Friday, March 4, 2011

Living on the Edge

The threat of pay cuts for Federal Government workers State Department Federal Government workers who are serving abroad has clearly made an impact in our FS community. In my last post I reposted a blog entry that stated that because of how our Officers do their jobs and where they do their jobs, we do seem to deserve to have our incomes slashed. How many people stateside can do their work with the Egyptian pyramids out the window? We are lucky, lucky people who take grand family vacations every few years, receive trips home on the government dime, get dirty on safari, climb the Great Wall, slide in paper booties along the Taj Mahal, and hike skyward in rainforest canopies. Yes, we are blessed. It's a huge draw to joining the Foreign Service, seeing the world beyond our U.S. borders and enveloping ourselves in global historical moments.

On the other hand our stateside associates, both in the Federal Government and out, don't face immediate evacuation from their workplace and home by willingly serving in a country on the brink of revolution.

Nor do our stateside associates face the upheaval of our children and family due to serving our country abroad in places we didn't even know were ticking time bombs. Try telling your high school senior three months out from graduating without 99% of their classmates that it's no big deal. Now try telling that to an entire graduating class.

Yes, serving in these places is a choice, to a point. After all, the first two tours are directed which means we tell HR we'd like to go <- here or here -> but if you send me there ^ I'm OK with it too. The next few posts have a little more wiggle room in that we can actually ask for a Post and try to make it happen. Still no guarantee there. Some of us are adventurous, taking more than one tour in unaccompanied posts, while others of us bunker down in politically advantageous spots, and most of us take the middle road of hardship posts that allow our families. The thing is, all the posts need filling. When Americans outside the Embassy network need help while in a foreign country, where do they turn?

They turn to people like us. They turn to the DS folks who work with local authorities. They turn to the Consular folks who manage emergency passports. They turn to the Embassy when a teenager on a school trip goes missing, when an American child is kidnapped by a non-American parent, when an estranged family member dies abroad, when terrorists kill civilians on vacation, when those crazy Nigeria/Ivory Coast/Saudi Arabia/Malaysia emails entrap a trusting soul into giving up their life savings with no way to return home. These are not just stories, these are real people and most of these are cases my own husband has managed.

I suppose we could all quit the FS life in order to stay relatively safe and secure back home, but choosing this career is an adventure and to many, a calling. We feel what we and our spouses and our families do matters. Just as those back home feel that their job is an important one for society and fulfilling to themselves, we feel the same.

And if you were paying attention above, you know we do this job for you.

We are out there not for ourselves but for the Americans back home.

We screen people before issuing visas to try to allow the good in and keep the bad out of your neighborhood. Consular

We encourage foreign governments to understand our point-of-view, as we try to understand theirs, because friends are better than enemies when it comes to developing safer borders for all of us. Public Diplomacy

We help build economic ties around the world that feed back to our whole economy and stateside jobs. Economic

We help those who need even the basics for survival because we know helping others is what Americans do. And as we help them they develop trust of as a people and a nation. USAID

There's so much more, and we do this in places without roads. Without drinkable tap water. With diseases you've never heard of and where illnesses like chicken pox kill thousands yearly. In nations with literacy rates of 30%. In countries that don't share our thoughts on basic equality of women, homosexuals, children or people of color.

Our Foreign Service Officers live thousands of miles away from you and are faceless to the average American, but what they do is vital.

They are faceless until you need them and then realize that all Americans need them, whether they are visible or not.

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