On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
On Name Dropping
The Footloose Forester has been a practicing iconoclast for most of his adult life. No, make that most of his entire life. As a teenager, he spent plenty of time musing about hypocrisy and the clever hypocrites he has known, the smiling deceivers and the deceptions he witnessed; and the liars who were so credible that he knew that if the world was going to present disguised challenges then someone in the group, any group, would need to take charge in calling out the hypocrite, the deceiver, or the liar. Name droppers try to draw attention to themselves or their agenda by suggesting a relationship, real or imagined, with people of some prominence. Name dropping is usually self-serving, with an agenda in mind.
Nobody was going to appoint the Footloose Forester to the job of exposing deceivers, and to this day well into his later years, he knows that everyone resents the person who speaks up uninvited; or one who presents a point of view that is different than a popular one that most people are comfortable with. That includes those who try to sway opinion by name dropping. So, in the process of learning to think for himself, the Footloose Forester also learned a new word: sophistry, and a little about what distinguishes a hypocrite from a deceiver; a deceiver from a liar; and a liar from a sophist. Name droppers may puff themselves up but the effort is less transparent. As he sees it to this day, the world is still full of personality types that practice all variations of such self-serving mannerisms. Regrettably, that also applies to political candidates and their well-oiled machines known as campaigns and political action groups.
Thus, by way of introduction of his mindset about people, politics, and the insufferable hype of political discourse; this chronicle is, nonetheless; about other matters. The Footloose Forester wanted readers to know that an important part of his personal and professional development had to do with a purposeful commitment to routinely analyze and to critique related inter-personal issues. Critical analysis has not been limited to politics. Pop psychologists would have us believe that such characteristics are typical of Virgos, of which the Footloose Forester is one by virtue of his birth on August 24th,1938. According to the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test, the typology test category of the Footloose Forester would be labeled: Scientist, with a propensity for critical thinking, among other characteristics.
So, with an iconoclast’s disdain for hypocrites, sophists, and the like, he did, nevertheless, want to share some stories about ambassadors, ministers, and other diplomats he has known--without being labeled as a shameless name-dropper. Some of the stories are amusing. And there are enough memories about diplomats he dealt with to make for interesting reading. This passage, therefore, is not a disguised attempt at name dropping but merely a reflection of a long and disjointed journey that included some unintended rubbing of elbows with fellow Americans and several foreigners who happened to hold the rank of Ambassador or Minister.
Your House or Mine?
Perhaps the most recurring memories about ambassadors we have known is the series of events that included John Yates. John played softball with us in the sandy waste lots of Cape Verde before he was appointed as Ambassador to Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau in the mid-1980s. John had a Ph.D. from Yale and he looked and acted the part of a Yalie. He was also on the golf team in college. The Footloose Forester thinks that John had once mentioned that he was the captain of the golf team. So, in addition to playing softball together, we competed against one another in golf. Small wonder then, that Footloose Forester remembers teaming up with a 23-handicapper named Mayo, who owned a grocery store in Praia; and played to a dead-even draw after 18 holes. The former captain of the Yale golf team and his partner, a former club professional from somewhere in Louisiana, did not defeat us. For the record, the talented team of former Yale golf team captain and his partner, the former club pro, had to give Mayo and the mediocre Footloose Forester some strokes. Before he was appointed as Ambassador, he was our friend John, but when the memorable golf match took place he was Ambassador Yates. Thus, the Footloose Forester could someday be accused of being a namedropper who claims to have played golf with an ambassador.
John Yates had a crush on Thu, and when we went to his house he insisted on getting a smooch, not on the cheek but on her lips. The Footloose Forester was usually next to her, so saw the whole thing and heard him say that a kiss on the cheek wasn't good enough. Memory about the chronology of events is dim now, but there was another time when Ambassador-Designate Yates came to our house for dinner. Actually it was his house. That is to say, we were living in the Ambassador’s house, upon invitation from the current ambassador, for a couple of months while a new ambassadorial residence was under construction.
John’s wife Peggy was still out of the country, so John didn’t have any objections. Give credit to Thu for influencing the offer. By that time everyone knew that neither the Agency for International Development, whose project we were associated with, nor the US Department of Agriculture, International Extension Program whose master contract we were under, had made arrangements for housing when we arrived in the country. So, we stayed in the Ambassador’s house.
On reflection, it may have been the decision of Ambassador Ed DeVos to allow us to live there temporarily. At the time John Yates arrived in the country, he was not yet Ambassador Yates, so he lived next door in State Department quarters. Since Ambassador DeVos chose to live in Guinea-Bissau (he was actually US Ambassador to Cape-Verde and Guinea-Bissau), he told us that since the Cape Verde residence of the ambassador was going to be vacant, he would arrange to have us stay there until our house (under construction) at Sao Jorge was completed. Subsequently, Ambassador-Designate John Yates came over to our house--his house--for dinner.
And that was when Thu offered him a gin and soda. He had wanted a gin and tonic but because we didn’t have any tonic water in the liquor cabinet, nor was any tonic available in any of the local markets, the Footloose Forester purposely permitted the scene to unfold. He probably knew that Thu didn’t know that gin and tonic drinkers expect a certain taste in that particular concoction, but he secretly wanted to know how a sophisticated State Department professional would react. The Footloose Forester then watched as John’s eyes bugged out ever so slightly when he said that the drink was fine. Truth be known, a feeling of intense love came over the Footloose Forester at that moment and he knew without a doubt that her great charm was able to overcome the potential embarrassment.
Ambassador Ed DeVos moved on to another country and the Footloose Forester next heard from him several years later. That episode was as indirect as many other episodes. The Footloose Forester had attended a Rhino Conservation Conference in Nairobi where representatives from most of the rhino range states also attended as participants. Mostly they were seeking management guidance to overcome poaching depletion of their rhino herds, and the financial resources to implement protection schemes. After the conference was over, and a few days later, the US Ambassador to Tanzania, Edward DeVos called the Footloose Forester at his office in Nairobi to inquire whether or not it was the case that the US Government, through the Agency for International Development, had promised the Tanzanian Government several million dollars in support funds. The Footloose Forester assured him that the US made no such commitment or promise. The case was dropped and the Tanzanian authorities never challenged the assertion.
By way of name dropping, more aptly rationalized by the Footloose Forester as remembering places, people and events; the Cape Verde experience also yielded brief glimpses of a golfing buddy who became Cape Verde Representative to The World Bank; a former Cape Verde Ambassador to the United States who lived modestly in a small apartment in a public housing project; and a future Cape Verde Ambassador to Italy.
The temptation to be a name-dropper was never strong in the psyche of the Footloose Forester but he does acknowledge that some people are impressed when you mention that you were, at one time or another, office mates with a future ambassador to Liberia whose wife was expelled from Kenya when she was caught in a sexual act with another man behind a desk at the US Embassy in Nairobi. Or that you were casual friends with the American Ambassador’s wife in Haiti. She was originally from North Viet Nam and your wife, being Vietnamese, had a common bond. She was a classy lady, but her husband was decidedly aloof. No matter, he soon left her to depart Haiti with his boyfriend and lover. We never did find out where she ended up. Thu was also friends with the Russian Ambassador’s wife in Cape Verde. If she was even interested in Cold War politics, we never knew. Thu was just being Thu and everyone loved her.
One final memory that comes to mind is also about the diplomatic set. Thu invited Mai Ling, the second secretary of the Chinese Embassy to our home in Sao Jorge, for a party. What the young diplomat and her husband did not know was that the party was in honor of her birthday. After dinner, when we sat around and chatted haltingly in French, English, and Portuguese, Thu came out with a birthday cake she had baked. Setting the cake down on the table, she asked Mai Ling to come and blow out the candles. After she did, we sang the Happy Birthday song in Portuguese. Mai cried because she said that it was the first time in her life that she had a birthday party in her honor.
Upon subsequent reflection, other notables come to mind; all associated as disjointed whisps of reverie; at different places and at different times. For example, the Footloose Forester did not engage in name dropping with colleagues when he was preparing the tiny lawn outside the trailer house of General Mike Abrams in Viet Nam. The general was a modest guy, despite his cigar-chewing persona. But the real reason why the Footloose Forester updated this chronicle after more than a year is that he wanted to share something else about General Abrams. The very next time that Footloose Forester saw General Abrams was in a TV film strip originally taken in 1944. It was tank commander Iron Mike Abrams perched in the turret of one of his Sherman tanks during the Battle of the Bulge in that bloody winter campaign. Such a memory of seeing that man again 25 years earlier in Viet Nam, and still in uniform, made a big impression on the Footloose Forester. Being a name-dropper sometimes doesn't have to imply that he rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, so to speak.
So did getting a mere glimpse of Nelson Mandela as he sat perched in the back of an open convertible and sporting his famous orange suit when he visited Kenya as President of South Africa. Does that qualify as a shameless example of name dropping? Does anyone even remember that orange suit that he wore on several occasions? Such freeze-frame memories are priceless, nevertheless. As was the time when Footloose Forester watched as President John F. Kennedy entered the Army mess hall at Fliegerhorst Kaserne, Langendiebach, Germany, and looked directly into his eyes. It was the day after the president's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. That moment is also a freeze-frame memory.