Monday, December 31, 2012

On the Edge of America

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you celebrate, and that you are having a happy New Year's Eve.

I am spending my New Year's with my wife at my favorite place on earth: Folly Beach.

Folly has always been a part of my life. When I was a kid, this was our vacation destination of choice. In fact, my grandmother lived here for a while, and for even longer on nearby James Island. It is the place where I can trace more happy memories than I can count, and where I feel the presence of my mother most clearly. I want to retire here, and when I die, I want my ashes scattered here.

Folly makes you slow down. It takes a good twenty minutes just to get off the island, which is only 7 miles long and about a mile wide at the widest point. But a good part of the island's revenue comes from unsuspecting tourists who don't realize how serious they are about the 30 mph speed limit. I set my cruise control when I drive on the island.

I think slowing down is a good thing. As Americans, we are always on the go. We want everything fast: our highways, our foods, even our movies...two hours is too long. But here, you can't go fast. And you don't want to. I am content wandering the beach, or even just sitting inside watching the waves. And listening to them.

This is exactly what I needed to recharge. The first part of our trip was jam-packed and fast paced. Get here to see my family then there to see hers. Lots of driving, no time to even unpack the suitcase. But now that we have seen our loved ones, our only task here is to relax.

Oh, and to soak up some vitamin D. It seems that the sun lives first morning in the states, I woke up giddy like a kid waiting for Santa, knowing that the sun would soon peak over the horizon. Sunrise was beautiful..and early. As much as I love Estonia, I do miss the sun. Winter days are dark.

So Happy New Year's! I hope you enjoy your ringing is as much as I know I will enjoy mine...just me, my wife, and some champagne at the beach. I wish your 2013 to be better than your 2012, even if your year, like mine, was a good one.

Head vana aasta lõppu ja kaunist uut aastat!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Whatever you celebrate, I hope you have the most wonderful of holiday seasons and a very Happy New Year.

For us, the house/pet sitter has been secured and the presents and plane tickets procured. We will be spending this Christmas with our family in the states, an all too rare thing in the service!

The computer is packed and I promise to try to post periodically. But I warn you, the content will be beach heavy and Foreign Service light.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Alec Ross: Rumored New Rules "not even close"

So apparently the concerns are less dire.

According to Alec Ross's (Senior Advisor for Innovation for Secretary Clinton) twitter account: @AlecJRoss:
"@Diplopundit @emilcDC @thenewdiplomats @tomistweeting My team involved in drafting/approving. Not even close to what has been blogged."

And this: @AlecJRoss: "@NinaJTweets - not going to happen as blogged. It's 30 days NOW. 2 days would be MAX and that wouldn't be tested. 30 days to 2 days = faster"

And a commenter on my previous post says blanket clearance will be given to those who are using social media in an official capacity.

Still don't know why they would want to clear on a post about my Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

New Rules on the Use of Media: going back to "people to bureaucracy to people"

There are a couple of articles out today proposing some frankly terrifying new rules on the use of media by anyone working for the State Department. I personally think these rules will have a chilling affect not just on our freedom of speech (and really...they need to clear on my Christmas tree post?)but on our ability to do diplomacy, particularly public diplomacy.

So I wrote a letter to Susan Johnson, the President of our employee association, AFSA. I am publishing it here...while I still can (though I really doubt these would stand up in court):

Hi Susan,

I don’t know if you have seen this, but there are a couple of pieces out on the Department trying to come up with new rules regarding using traditional or social media or making speeches. There are articles on it in the Washington Post and on DiploPundit.

According to DiploPundit, "the new rules will reportedly cover real-time or live presentation of views or ideas, whether physically before an audience, over a text-only or visual online forum, in-person, online, or over the phone interviews, other real-time communication and oh, teaching." Should these be approved, we will be required to get "2 working days for clearance on social media postings; 5 working days for blog posts; 5 working days for speeches, live events notes, talking points; 10 working days for articles, papers including online publications and 30 working days for books, manuscripts and other lengthy publications."

This is extremely concerning for several reasons. First, while we all agree not to discuss matters of “official concern” (i.e. Foreign Policy), none of us has agreed to give up our freedom of speech. But second, this will have a frightening effect on any PD officer’s attempt to do our jobs. As it stands now, for example, I can post freely post to our social media site pictures of events we have just held, our daily message, or information the Ambassador would like to see there. It is this real time communication that has made us more approachable to younger audiences. That will come to a grinding halt. We will lose all of the advantages social media gives us in reaching foreign audiences. And the reality is, if you have every post in the world seeking clearance for every tweet, every speech, every interview, nothing will end up getting cleared. Clearances from PA are notoriously slow now without these rules. Can you imagine what it will be like with literally thousands more clearance requests per day? For just my post and just today, we have done two Facebook posts, one tweet, one speech, and one interview. That is five clearances for us for one day. And it was a slow day for us.

I hope you will consider having AFSA take on this issue. Because we should not give up our freedom of speech in order to serve the country, and we shouldn’t be given all of these great tools for reaching people and then have those tools rendered useless. Diplomacy is people to people, and I thought we were trying to get away from being people to bureaucracy to people.



Saturday, December 01, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree!

I put up our Christmas tree tonight.

Okay, I actually put up the tree last week, but tonight I decorated it.

Decorating our tree is an exercise in memories.

See, we try to pick up something that can be used as an ornament on all of our travels. It doesn't have to be intended to be an ornament, but it needs to be small and hangable.

There are a few that are not from our travels, like the "Our First Christmas" one from 1999 that always goes on first and in a position of prominence. And then there are the pet charity ones or the ones my in-laws have given us. And there is a tiny wreath that was on my mother's tree.

But being in the Foreign Service has given us the opportunity to go to many places I never dreamed of.

And so there is a slipper from Baku, glass orbs from Turkey. There is a painted egg from Hungary and a wooden bell from Moscow. There is an olive wood nativity ornament from Bethlehem, and a Lithuanian bell. A metal etching of the Heidelberg Castle and a copy of the stained glass window in the Strasbourg Cathedral.

There are a bunch from our domestic travels too...a Catawba pottery rabbit and a Cherokee gourd bowl. There are lots of Charleston ornaments (the city puts out one a year), plus some from the State Department (for the Christmases we spend in DC), Chimney Rock in NC, and various forts we have visited. And of course, there is a copy of the Mayflower to mark our visit to Provincetown, Massachusetts three years ago to get legally married.

Each ornament has a story...and I think of each story as I decorate the tree. Lots of memories.

But what decorating the tree reminds me of most is just how fortunate I am. How lucky I am to have lived the life I have lived and how lucky I am to still be living it with the person I love.

Decorating the tree reminds me that I am truly blessed.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reaching People

I think you know I love being a Public Diplomacy officer.

And while a few years back, I'd never have thought I would be saying this, but I really like public speaking. And in this job, I get to do it a good bit.

I often end up talking about study opportunities in the United States, and Tuesday's talk at the Estonian School of Business was one of those a catch. They also wanted me to talk about the elections. do you give one speech about the elections AND study in America? So as I talked about the elections, I said, "So like I was telling you, because we elect the entire house and 1/3 of the Senate every two years and the President every four years, the chances are good that if you go study in America, you will get to witness the craziness that is our electoral process!"

Nice transition, right?

Anyway, the talk went well, and after I was done, a guy walked in late. At the coffee break, he said he wanted to talk to me about the elections.

He told me he was not happy that President Obama was re-elected, and wanted to know what I thought. I told him that I would have served whoever was elected.

And then I asked why he was unhappy about it.

We chatted for a good ten minutes. We talked about differences in the parties, the Affordable Health Care Act, the system of checks and balances, and even Ron Paul. He said he wanted to talk more so I gave him my email address.

Because this is Public Diplomacy.

This is reaching an individual and explaining America, one on one. And he told a member of my staff that he had been surprised I had been so approachable.

This is Public Diplomacy.

I got to do two things by having that conversation with him. I got to reach an individual, explain our country and our values, and make Americans seem less remote to him.

But you know what else? I also sent a message to the other students in that room who watched me talk to him that America is approachable. The Embassy is approachable. That an American diplomat will sit down and talk turkey with a 20-something year old student. Because that is how we reach people.

Because THAT is Public Diplomacy.

Secretary Clinton's Remarks at GLIFAA's 20th anniversary

Remarks Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
November 28, 2012

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all, very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Laughter.) Thank you, all. Thank you. Yeah, that’s good. (Laughter.) Wow. Well, welcome to the Ben Franklin Room. (Laughter.) And congratulations on your 20th anniversary. I am so pleased to be here and to have this chance to join this celebration. Ken, thank you for your kind words and your efforts here to make this day possible. I am extremely pleased that Cheryl Mills, my friend as well as Chief of Staff and Counselor is here, so that those of you who may not have met her or even seen her, given how shy and retiring she is – (laughter) – can express your appreciation to her for her tireless efforts.

I’m delighted that Deputy Secretary Tom Nides is here. Tom, who some of you know, who you’ve had a chance to work with him, has been just an extraordinary deputy. Also let me recognize USAID Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg. He’s been an unyielding advocate for the LGBT community at USAID. We also have a number of ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission, both past and present, some of whom have literally traveled from the other side of the world to be here. David, I’m talking about you. And we have Michael Guest with us, our country’s first out ambassador to be confirmed by the Senate and someone who’s remained an outspoken champion for LGBT rights, despite having to endure countless attacks and threats. Michael, why don’t you stand up so that you can be recognized? (Applause.)

Also let me thank the GLIFAA board and members. I just had a chance to meet the board and former presidents. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with so many former presidents. (Laughter.) The last count was maybe five. (Laughter.) But it’s really due to their leadership over 20 years that GLIFAA has reached this milestone, and it will be up to all of you and those who come after you to keep the work going for the next 20 and the 20 after that.

Now, it wasn’t really that long ago since this organization was created, but in many ways it was a completely different world. As we heard, in 1992 you could be fired for being gay. Just think about all of the exceptional public servants, the brilliant strategists, the linguists, the experts fired for no reason other than their sexual orientation. Think of what our country lost because we were unable to take advantage of their hard work, expertise, and experience. And the policy forced people to make terrible choices, to hide who they were from friends and colleagues, to lie or mislead, to give up their dreams of serving their country altogether.

That began to change, in part because of the brave employees here at State, who decided that it was time for the bigotry, the ignorance, the lying, and discrimination to end. The LGBT community deserve the same chance as anyone else to serve. And indeed, as we all know, many had for many years, just without acknowledgment of who they were. So enough was enough, and that’s how GLIFAA was formed. And thank goodness it was.

We’ve come a long way since then, and we have seen milestones along that journey over the last 20 years. I remember that I think on my husband’s first day in office back in ’93, he announced that gays and lesbians working in the Federal Government would receive equal treatment under the Civil Service Reform Act. Two years later, Secretary Warren Christopher made clear those rules would be enforced within the halls of the State Department when he issued a statement that explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Now over the past four years, we’ve built on those and other steps to really acknowledge and welcome LGBT people into the State Department family and other agencies. We’ve extended benefits to same-sex domestic partners of State and USAID employees, Foreign Service officers, personal service contractors, third country nationals at missions overseas. We’ve institutionalized these changes by creating a classification for same-sex domestic partners in the Foreign Affairs manual. We’ve also made it clear in our Equal Opportunity Employment statement that the Department doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression.

We’ve helped to make it easier for transgender Americans to change the gender listed on their passports, because our mission is not only to protect the rights and dignity of our colleagues, but also of the American people we serve.

And we’ve taken this message all over the world, including the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where we worked to pass the first ever UN resolution affirming the human rights of LGBT people. Now, together we have worked to make something very simple and right come true. Our people should not have to choose between serving the country they love and sharing a life with the people they love. And I want to say a few words about why this work is so important.

Now, leaders of all kinds will stand in front of audiences like this and tell you that our most important asset is our people. And of course, that’s especially true in diplomacy, where we try to be very diplomatic all the time. But what our success truly depends on is our ability to forge strong relationships and relate to people of all backgrounds. And what that means for me, as your Secretary, is that creating an LGBT-welcoming workplace is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do.

In part, that’s because the nature of diplomacy has changed, and we should and need to keep up. Today we expect our diplomats to build relationships not just with their counterparts in foreign governments, but with people from every continent and every walk of life. And in order to do that, we need a diplomatic corps that is as diverse as the world we work in.

It’s also smart because it makes us better advocates for the values that we hold dear. Because when anyone is persecuted anywhere, and that includes when LGBT people are persecuted or kept from fully participating in their societies, they suffer, but so do we. We’re not only robbed of their talents and ideas, we are diminished, because our commitment to the human rights of all people has to be a continuing obligation and mission of everyone who serves in the Government of the United States. So this is a mission that I gladly assume. We have to set the example and we have to live up to our own values.

And finally, we are simply more effective when we create an environment that encourages people to bring their whole selves to work, when they don’t have to hide a core part of who they are, when we recognize and reward people for the quality of their work instead of dismissing their contributions because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

So really, I’m here today to say thank you to all of you. Thank you for your courage and resolve, for your willingness to keep going despite the obstacles – and for many of you, there were and are many. Thank you for pushing your government to do what you know was right, not just for yourselves but for all who come after you.

I want to mention one person in particular who was a key part of this fight, Tom Gallagher. I met Tom earlier. Where is Tom? There you are, Tom. Tom joined the Foreign Service in 1965 and in the early 1970s he risked his career when he came out and became the first openly gay Foreign Service officer. He served in the face of criticism and threats, but that did not stop him from serving. I wanted to take this moment just to recognize him, but also to put into context what this journey has meant for people of Tom’s and my vintage, because I don’t want any of you who are a lot younger ever to take for granted what it took for people like Tom Gallagher to pave the way for all of you. It’s not a moment for us to be nostalgic. It is a moment for us to remember and to know that all of the employees who sacrificed their right to be who they were were really defending your rights and the rights and freedoms of others at home and abroad.

And I want to say a special word about why we are working so hard to protect the rights of LGBT people around the world. And Dan Baer, who works on this along with Mike Posner and Maria Otero, have been great champions of standing up for the rights of LGBT communities and individuals.

We have come such a long way in the United States. Tom Gallagher is living proof of that. And think about what it now means to be a member of a community in this country that is finally being recognized and accepted far beyond what anyone could have imagined just 20 years ago. And remind yourself, as I do every day, what it must be like for a young boy or a young girl in some other part of the world who could literally be killed, and often has been and still will be, who will be shunned, who will be put in danger every day of his or her life.

And so when I gave that speech in Geneva and said that we were going to make this a priority of American foreign policy, I didn’t see it as something special, something that was added on to everything else we do, but something that was integral to who we are and what we stand for. And so those who serve today in the State Department have a new challenge to do everything you can at State and AID and the other foreign affairs agencies to help keep widening that circle of opportunity and acceptance for all those millions of men and women who may never know your name or mine, but who because of our work together will live lives of not only greater safety but integrity.

So this is not the end of the story. There’s always more we can do to live our values and tap the talents of our people. It’s going to be an ongoing task for future Secretaries of State and Administrators at AID and for people at every level of our government. So even as we celebrate 20 years with Ben Franklin looking down at us, I want you to leave this celebration thinking about what more each and every one of you can do – those who are currently serving in our government, those who have served in the past, and those who I hope will decide to serve – to make not only the agencies of our government but our world more just and free for all people.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Secretary Clinton To Deliver Remarks at GLIFAA's 20th Anniversary Celebration

Wish I could be there...all of the past GLIFAA presidents will be in a picture with the Secretary....except me...

Secretary Clinton To Deliver Remarks at the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies 20th Anniversary Celebration

Notice to the Press
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
November 27, 2012

On Wednesday, November 28, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will deliver remarks at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), the State Department’s officially recognized employee affinity group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees.

Today, under the leadership of Secretary Clinton, LGBT employees at the State Department and their families have a level of benefits and recognition never before seen in foreign affairs agencies of the U.S. government. Most notably, Secretary Clinton is responsible for the extension of the full range of legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of Foreign Service members serving overseas. She also instituted the 2010 revision of the Department’s equal employment opportunity policy to prohibit discriminatory treatment of employees and job applicants based on gender identity.

Advocating for employees of the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, the Foreign Agricultural Service, the Foreign Commercial Service, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and all foreign affairs units of the U.S. government, GLIFAA works to ensure full parity for LGBT personnel and their families in U.S. foreign affairs agencies serving both domestically and abroad. GLIFAA began in 1992 to challenge a security clearance process that at the time discriminated against LGBT employees. GLIFAA has grown since that time to include hundreds of members and associates and become the officially recognized voice of LGBT personnel in U.S. foreign affairs agencies.

Members of the GLIFAA Board meet regularly with the management of the State Department, USAID, and other agencies to discuss ideas and solutions to address the continued concerns of LGBT personnel and their families. The issuance of a non-discriminatory policy by then Secretary of State Warren Christopher in 1994 was an early success. In the summer of 2009, GLIFAA was instrumental in encouraging the Department of State to grant Eligible Family Member (EFM) status to domestic partners of Department employees and to their children. This change was followed by a number of other agencies which send employees overseas.

Secretary Clinton, Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, and GLIFAA President Ken Kero-Mentz will deliver remarks. Congressman David Cicilline, GLIFAA co-founder David Buss, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer will also participate in the program. The event will take place in the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin Franklin Dining Room from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The event will be open press for remarks.

Pre set for video cameras:1:00 p.m. from the 23rd Street Entrance Lobby.

Final access time for journalists and still photographers: 1:30 p.m. from the 23rd Street Entrance Lobby.

Media representatives may attend this event upon presentation of one of the following: (1) A U.S. Government-issued identification card (Department of State, White House, Congress, Department of Defense or Foreign Press Center), (2) a media-issued photo identification card, or (3) a letter from their employer on letterhead verifying their employment as a journalist, accompanied by an official photo identification card (driver's license, passport).

For further information, please contact Cory Andrews at, or visit

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tallinn Christmas Market

Sometimes living in the place seems a little like living in a fairy tale land.

Christmas is one of those times.

Tallinn is well known for its Old City, and their Christmas market in the Old City is listed among the top ten Christmas markets in Europe. It is definitely one reason (of many) that I love living here.

The market opened today and will be open through January 8 (because folks here celebrate traditional and Orthodox Christmas).

We went over today with some friends to check it out...I took some pictures, but of course it is more fairy tale like when there is snow. However, next Sunday, we are going to the advent lighting in the old Town Hall, so I will be able to get some better shots from up there...and maybe there will even be some snow to make it look like the winter wonderland it is!

The last shot is from inside Kehrwieder, because although there is no snow, we still needed to warm up with some hot chocolate!

Friday, November 23, 2012


Unless you live under a rock, you know yesterday was Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday for me.

On the one hand, I love the food. And more than that, I love the time with family.

So that makes being overseas in the Foreign Service at Thanksgiving particularly difficult, because it is a very American holiday, one where we expect to be with family. And one where there is generally no overseas equivalent. So we make our own amongst the embassy community.

For us, that meant dinner at the Ambassador's house with about 30 people. The food was awesome and the company excellent.

But as an Indian person, I recognize the one-sidedness of the Thanksgiving story we are taught in schools. I know that the line "the Indians had never seen such a feast" could not be more wrong, since not only were the foods at that feast indigenous to the Americas, but fall harvest celebrations were common to many tribes in the area (and in the Southeast as well, where I am from). So it was actually the colonists who had never seen such a feast.

I also know that the colonists could not have survived had Indians not been decimated by plagues brought by that first contact, and had the remaining Indians not been willing to share their knowledge and their bounty with the colonists.

I know too that one of the first celebrated Thanksgivings was actually a celebration of the massacre of an Indian village, the occupants of which were killed in their sleep after their festive fall harvest celebration. And I know that throughout our country's history, the chapters involving Indian people have been mostly painful tales of slavery, war, and annihilation.

I am clearly part dad is white and my mother was mixed Indian and white. And mixed as well are my feelings...I know I wouldn't be here without immigrants, but as an Indian, as well as my tribe's historian, I also know the devastation that brought. I personally am the descendant of one man who died on the trail of tears and another who was sold into slavery and then freed for his service in the Revolutionary War.

And so I am hyper aware of my Indianness when I am at a Thanksgiving meal, especially when that meal is away from my family and so it is harder to remove it from the reality of that first contact. But this year, though far from home, there were two other Indians at the table. I wore my medicine bag just inside my shirt, and I noticed my friend, an enrolled member of the Eastern Cherokee Nation, wore her bone chocker-type bracelet just inside her shirt sleeve.

From across the table, I discreetly showed her the bone "chain" that holds my bag, and pointed to her wrist.

She smiled and nodded, and we both understood.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 National Transgender Day of Remembrance

From the State Department:

Office of Origin: S/OCR
Announcement Number: 2012_11_115
Date of Announcement: November 19, 2012


2012 National Transgender Day of Remembrance

National Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed on November 20th each year to memorialize those who suffered or died as a result of anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Such persons were victimized simply because they failed to meet someone else’s expectation of how they should identify or present themselves. Globally, the transgender community is among the most vulnerable and most misunderstood of communities, often facing lives of persecution, humiliation, poverty, exclusion, and rejection – even from their own families.

On this day, we reflect on the international transgender community's historic and ongoing struggle for equal social treatment, civil protections, opportunities and rights.

The Department is committed to treating all of its employees with dignity and respect and providing a work environment free of discrimination.


The Department of State and GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies), are proud to recognize this day and hope that all State employees will take the opportunity to mark this important day. GLIFAA is the officially recognized employee resource group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and ally employees in U.S. foreign affairs agencies serving in the U.S. and abroad. GLIFAA works to achieve full equality (in policy, treatment, benefits, etc.) for its members.

For further information on Transgender Day of Remembrance please visit:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marine Corps Ball

I don't really like Balls.

Or dressing up generally.

But I love our Marines (especially since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell). So I go.

Happy 237th birthday, Marines!.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thank You

I am really enjoying our (much needed) three-day weekend after a jam-packed few weeks that included a trip to Narva, an early morning election event, and then Friday, a trip to Tartu.

I am thankful for the chance to catch up on sleep, finally get a haircut, and for the chance to get out twice to the St. Martin's Day Fair, where I finished my Christmas shopping (don't be a are just jealous!)

But I mostly really thankful for the reason behind that three-day weekend: our veterans.

I believe in our country and I believe in service to it. Had I not been a lesbian, I likely would have joined the military. And my service in the Foreign Service is my way of serving since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed after I was a little too long in the tooth to join.

I appreciate those who have answered that call, people such as my grandfather as well as both my father- and mother-in-law. But of course, there are many other people in my life who have also answered that call, such as Sez, one of my favorite people on the planet, and James, a good friend since high school.

We are free because of people like you.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Turning A Corner

You won't hear me talk much about partisan politics. As Foreign Service Officers, we serve whoever is the President. And that would not have changed for me had the election gone the other way.

I have my opinions, and my friends know them. But what I will tell you publically a few things I am celebrating. One, I am celebrating that we as Americans, though we may differ on the way to get there, all want what is best for our country, and we demonstrate it with our vote. I am proud that we have a country where we can vote and where we can disagree without fear.

But this election, I am especially proud to see us turning a corner on equality.

For the first time, voters chose equality. In Maryland, Maine and Washington, voters chose full marriage equality. And in Minnesota, voters chose not to enshrine hate into the constitution (though same-sex marriage is still illegal there).

And for the first time ever, an open lesbian has been elected to the U.S. Senate.

This all gives me great hope.

Of course, the caveat is that I don't think my rights should be up for a vote. When the Supreme Court overturned misegenation laws in 1967, 75% of the population was opposed to interracial marriage. But the Court did the right thing anyway, because rights should not be up to the tryanny of the majority. That said, I am still happy the voters did the right thing. We are moving in the right direction. No sane person on either side of the political aisle now questions whether people of color should be considered fully equal and have equal rights. Because of course they should. And it is my hope, and my belief, that we will one day reach that point with full equality for LGBT persons.

Until then, I will revel in this corner turned, knowing that at least there are a few more places that I can add to my potential retirement list. Seattle seems nice...

And I will hold onto the hope that one day, my beloved South Carolina will also be added to that list. Because really I want to retire to Folly Beach, but only if my family is fully protected by full marriage equality.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Feeling Disenfranchised

I have never been ambivalent about voting.

I remember when I was very little, my parents would take me into the voting booth with them. I couldn't wait to be old enough to share in this important responsibility.

And then when I was 13, there was Mrs. Wiggs, my teacher at St. Peter's Catholic School (who remains one of my favorite teachers of all times...remember how I told you that I will kill myself to please someone who has high standards and expectations but trusts me to fulfill them? She was one of those teachers). Mrs. Wiggs told us that if we didn't vote, we didn't have a right to complain. And I think she was right.

So since I really want the right to complain, I vote.

I have voted in every major election and most of the minor ones since I turned 18.

And I voted in this one. About 6 weeks ago. I even blogged about it.

And I sent my ballot back via the diplomatic pouch because our DPO mail was taking two months. I wanted to make sure it got there.

Well as of last night, it hadn't.

I checked the website, and then I called the voting office to verify.

Nope, they never got it.

So I am feeling a little disenfranchised.

I suppose there is always a chance that they will receive it today. Or that they counted it and just didn't note it.

But the thought that I didn't get to vote in the election for the President of the country I love and serve makes me more than a little sad.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Pumpkin Diplomacy

Who doesn't love Halloween, right?

Basically, aside from of a few of a particular religious persuasion, the only people who don't like Halloween are the ones who have never experienced Halloween.

Public Diplomacy can fix that!

This week, the Embassy, together with the government of the city of Narva, hosted America Days in Estonia's third largest city. As I think I have mentioned before, Narva is in northeast Estonia, right on the Russian border. You could probably throw a stone across the Narva River and hit the castle in Ivangorod that flies the Russian flag.

The population there is approximately 97% Russian speaking (not all Russian speakers in Estonia are ethnically Russian...there are also Ukrainians, Belorussians, etc). We like to do outreach there, but because of the distance (about 3 hours), we don't get there as often as I'd like. But I think I told you before about our Soap Box Derby that we have there each year which is wildly successful and attracts people from across Estonia.

America Days is something we have done in several other places across Estonia. We have had them in Tartu, last year in Parnu, and just a few weeks ago, in Tallinn at Tallinn University of Technology, where we opened a new American Space (a smaller version of an American Corner). And the mayor of Narva wanted us to do something similar there. This week was the culmination of that.

We had three solid days of events that involved some thirty of us from the embassy, Americans and Estonians alike. We spoke to classes about American autumn traditions (including of course the elections!), held contests and treasure hunts, basketball games, and a jazz concert. We even had the Ambassador make his first trip outside of Tallinn for the occasion!

And of course, we carved pumpkins.

One of the things that I love about pumpkin carving is that it is truly an example of the melding of European and American traditions. Because while carving pumpkins originated in Europe as part of the pagan celebration of Samhain, they used gourds here that are really thick and hard to carve. But in America, we use the pumpkin that was domesticated by American Indians and is thinner and much easier to carve.

Bringing Europe and America together in a pumpkin! What's not to love!

So I had folks from the embassy all over Narva teaching pumpkin carving. Unfortunately, we had to use the thick green gourds they have here, but they still got the idea. And we had a blast! I personally taught two classes, one at a school and one at the mall.

The one at the mall was especially cool. There was a 10-year old little girl who came and watched. She was a Russian speaker but her English was excellent! I let her help me with my pumpkin, the one big orange American style one we of my staff, who had organized the entire event (and who is really impressive!) had located one for me. I had printed off a bunch of patterns the kids good look at to know what pumpkins should look like, and she spotted one of an owl and asked me to please carve that. And since she did it so sweetly and with such good English, how could I refuse!

The whole event was a lot of fun, and I think a great success. We got lots of media coverage, got lots of Americans to Narva for the first time, and I even got to use my Estonian professionally a good bit (lots of the officials who are native Russian speakers speak Estonian fluently but not English). The concert, which honored murdered journalist Daniel Pearl and was organized by Fulbrighter Dr. Anthony Braker and using students from the Estonian Music Academy who are incredibly gifted, was amazing. Let me just tell you, those musicians were having a blast, and I have never seen a voice harmonize with an alto sax like that! And the room was PACKED! Of course, the people of Estonian are known for their love of music.

I am exhausted after the event, but of course there is no time for rest. Tuesday is the presidential election...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

More Than Was Promised

I am just going to go on record as saying that is not so hot at predicting snowfall totals in Estonia.

Because really, one inch is not equal to like 8 inches.

I know that and I am no math genius.

And of course, all that snow had to come Friday night, which would ordinarily be great since we didn't have to get up early on Saturday.

Except of course, we did, because we had scheduled an appointment for the car's 70,000 mile check up.

And of course, I thought the appointment was at 11. But it was at 1:30.

So we had to drive out there and then get a taxi home and back there later.

And of course, all of this was without our snow tires, because the deadline for having your snow tires on is December 1st. December, not October.

On a side note, snow tires here are seriously awesome. They have metal studs in them to help with your traction. Seriously awesome. Too bad they aren't legal in the states.

We did try to get an appointment to get our tires changed when we saw the forecast, but so apparently did every other person in Estonia. So we are hoping to get an appointment next week.

Because according to, we are supposed to have snow showers later this week.

Which probably means we will have a blizzard.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Election Exhaustion

I am so ready for elections to be over. Beyond ready.

Not because I don't care who wins. I do, though don't ask me who I am voting for because I won't tell you. I have to work for whoever wins.

And not because I am tired of all the campaigning. That would be true if I were in the U.S., but really, you don't hear much of it overseas. It is a major advantage of being overseas at election time. My only "American" television is AFN (American (formerly Armed) Forces Network), the television programming for the military. And like me, they work for whoever wins, so no campaign ads. In fact, no real ads at all unless you count "never shake a baby."

No, the reason I am ready for it to be over is that I have SO MUCH to dobetween now and then. (Voting is not among those things...that I took care of a while back so I could make sure my ballot made it home in time to count.) Elections are a great time for Public Diplomacy officers because it is a ready made topic to reach out to foreign audiences and explain America, especially American democracy.

Because when you really think about it, that a country can have a peaceful, predictable change of power every 4-8 years is pretty incredible.

So we do a lot of programming around it. We do tons of school visits explaining what is happening and what will happen after the fact. In our embassy, that has meant lots of heavy lifting for my section, but for other sections too. We have been trying to get as many Americans as possible out and talking, and we have had to put together good materials for them to use in their presentations. We are particularly working with our Regional Outreach teams (teams of one American and one local staff member assigned to each of Estonia's 15 counties) to get the word out. And they have been doing an awesome job at it.

We are in the final stretch now. We will be going to the north east part of the country to do a marathon two days of talking to schools and other programming surrounding Narva's America Days. 

And then of course, there is election night/morning.

Every embassy has a big event and we are no exception. 

We are not pulling an all-nighter...some posts in the region are and others aren't. We are, however, getting to the event location at o-dark-thirty so the event can start while some of the polls are still open.We are expecting hundreds of Estonians, from middle school students to members of Parliament, to show up. We'll have food, reporters, moderators explaining the elections, televisions running in the background, and more. It will be great! And exhausting. In fact, I am already tired.

I'll sleep when it is all over. 

And oh yeah. Don't forget to vote.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Sound of Impending Doom

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I love Estonia and I love my job.

Except for one thing.

I am not a fan of the cold. I don't particularly care for snow. And I really do love hot weather.

So Estonia's weather doesn't do it for me.

All this "summer," I really wanted to stomp my feet and yell, "What gives, Estonia? I can deal with your winters but you gotta give me some summer." In fact, I might have actually stomped my feet and said that out loud. And for the record, three days of it just making it into the low 80s is not summer. That's spring.

So here we are in what ought to be autumn. I say ought to be because for me, autumn is temps in the 60s, not 30s. And it damn sure ain't snow.

And yet, today, in October, just days after the end of the State Fair in South Carolina (where they have a log flume because you will NOT catch a death of cold if you get wet), we had our first snow.

The current temperature is 37. The forecast high was 39, but I am not sure it made it. And tonight it will be below freezing.

And tomorrow we are supposed to get an inch of snow.

Even the Estonians are complaining about it. Which is a Really. Bad. Sign.

We already have R&R planned for the beach in SC in January. I am thinking I need to also plan us a little escape maybe in February. Maybe Italy. Or Greece.

'Cause this is gonna be a bad one.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

We Need A Slogan!

The lament is as old as diplomacy:

No one really gets us.

Even Benjamin Franklin, our nation's first diplomat, was misunderstood and to a degree, mistrusted. It is like we are a bit too tainted by our interactions with "furn-ners."

Amongst ourselves, we share stories of telling people what we do. If you say you are in the Foreign Service, people ask if that is like the Foreign Legion. If you say State Department, they ask you which state.

And if you say you are a diplomat, they just think you are uppity.

It is this lack of understanding among the American people that makes it so easy for Congress to slash our budget. Even our security budget. And then bad things happen (and the Department gets blamed...).

So I have said many times before and will say again, we need to be better at telling our story. Telling the good, bad and ugly about life in the Service. I try to do some of that here, in the hopes that some will read it and understand the prices we pay to serve, but also so that some of the best and brightest out there will decide it is a worthy cause and join us.

I am selfish like that...serving with good people makes the hard parts easier, so I want to convince all you good people out there to serve with me.

So again, and not for the last time, join me in telling our stories.

But also...

We need a slogan.

The Marines have "The Few. The Proud..." Army has "Army Strong."

We need one too...and it can't involve pin-stripes or cookie pushing. Those stereotypes are long past their shelf life.

Instead, something like:

"Bringing Your To The World and The World To You."

Or "Spreading American Values Since 1776."

Or "Using Our Words So Our Soldiers Don't Have To Face Their Guns."

Or "We're Everywhere So You Don't Have To Be."

Or "Making America Safer One Poster Show At A Time."

Help me come up with a good one...and then let's spread it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


It has been just over a month, but the attacks on our embassies and consulates and the deaths of four diplomats including one friend are never far from my mind. And the dangers friends continue to face continues to worry me.

The politicizing of this situation, however, including the blame game going on, is infuriating.

That the very people who have repeatedly slashed our security budget would then try to find scapegoats within the State Department, the people who have tried their best to "do more with less," is unconscionable.

We know we sign on for dangerous tasks when we join the Service. It is a risk most of us gladly take for the privilege of serving the country and the feeling that we get to make a difference and help keep America safe.

Since I last posted on this topic, there have been a couple good pieces I wanted to share with you on what we do and the choices we make to do it.

From American University Radio:

U.S. Diplomats Grapple With Risks, Rewards Of Jobs Overseas

"Citing statistics from AFSA surveys over the last eight years, [AFSA President Susan] Johnson says 89 percent of the foreign service now say they have served in hardship posts of 15 percent or above. And when it comes to what the foreign service refers to as "danger posts," Johnson says, "Thirty-three percent say they've served in unaccompanied posts. And 'unaccompanied posts' means they're so dangerous that you can't take your family."

Then, as we've recently seen in Lebanon, Tunisia and Sudan, there's the number of foreign service workers who have experienced an emergency evacuation: to date, about 22 percent. In terms of all authorized evacuations since June 1988, Johnson says the reasons for these ordered departures include everything from earthquakes and cyclones to civil unrest, war and, of course, terrorism.

"That's the environment in which diplomacy needs to operate, and we accept that," Johnson says.

And From McClatchy, this:

Risky business: U.S. diplomats abroad

"The ambassador's decision points to an often overlooked truth about diplomacy: at its core, it is risk. From the craft's origins in antiquity, diplomats left the protections of our own borders and relied for our safety on persuasion, judgment and our indispensable role, without which state-to-state relations would go dark. Our presence on foreign soil best positions us to assess others' receptivity to our messages and to persuade them to work with us. But we are exposed when we are abroad.


In many places, it is difficult to distinguish friend from enemy. Our role is to clarify and to win partners. We cannot leave the world in the hands of economic or strategic competitors, or in the grip of dictators, criminals or extremists. We must, in the can-do spirit of our country, take necessary risks to represent the American case. We compete, we win, and we bring others along with us. These are the reasons that Ambassador Blaney chose to keep the flag flying in Liberia. They are the reasons that Ambassador Stevens and his team ventured last year into a contested land."

We are doing our best, under dangerous and trying conditions, to serve the country and make America safer for Americans. The blame game going on now to me is akin to rejecting a military request for bullet-proof vests and then blaming the supply guy when they get shot. So rather than looking for ways to blame those on the ground for doing the best than they could with the limited resources we are given, how about take a look at this moving piece, written by fellow blogger L over at Four Globetrotters, about what they faced in Tunisia and how they responded.

All employees are ordered to the safe haven. Everyone dutifully files in, deposits their cell phones since the safe haven is a phone-free zone. Reports continue to come in. The motor pool is on fire. The rec center is on fire. The employee parking lot is on fire. Protesters are on the roof of the Chancery. We immediately begin to do what we know to do. Destroy classified. I hear the sound of sledge hammers pounding away, comforted to know that my colleagues are destroying the classified material. The sound of the hammers echo through the Embassy, making the walls vibrate. Find out that sound isn't coming from within. The protesters are at our windows and are intent on getting in. They are attempting to set fire to the Chancery, dousing the building with gasoline and setting it on fire. My mind flashes back to the images from Benghazi, just a few days prior. I visualize the caskets of my dead colleagues on board the C-130 in Tripoli.

A faint smell of smoke begins to waft through the safe haven, where I'm sitting with 103 of my colleagues, some of whom are panicking and crying. I'm trying very hard to project calm and confidence. The fire alarm goes off. Someone decides to go get everyone's cell phones so we can start calling our loved ones. I sent three quick emails from my blackberry -- to my ex-husband: "In safehaven. People are on the compound, on roof. Tell the kids I love them so much. If the worst happens don't let them forget me.", one to my parents and my sisters, and one to my very special person. I'm worried sick about my motor pool team, stuck in an outside building.

I'm worried sick about my friends like L, as they continue to face danger, as well as my friends back in the Department, now no doubt second-guessing every decision they have made as they tried to do more with the less they were given and wondering whether they will be the sacrificial lamb in this tragedy.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Not Once In A Lifetime

Before I joined the Service, I truly thought of overseas travel as a once in a lifetime kind of thing.

And I'd had my once in a lifetime trip before I met my wife. I had gone to Germany for a week. I had loved it, but I had no expectation I would ever go overseas again.

And then I met my wife, and together we went to London so she could do some research for her dissertation.

And then she joined the Service, and I went out to Azerbaijan three times to see her.

And then I joined the Service, and just like that, travel shifted from the thing other people get to do to the thing we get to do. From the once in a lifetime to the plan for a long weekend.

Since joining the Service, I have been served in Jerusalem and Estonia. And I have visited Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany again, and Russia. And just this weekend, I added Hungary to the list.

This is one of the things I love about being in the Service. I always suspected I would love to travel. Now I KNOW I love it. The trip to Hungary was just an overnighter. My wife had a conference there and while I couldn't join her for the whole week (alas, work interfered!), I could take off Thursday and Friday and fly out to join her.

I didn't get to do a lot of sightseeing while I was there, but I did get to spend an evening with good friends from A-100 and another friend who also serves in the Baltics. And the view from our hotel, plus pictures my wife took on a river cruise that was part of her conference, give me a good idea of where to visit when we go back.

When. Not if.

Because travel isn't once in a lifetime for me anymore.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Not All Who Wander

One of the cool things about being in the Foreign Service is all the places you get to see that you might not have otherwise.

This weekend, because my wife had not yet made it to Tartu, we decided to hop in the car and go there.

Tartu, as I have mentioned before, is a beautiful city, the second largest in Estonia at just more than 100,000 residents. I have been there several times for work, as well as during my language immersion, but we had just not gotten around to making the two hour trek there for fun.

We watched a bit of the Tartu Marathon (which we hadn't known was happening), wandered the town a bit, took a few pictures, and had lunch at a nice little cafe in town hall square. Then we wandered along the Ema Jogi, the country's most important river, and spotted some swings on the river bank. We spotted this rainbow as well.

For whatever reason, Estonia is the land of rainbows. Maybe God just really loves Estonia. Or they have put up with enough that it is a message to them that he won't put them through that again in the future.

At any rate, we spotted this double rainbow on the way home, and then another at home before the sun set. And I spotted one from my office window a few minutes ago.

I will be doing a bit more wandering this week. My wife is going to a conference in Budapest, Hungary this week. I can't join her for all of it, but I am going to fly out for one night. I am never been there and we have good friends living there now. So why not?

Now when in my past life could I have said, Hey, why don't I fly out to Budapest for the night?

Not. Ever.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Actually, not at all. It is just a good title to explain why I haven't posted in a week.

So no, not back in the U.S.S.R. First, because this was my first visit to Russia, and I am currently back FROM there. And second, because Russia is clearly NOT the U.S.S.R. (which no longer exists), as is evidenced by the reason for my visit –

Social media.

I was in Moscow last week for training on social media in Russian space. But getting there was half the battle.

It started more than a month ago. When the announcement for the training came out, I deleted it because they required post to pay for the travel. And my budget was stretched thin. But then the department came up with money for me and one of my staff to travel. So we happily agreed to go.

All went well with getting our visas. So our next problem was just getting on the plane. They had us on standby! Not sure how that happens with what the government pays for fares, but luckily we managed to get on the plane. Then we get to passport control. And the officer says to me “You came in from Copenhagen in August 2011.”

I answered in Estonian, Yes. I work here.

“But you have no visa.”

Luckily, I had my diplomatic card. I brought it at the last minute thinking I would need it to get back INTO Estonia, not that I would need it to keep me from being deported!

The flight was uneventful, but the traffic is Moscow is ridiculous. It took forever to get to the Golden Ring hotel.

We spent the first evening wandering around, and I got to tick on an item on my bucket list – seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral at Red Square. I didn’t get to see Lenin though…the entire building containing his tomb was covered by a gigantic sign for a light show that was to start a few days later.

We went to the Arbot and looked at souvenirs, then ate, of all places, at a Wendy’s. Don’t judge me. Sometimes you need a frosty.

The next two days were spent at the embassy, which is BIG. The room where our class was held overlooked a nice green space…it could have been any apartment complex in Arlington. You could watch people walking their dogs and babies staring out of apartment windows, runners getting exercise and moms with strollers. You could forget it was a compound.

Lots of folks at the embassy apparently live on the compound, and I really think you could survive without ever leaving it. In addition to the green spaces and homes, there is dry cleaning, a cafeteria, a commissary that is like a small grocery store, a gym, a park with playground equipment, and there was even a bar! I bet there are people who never leave it, though that for me kind of defeats the purpose of being in the Foreign Service.

I saw a ton more people who I knew than I expected. Friends from Riga and Minsk. A fellow blogger. There was even someone who was in my oral assessment! And of course, people from big PA in Washington. Of course, the State Department is a very small world…I even ran into someone my wife served with at Main State.

After the first day of training, we had a reception at the DCM’s house. All I can say is wow, she has a seriously awesome chef! Sadly, the food was just finger food (I would so love to taste her meals!), so after the reception, some of us headed to dinner. We found a place on the Arbot that served pasta and sushi, a weird combo but okay none the less. The eel was better than in Tallinn, the smoked salmon was worse and the salmon roe doesn’t seem to exist here.

Our second day of training started entirely too early…you should not have to get to training earlier than you normally go to work. But the session was a good one on creating a crisis response plan, so with the help of copious amounts of coffee (which I normally don’t drink) and an engaging instructor, I made it through.

The one thing lacking in the training was time to sight-see, so I opted out of a dinner they scheduled for our second day and walked around Red Square instead. I needed to buy some souvenirs (got them...complete with haggling!) and see more of the Kremlin. And ride the metro again. I am glad I was with a Russian speaker, because Russians and Americans are alike in the lack of an inclination to put their signs in anything but their own language. The city is challenging for those of us with barely above zero Russian skills.

So there you have it. My excuse for not blogging this past week. No tigers. Just no time or computer access! I am glad I went, but even more glad to be home. And I got some good news after I got back…I got promoted! Guess I will have to quit saying "this is why I will never get promoted!"

Sunday, September 23, 2012


The last two weeks have been a blur.

They started with the murder of friends and colleagues and ended with a big military conference which included a visit by Admiral Stavridis. Lots of stars on those shoulders!

And there is no end in sight...tomorrow I leave for a four days in Moscow (probably won't be able to blog there, so don't worry if I don't write that I have been eaten by Tigers), then I come back for a reception and a Public Affairs visitor to show around. Oh, and did I mention we have a new Ambassador?

At least this weekend, we were able to have a little fun.

A friend from Embassy Riga spent the night with us, and it was nice to get to hang out. And last night, I actually got to watch my alma mater play football on tv! And then today, there were the shrooms.

Estonians love their mushrooms. And our CLO arranged a trip for us out into a national forest for a day of mushrooming with a local expert.

She said there were some 10,000 different kinds of mushrooms in Estonia. She identified a few that we might find in the forest. Don't ask me what kind they were. I probably gathered about half edible and half not. I am still not sure how to tell them apart, and I don't see myself ever cooking anything I gathered.

I did learn how to identify some magic mushrooms though...because I found them.

They are really pretty.

I picked this one...that was before I knew what kind it was.

No, I didn't eat it or take it home. Or the other ones like it that I found.

The ones I found that were edible were not as pretty...and once she took out all the poisonous ones, were also not too abundant.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why Should We Care About Diplomacy?

The murder of our friends and colleagues continues to shine a much needed light on the hard work our countries diplomats do.

I wish I thought that it would last and that Americans would truly come to appreciate our work, which Nick Kralev noted in his recent article, Why Should We Care About Diplomacy?, saying,
"U.S. diplomacy affects the everyday lives of Americans, including their safety and security, their ability to travel and communicate with people in other countries, their employment and overall prosperity. Yet, it is astonishing how little we know about our diplomats, and about their skills and work."

Another nice piece, Diplomats, Security and the Budget, came out yesterday, telling a bit more about our work and how we have been affected by budget cuts. Because those who fight tooth and nail against any cuts to the military budget slash away at ours not realizing the impact it has not just to our ability to do our jobs but to our safety when we do it.

The article, which notes that since 1980 and prior to the murder of Chris, Sean, Rone and Glen, 88 diplomats have died in the line of duty, most the victims of attacks, says:

"The deaths last week of Stevens, Smith, Doherty, and Woods should remind all of us of the extreme risks and daily discomforts that are taken by a great many of the thousands of men and women who staff the more than 260 embassies, consulates, and missions we maintain in 180 separate countries. We should also recognize that our national security is as dependent on men like Christopher Stevens and the work they do in weaving together alliances and bringing stability to strife-torn regions of the world as by our investments in military hardware or our deployment of military personnel. It is a tough, often dirty business—it deserves our respect and appreciation.

It also deserves resources. In each of the last two years, Congress has cut President Obama’s request for U.S. Foreign Service and U.S. Agency for International Development staffing levels despite repeated analysis by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, indicating that our embassies are critically understaffed.

But even more inexcusable are the repeated and deep cuts made to embassy security and construction. Thousands of our diplomatic personnel are serving overseas in facilities that do not come close to meeting the minimal requirements for security established by the so-called Inman commission’s report on overseas diplomatic security to President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state more than two decades ago."

I believe it is easy for our budget to be slashed because people don't know what we do or the dangers we face. And so telling our story, so that Americans will understand more about what we do, is a big part of the reason I and more than 400 others in the Foreign Service, have blogs. I want to share with you what everyday life is like for a diplomat, what we do and what we endure to serve you. And I hope too that some of you will decide that not only do you think our service is worthwhile, but that you want to join us.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Welcome Home

This is video of the transfer of remains ceremony. I wish I could have been there, but I was able to watch some of it on television.

Welcome home.

ABC's Persons of the Week

ABC named American Diplomats Serving Overseas as their Persons of the Week.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Telling Our Story

Since the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and Security Officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty in Tuesday's terrorist attack on our Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, prayers and wishes have been all over regular and social media. But I know that as with all things, as we in the Foreign Service will continue to feel as though we are walking in the Twilight Zone, watching while the world moves on to the next thing.

But while we have this brief moment where the country's attention is focused on diplomats and what we do, I wanted to share with you a couple of good articles that have come out about our work.

We all need to do a better job of telling our story, and we need to start now, for the brief moment that we have the country's attention, even though it took the deaths of four patriots to get it.

From Nick Kralev at Foreign Policy:

America's Other Army‎ "We cannot expect to be protected by our geographic position, which historically has been such an advantage for America -- I think Sept. 11 demonstrated that conclusively," Clinton told me. "In order to maximize the chances that we will enjoy security and tranquility here at home, we have to be in effect the chairman of the board of the world -- to try to get friends and allies to work with us, to mitigate problems, to bring about solutions that neutralize or prevent nonstate actors, as well as rogue states, from taking actions that put the lives and property of our people and our friends and allies at risk."

Got that? For the United States to be truly secure and prosperous, the whole world has to be secure and prosperous -- and that is "the world we seek," according to the National Security Strategy. At the same time, the White House recognizes "the world as it is" and acknowledges that the U.S. government must deal with it. This is where the U.S. diplomats come in: It's their job to reconcile the sometimes contradictory goals of protecting American interests in the short term while also -- somehow -- working to reshape the world into a more secure and prosperous place for future generations.

From Ambassador Prudence Bushnell writing for the NY Times:
Our Diplomats Deserve Better "Diplomacy is a dangerous profession. You cannot exert influence by whispering in diplomatic code to your government counterparts behind closed doors. You do not spread American values — especially in places where passions are high, governments fragile and guns plentiful — by remote control from Washington. You have to get out from behind the walls and engage with people. We know this can put us in harm’s way; our people in the Benghazi consulate knew it. And they did their jobs anyway.

That is because, hokey as it sounds, the people who represent us overseas really do believe they can make a difference. They confront violent behavior and strong passions with American leadership, smart power and peaceful means."

From Daniel Nasaw of the BBC: 
Libya attack: US diplomats have to work around the danger "Of course, people who join the foreign service know what they're in for . . . I don't think American diplomats are surprised or intimidated by the fact that they have to serve in difficult places," -- Paul Bremer

From Larry O'Donnell and Senator John McCain on MSNBC:
Dangers Facing State Department Workers Senator McCain is especially eloquent, and O'Donnell makes clear that we and the military have in common that we are government workers serving the country.

And now I will leave you with two images, one is of Secretary Clinton and President Obama at "The Wall" in the State Department that lists the names of all those who have died in the line of duty in the Foreign Service. Since World War II, more Ambassadors have died in the line of duty than Generals or Admirals.

And the next of of my friend Chris and his three fellow diplomats coming home. God speed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who Chris Was To Me

You undoubtedly know that in Benghazi, Libya on the evening of September 11, four members of the Foreign Service family were killed during an attack on our consulate.

Two have not been named, pending notification of their families. One was Sean Smith, an Information Management Officer normally posted to The Hague but who volunteered for temporary duty there. And the other was our Ambassador to Libya and my friend, Chris Stevens.

There is the old line about six degrees of separation. That everyone in the world is separated (sometimes from Kevin Bacon) by only six people. But there are never six degrees of separation in the Foreign Service. The line about there being fewer diplomats than military musicians is true. And so I doubt there is ever more than two degrees of separation in the Service. If you don’t know a person, you certainly know someone who does. 

But with Chris, there was only one. We served together for more than a year and he was my friend.

There are certainly people who knew Chris better than I do. Many people have served with him over the course of his career with the State Department, and he was the kind of guy it was hard not to like. In fact, one of my friends went to Libya to serve with him at his request…how could you say no to a guy like that? I know her heart today, like mine, is broken.

You have read all of the official accounts of him. He was a gifted diplomat, a former Peace Corps volunteer who devoted much of his career to the Middle East. A devoted friend to Libya who went there first as an envoy to the rebels and then as their Ambassador once they had escaped Ghaddafi’s oppressive regime. He was devoted to his work and to his country.

But all of those reports talk about Ambassador Stevens, with all the lofty connotations of a person in that position.

To me, he was still Chris.

Chris was the political chief in Jerusalem when I arrived there as a freshly-minted Junior Officer. Shortly after my arrival, he assumed the position of Deputy Principal Officer, or DPO. DPOs are the consulate’s version of a DCM, or Deputy Chief of Mission. These are the folks who are second in charge at an Embassy or Consulate right after the Ambassador at the Embassy or the Principal Officer at a Consulate. And because the Consulate in Jerusalem is autonomous, meaning that unlike other consulates, it reported directly to DC and not to the Embassy (because our consulate in Jerusalem is our mission to the Palestinians. We don’t have our embassy there because the final status of Jerusalem is an issue for negotiation between the Israelis and Palestinians, and we don’t want to prejudice those negotiations). So basically, Chris was our Deputy Ambassador.

The duties of DCMs and DPOs are many, but one of the most important is that they serve as a mentor to the Junior Officers. So Junior Officers often get to know their DCMs very well. And such was the case for me with Chris.

For me, Chris wasn’t the Ambassador at an important mission. He was the guy who invited all of us JOs over to his place for pizza to talk about our concerns. He was the guy who would have parties at his awesome apartment with its amazing view of the city to display the photography of one of our Marines.

And he was the guy whose couch I would sit on and rant (or occasionally cry) about whatever the frustration of the day, week, month, or year was (and in Jerusalem, there were many). Sometimes he would listen patiently, sometimes he would tease, and sometimes he would offer solutions.

I have heard rumblings that his death is being used back in the states as a tool to score political points. Shame on those who are doing it. I am glad I am not there to hear it.

Chris’ life and death are not a tool for political gain. They are a testament to what we do as diplomats. We are the ones who are in not just the dangerous places you hear about in the news, like Afghanistan and Iraq, but equally dangerous places around the globe. Places where we lack the protection provided by the presence of our military. And yet we go there, because to not be in those places is for America to give up on relations with those places. It is for America to give up on peace with those places, on partnership with those places. We go to places where the military is not in hopes that they never have to go there. In a very real way, we place ourselves in front of the front line in the hopes that our words will spare American lives.

Chris and I hadn’t stayed in close touch, though we were friends on Facebook. The last time I talked to him was to congratulation him on his Ambassadorship because he deserved it.

He was a great guy, and I really liked him. And I will miss him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Losing A Friend

I have written here many times about the dangers of Foreign Service work. About how we are risking our lives to serve the country.

Many people scoff at that notion. They think being a diplomat is about going to fancy parties. Pin-striped cookie pushers they call us.

Today, my heart hurts. Today, we lost four Americans serving our country. Among them, my friend Ambassador Chris Stevens.

I served with Chris in Jerusalem. He was our political chief and then our Deputy Principal Officer. He was a great diplomat and a great guy.

And he was a true friend to the people who killed him.

I can't really write much more about it right now, so I am going to leave you with the thoughts from some friends and with the video to introduce Chris as the new Ambassador to Libya. Because as one friend said, I want you to remember him as he was.

From Laura Smiley:

"I don't pontificate very often (*cough* - well, I guess I do), but as well as soluting our military and fire/police departments, we should recognize that there are those who choose to serve on the front lines, trying to engage directly with the people in other countries on a daily basis. These foreign service personnel do not carry weapons. They (usually) do not wear bullet-proof vests. They are often found in the epicenters of poverty and anti-American sentiment, quietly bringing the basic building blocks of civilization (education, clean water, medicine, electricity), or building upon those blocks (women's education, sustainable agriculture, democracy, civil society). They proudly represent the values and ideals of our great country abroad, and are true patriots.

"Smart, courageous, and much too self-deprecating (or at least not self-promoting as much as their credentials would certainly allow), I love serving along side of these selfless men and women!

"I ask you to spend a moment reflecting on their service, as well as their sacrifices."

And this from my A-100 classmate Tim Davis:

The Foreign Service is a mystery to most Americans. If you're reading this and not in the Foreign Service I may be your only link toAmerica's diplomats. Today, two of our missions were attacked and it's likely one of my colleagues was killed.

It's true that diplomats go to fancy receptions and meet interesting people, but it's also true that they go to the sorts of places the State Department tells you not to go; war zones with large military presences like Afghanistan and until last December Iraq. They also volunteer, however, to go to countries largely without the military,like Egypt and Libya, where today's attacks happened. And they don't just go. They raise the flag. Their sole job is to say, "I am an American and this is what we stand for.". It is a brave thing to do in places where anti-American sentiment is often palpable. It has a cost.

As someone trained in the Marine Corps it makes sense that I wouldvolunteer to go to these places. That's not particularly brave. Most of your fellow Americans in the Foreign Service who go to these places and risk their lives do so without the security of having been a Marine, but with faith in our country and the desire to do their part in projecting America's innate goodness to the world.

We are, as a nation, blessed with troops who are more courageous and more just than any the world has seen. We are equally blessed with diplomats, like my colleague today, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of America and its promise.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Simply Amazing

Sometimes I get to do amazing things as part of my job.

Like meeting the Shepards.

Judy and Dennis Shepard are there with us in Tallinn this week.

While they are here, they will meet with gay activists, do interviews, speak to classes, speak at a showing of The Laramie Project, and even meet with Estonian President Ilves.

In each place, they carry the message of the necessity of tolerance, the dangers of bigotry.

What they have suffered, having their son brutally murdered for being gay, is simply unimaginable.

That they have taken that suffering and turned it into what can only be called their ministry is simply amazing.

I have trouble, 16 years later, talking about my mother's death. I still feel she was taken from me too young.

And I was older when my mother died than their son, Matthew, was when he was murdered. And my mother was not murdered.

The depth of strength they have, to go around the world and tell their story over and over, to start the Matthew Shepard Foundation to fight the battle they fight for LGBT acceptance, to work eleven years for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act at times when it seemed it would never pass, is unfathomable.

I told them last night that I was so sorry for their loss and so amazed at what they have done. And that I wish ever LGBT person could have parents like them.