Aren't diplomats supposed to be...diplomatic??
28.06.2007 -18 °C
I was incredibly excited. I'd taken extra care to wear my "finest" clothes, I fixed my hair for the first time in months, I'll even admit to mentally rehearsing my introduction...I was going to the US Embassy to represent Animus at an anti-trafficking roundtable, and was thrilled for the opportunity.
I didn't go alone...since I'm the newbie I was accompanied by two "oldies" - Marie, the swiss volunteer, and Milena, a bulgarian co-worker. As we pulled up to a vast, shining, (mildly excessive) beacon of modernization, I knew I was on American soil. The Embassy in Sofia is absolutely beautiful, and absolutely conspicuous in its sheer grandeur.
After a fairly thorough security check – (although my metal knee didn’t set off the metal detector…curious.)– we were escorted to the meeting room. Approximately forty attendees filtered in; Bulgarians, Americans, a Dutchman, a Norwegian, and a few Frenchies. We represented non-governmental organizations, Bulgarian governmental ministries, and a wide variety of foreign/international organizations. Although the Deputy Prime Minister failed to attend, the room wasn’t short on hot shots. As the introductions were given, I realized I was sitting next to the hulking FBI director involved in anti-trafficking (he wasn’t terribly talkative). Nearby, the big-time executive director of USAID, and across the room, a former Miss Bulgaria, and the American Ambassador to Bulgaria.
Wait, who are you again? Oh, um, an intern? I don’t think anyone was terribly impressed!
As the meeting started, I was full of high hopes for our opportunity to present the current projects of Animus. Unfortunately, the mediator – (a droning legal counsel with no public speaking skills) – gave the floor to resident governmental “experts”, who prattled on about a recent trip to Italy and the Italian legislative structures. (wait, this meeting is about Bulgaria, right?) They were terribly long-winded for having so little to say. I found this to be extraordinarily frustrating: there we were, forty different people and organizations from around the world in one place, all working for the same cause, ready and willing to collaborate, exchange ideas and strengthen our initiatives. Instead, there was no debate, no real exchange, and the only opportunity I/we had was a brief, underwhelming five minutes. It was the ambassador’s turn to speak, and the wine and hors'deurves were waiting! Any collaboration would be done in the lobby, or next quarter. (the latter, most likely.)
As I was pouting about lost opportunity, wasted potential and Italian legislative structures, the Ambassador stood tall, straightened his tie, and prepared to wow us with American diplomacy. I was excited to hear him speak – I’d been eyeing him the whole meeting, contemplating which witty words I would use to impress him.
“Welcome, welcome to everyone!” (and then he threw in some Bulgarian for good measure) “I am so glad to see such a wide variety of faces – some I know, some I don’t. And it is good to see people I don’t know, it means our cause, our strength is growing.” Good, we’re feeling empowered, not so preoccupied with hors’deurves…
“I am just so glad to say that we are here today working together, trying very hard to actually make Bulgaria a normal country.”
I choked. I’ve never been so good at poker face, and I imagine that as my eyes burst from my sockets and my jaw slammed into the floor people probably knew what I was thinking. And, although Bulgarians are rather impassive – I’d say their pursed lips and dark, flashing eyes were probably agreeing with me. Suddenly, I had all sorts of witty things to say to our “diplomatic” diplomat.
Normal. What is normal? I myself have admitted that Bulgaria is ‘bizarre’, but that’s according to insignificant little me, not US policy. But even still, I don’t have the right to distinguish between what is normal and what is not, and if I did, (we are all ethnocentric, after all) I most certainly would keep my criticisms out of a room full of Bulgarians. So, we’re here to make Bulgaria normal? Not to…you know, combat human trafficking? Rescue children from slavery? Prosecute pimps and maniacs? Create support programs for victims? Reconsider our choice of speaker?
I think he lost most of his audience shortly thereafter, I know I was growing fangs and talons. It was another sad day for America.
I had the opportunity to meet the Ambassador, the director of USAID (and his tag along), the drone lawyer and the FBI agent. I handed out some annual reports, cheesed it and attempted witty conversation. They mostly grunted at me and turned away as quickly as possible. I found Mr. FBI and Mr. USAID to be particularly brusque and unpleasant. It’s amazing how small some people can make you feel…even if your five feet and two inches are brimming with fire. I was glad for the wine.
More optimistically, I did meet a few equally disenchanted youngsters around my age. Three Peace Corps volunteers, two embassy interns and a partridge in a bureaucratic pear tree. (okay, not really.) They were all very bright, very good at their jobs, and very willing to share their opinions about life. We had a nice time chatting and eating up all the hors’deurves.
I was glad I had the opportunity to go, and I am glad I saw what I saw. In a room full of the most important and influential people to the cause, absolutely nothing was accomplished.
I stole a Newsweek out of spite.