply]

Thanks, Donna, you know as a librarian I feel the same.

Connie said... [Reply]

Education is the way to enlightenment, and the only real way to peace and a better world. Books and reading are essential ingredients in this quest. If you can read and have books, you can teach yourself everything! RIP Anne.

Fields of Heather said... [Reply]

Thank you for such a thoughtful post. A loss in the diplomatic community is a loss for us all.

Hannelene said... [Reply]

Thank you for this. My husband goes to work at an embassy every day, and while I wait (and worry) for him to come home safely every night I don't always think about the impact he has. I know he loves his job, and he knows that what he does matters. That makes the sacrifices we make easier, if not less stressful.

Nicolas ARNULF said... [Reply]

Bravo. Bel hommage.

Carol Crumlish said... [Reply]

Thank you for this. We need to remember what you all are doing.

Tammie Bass said... [Reply]

Thank you Donna for a heartfelt, moving tribute to the glory of books, the bridges & minds they help build when they're made available, & to Anne for doing her part & giving her life. May she Rest in Peace. Wish the world would rest in peace so such tragic losses could stop.

Please. Write your own stuff.