14 November 2011

Babu, a different breed of diplomat

I am typically amused when I see diplomats represented in the movies. The character, who is good looking, tanned, expensively dressed and dealing with international intrigue, is frequently shown attending a cocktail party or driving a convertible down a curved mountain road, hair blowing in the breeze. These people don’t seem to have actual jobs, families or concerns outside of their glamorous lives. In short, they are depicted as living a life of travel and comfort and, if there is an element of danger, it is portrayed as adventure.

That is diplomacy in the movies, of course. In reality, the scene is very different. In real life, diplomats are fairly ordinary people who slog through fairly ordinary jobs, many times under different, if not difficult, circumstances. We do choose this life, of course, and it suits a particular type of person, I think. Not many people would be fond of picking up their lives and relocating every two to three years. But the constant for most U.S. Foreign Service officers is their family. The family is the force that keeps us centered, normal and able to do our chosen jobs well.

Family is defined in many different ways in the Foreign Service. Many officers have the traditional spouse and, perhaps, children. For other officers, family is a parent or partner who travels with them and, for many of my colleagues, family is a pet. For me, an absolute necessity is a reliable Internet connection. I require video chats with my children and grandchildren to keep me on solid ground, and I would not accept a post where that is unavailable. The point is, we U.S. diplomats need a sense of home and a grounding of reality, no matter where in the world we might live and work.

We have a few posts—Karachi is one—where the ability to have that sense of home is compromised. Karachi is an “unaccompanied” post, meaning spouses or other members of one’s household are not allowed. To make matters even harsher, pets are not permitted here, either. People assigned to these posts are literally removed from most of what is normal in their lives, and it is a particularly difficult stress to manage. As the medical officer, I frequently see the physical reactions this stress causes.

Respite from that stress is provided, however, in one small but very significant way. One of our officers, through unexpected circumstances, arrived in Karachi with her Chihuahua, Babu. There was nothing to do but let him stay, and he has become the mascot of the compound. Babu is a very friendly fellow, adored by all who meet him. He considers every person his friend, and he is quite willing to accept petting and scratching from all who wish to give it. When Babu is out for a walk, people come from all directions to speak to him and give him some love, which he happily returns with nuzzles and wagging tail. It is impossible not to smile and get a warm fuzzy feeling when Babu is present.

As a diplomat in residence, Babu really is living the good life. He has plenty to entertain him, lots of admirers and, when his mistress goes for a swim at the compound pool, Babu hangs out on a boogie board catching some sun. If he could learn to drive a convertible, I’m sure Hollywood would have him star in a movie.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.