US Ambassador’s Visit

22 07 2010

It’s not every day you get to see the US Ambassador to a country, but that’s what happened to us last Friday, when he came up to San Fernando to do a groundbreaking for the City’s new septage treatment facility.

If you’ve never dealt with an occasion like this, and you probably haven’t, let me impress upon you how big of a shitshow such high-level visits are. When the first email announcing his intention to visit came through our inboxes a month or so earlier, we didn’t too much of it and thought it would be a fairly small event. Yeah right! I’d estimate that literally *hundreds* of hours were spent by my colleagues in the City preparing for this visit, which, I should emphasize, was scheduled to last only ONE HOUR and actually only lasted about 35 MINUTES!!

They had to prepare a schedule down to the second, they had to prepare a big map of the area laying out a route for the Ambassador’s vehicle to follow, they had to arrange police and army presence, they had to turn an empty field into a big and fancily-decorated stage, they had to get him gifts of a specific value so that he could give a similar value gift in return (which actually never happened, after all that), they had to invite anyone and everyone and arrange their transport details, and on and on and on, all while having to continually go back and forth with USAID (the project funders) and the US Embassy to approve every minute detail.

I’ll admit though, the actual day of the event was pretty exciting. The visit was supposed to be from 9:30 to 10:30 at the future septage treatment facility site, so we arrived out there around 8:00 to settle all final preparations. The Mayor, Councillors, Congressman, former Mayor, Rotarians, Provincial Government Department Heads, Media, etc. etc. all started showing up around 9:15. My job in the event was to lay garlands over the arriving guests, which were made of old tarpaulins (i.e. the ubiquitous banners here that are hung to announce pretty much any event that occurs in the City), while Firth had the job of escorting said guests to their seats (though none of them actually wanted to sit down and so that fell through pretty quickly!).

9:30 came and went, everyone had arrived, but still no Ambassador. So much for our carefully timed schedule.. He finally arrived at about 9:55, with a convoy of security SUVs and him in a big van that all came racing down to the meeting area, upon which we all swarmed the area around his van while his security guards piled out and simultaneously swarmed the area. Then the Ambassador, the Chief of USAID, the US Embassy’s Director of Promotions or something like that, and the Embassy ‘Control Officer’ (i.e. the timekeeper of said events) all piled out, engaged hasty greetings, and were ushered to a ribbon cutting for the site, then immediately ushered to the stage. All the necessary City dignitaries gave their speeches (which we had also stressed about earlier, as most of them are the types that like to talk longer than allocated!), followed by the Ambassador. He exchanged the usual pleasantries, commented on the importance of our project, and was then ushered to the area we had set for the groundbreaking. The dignitaries all shovelled a bit of soil into a hole, and then, after a quick media interview, they were gone as fast as they had arrived – precisely at 10:30, meaning that even though they had shown up over 25 minutes late to a one hour event, they still left at the designated time – so all our preparations were actually for a 35 minute event instead!!

Its too bad it was so short, as the Ambassador seemed like a nice guy, whose job I’m pretty envious of! I would’ve loved if it was more casual and we could have gone out for lunch or something, but alas, that’s U.S.-style security for you I guess!

Check out the pics!




2 responses

24 07 2010
Dennis Weber

Hi Julian:

Havn’t commented in awhile, but felt the need to say once again, what a great idea your blog is. Keep it up, as it allows us back here to see and feel apart of what you are experiencing, and with great envy I must say. The pictures are great. Love the scenery, and the shots of historic buildings etc. More of you please. I agree with your snopsis of their birthday party custom. Really good idea for birthday parties here. We should copy them for sure. I enjoy your writing style. Witty and informative. Be good, be safe, and we look forward to hearing and seeing more posts from you.

26 07 2010

Thanks Dennis! Glad to hear you’re enjoying it! It’s too bad I won’t be able to see you this year when you come to Vancouver, but hopefully next time!

Best regards and warm wishes!


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