02 July 2010
happy birthday, america
The Fourth of July comes early to the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania: June 30 and July 1 this year. Through my "Embassy connections" (read: living with State Department interns), I was fortunate enough to attend two events on back-to-back days. The first was a community barbecue on the grounds of the Embassy itself, and the second was a swank party on the lawn of the Ambassador's house.
Of course, both of these invitations came at a price. At the barbeque, I bartended on behalf of the Marines-- who apparently are in charge of supplying these events with social lubrication-- while the Marines were busy doing this:
I imagine that being on an Embassy detail as a Marine would be a little like being an airline pilot: grinding boredom on a day-to-day basis, with a tiny but ever-present risk of things suddenly becoming really stressful. (Keep in mind that the Embassy in Tanzania was one of the two that was bombed in 1998.) Those Marines do know how to have a good time, though-- here's one busting a move later in the event:
Later, naturally, came the fireworks.
In exchange for my ticket to the Ambassador's place, I accepted what was possibly the most awkward task I have ever been given. I and two other interns served as "pullers" for the receiving line... or in my preferred description, our job was to "manhandle the dignitaries." Our job was to watch the receiving line for people who were monopolizing the attention of the Ambassador, his wife, and the Deputy Chief of Mission, and as politely as humanly possible move them along. We lurked nervously in the background, careful not to stand too close to the pathway lest anyone think we might be bigwigs who needed greeting. As Tanzanian government officials, leaders of NGOs and international organizations, and ambassadors and consuls from other countries shuffled past, we debated the exact length of the delay required before a dignitary triggered a "pulling." I subscribed to the fire department theory of pulling: ideally, our services would not be needed at all. For a very long time it looked like we wouldn't need to jump in, but then two older white women were yukking it up for an awfully long time while the line built behind them. I stepped up -- too suddenly, according to my fellow pullers, a verdict supported by the flash of bewilderment on the ambassador's wife's face. As soon as I and the talkative guests were clear of our hosts, I smiled, apologized, and explained the task I had been given. Much to my relief, they both burst into laughter. One introduced herself as Sister So-and-So, and they told me that they belonged to the Maryknoll order. I had "manhandled" a pair of Catholic nuns.
After that, we were free to enjoy the event. Many of the Tanzanians congratulated us on our 234 years of independence, which I found quite endearing. The party had a lot of nice touches, including a welcome speech in English and Swahili by an American boy and a Tanzanian boy. Here they rehearse before the guests arrive:
There was also time for a little intern family portrait. Unfortunately Yvon, whom we call mzee (elder) owing to his advanced age of 32, is missing. Still, it's a pretty good looking group, if I do say so myself:
Hope everyone has a wonderful Fourth!