Back in June, I told the Embassy’s Audio Visual Technician that I would include an article about him in my blog, since he follows it avidly. I don’t go back on my promises, unless for good reason.
With that said, meet the team that has made my time in Djibouti the best it could be!
Joia, Public Affairs Officer
Her name says it all. Not only is she an amazing boss, she is a loyal friend and mentor. She has empowered me to develop any idea or program I had this summer. Although I have quickly learned the State Department is a universe of its own, she supported me in my endeavors. She has shown me the ways of FSO life by showing me around town, buying me sheets when I first arrived, and supporting my coffee addiction. (If you are reading, thanks for the cream and sugar as my going away gift, it’s already been used.)
Every two years, FSOs (Foreign Service Officers) move to new posts. Joia is en route to Swaziland to serve two years as the Public Affairs Officer at that post. Swaziland is gaining a wonderful PAO- I cannot speak more highly.
Next week, we will gain a new PAO. Until then, US Embassy Djibouti has me. 😶
Mohamed, Audio Visual Technician
Although what seems to be a name for 75% of the Djiboutian male population, Mohamed, is unforgettable. As the Audio Visual Technician, he is the knower of all things technology. He takes all of our photos, videos, social media, website, etc. You name it, he does it. He continuously reminds me of how bad I am at technology. Without him, I think I would die. I do apologize to him because I am lazy and don’t want to walk to his cubicle to yell his name, I tend to yell “Mohamed” and it never fails, about 10 people respond. You would think I would get the hint by now. They seem to.
The knower of all things African music and editing, he takes my ideas and creates life out of them. We are amidst an Our Oceans Photo Contest in honor of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Clean Ocean initiative. I continued to post flyers and posts on Facebook attempting to receive submissions, but all we received were likes and comments such as “What a great idea!” But no bites. The solution? Mohamed created a 30 second video with about 15 words on it and submissions came in within hours. The US Embassy has a real asset, he knows Djiboutians and technology, that is for sure.
Turki, Information Resource Center Director
Turki- what a name. The second day in, we hosted YALI fellows, Obama’s Flagship program where chosen Africans, 1,000, are sent to U.S. universities for 6 weeks in the summer. They take classes and network, then bring back what they learn to their communities to develop their communities.
I digress.. but during the first “2 truths and a lie” ice breaker, one of the YALI fellows says, “I used to live next to Turki.” I ask him to repeat it. He says, “I used to live next to Turki growing up.” Confused, I say, “Wait- do you mean you used to live in Turkey or next to Turkey?” He responds, “I used to live next to Turki.” Everyone immediately knows the answer. He did in fact use to live next to Turki, but what I quickly found out was one of my team members’ name is Turki!
I tell you this story because I noticed every YALI fellow knew Turki, and it hasn’t stopped. Anyone I meet somehow knows Turki. Turki runs our American Corner, our Information Resource Center, our English Language Programs, and our partnerships with other institutes like the French Institute where I introduced our monthly American film showing. Turki is such a fun-loving, encouraging, and kind fellow. Without him, I don’t think our programs would be so successful. Not just because of his connections, but because of his ability to get along with anyone he meets.
Ardo, the PA Assistant
My Djiboutian Aunt. You know that “cool” Aunt that takes you out to go do cool stuff, gives you boy advice, and tells you the truth about the cold world, but is always there to protect and support you? That is my Ardo.
Ardo and I sit across from each other in our cubicles. Chantal, the IRC assistant this summer, told our team that the organization of the cubicles went as follows, “The talkers in the front, medium energizers in the middle, and silent introverts in the back”. Can you guess where I sit? Ardo and I are ALWAYS getting into deep conversations about Djibouti and U.S. politics, prevalent worldwide issues, Djiboutian economics, and discussing the daily life of being women in the Djiboutian lifestyle. She has the most impeccable style. Her hijabs and traditional booboos are always matching. She tells me pointblank when I need to liven up my outfits and that I should wear pants instead of dresses because they show off my legs. And she stops the press highlights so she can translate my resume in French for future jobs.
At the same time, she is the best press assistant. She knows all the Djiboutian officials, every journalist, and speaks 4 languages. One day she hopes to own her own clothing store or run the Ministry of Public Affairs. I think she will achieve either or both- she achieves anything she sets her mind to.
Chantal, IRC Assistant
Chantal is the Ambassador’s daughter who attends boarding school. She comes back for the summer. The state department created a program that pays Foreign Service Officer kids to work at U.S. Embassies where their parents are serving in hopes to keep them visiting their families.
It worked, because Chantal spent her summer hanging out with the PAS team. With Chantal, we created the Teen Talk program where we hung out with Teens weekly to see what hopes, desires, and dilemmas consumed the highest portion of Djibouti’s population (22% of Djiboutians are 15-24 year olds). It quickly became apparent that I am not a teen any longer. I did not know the slightest about video games, mobile phones, or new apps. Luckily Chantal was there to relay her insight because otherwise I don’t think they would have come back week after week.
Chantal is hilarious- always full of wit and dry sarcasm. Her summer was much quicker than mine and is off visiting colleges right now. I am determined she is going to find a great fit where she doesn’t have to deal with Russian smokers in her room every night. Good luck, Chantal!
Fozia, French Teacher
Je suis très triste pour Fozia. I really do. She has to deal with me every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for one WHOLE hour while I attempt to speak in French and she corrects me. At the Embassy, if you wish to take lessons of the native country’s language, the Embassy will pay for it. So, of course I take my lunch break to embarrass myself in front of Fozia by pronouncing all French nasal sounds wrong. I received an A- in my French pronunciation class in college, but I don’t think the work paid off.
What typically ends up happening is we chat about some random topic and come back to the lesson the last 5 minutes of class… or save it for another day. I have learned so much from Fozia. She is patient, caring, and supportive. When I came to Djibouti, I knew my French had reverted back to its early college years, but when Somali is mixed with it, no one understands me. With Fozia’s assistance, I now am able to have conversations with people and sometimes they understand me! No, no, no- I have actually had many people tell me my French is good. However, I think good is a relative term. I could be good in comparison to the Americans who know not one word of French and bad to the DCM who is fluent and often times thought to be a native French woman. I will say, though, she told me a couple of weeks ago that I told a whole 20 minute story and she understood the whole darn thing. That, ladies and gents, is improvement!
As you can see, I love my team. I laugh every day. They teach me so much about Djiboutian culture and what Djiboutians think of the world, the future of their country, cultures, and most importantly, what makes us Americans crazy.
We have much to learn from those of other cultures because they teach us more about ourselves than we might imagine. What I love about working at the Embassy is every day my ideas, my upbringing, my morals, and everything I have been brought up to believe in are challenged, but at the same time, I am taught to cherish those for who they are and not what society tells us to think of them. My team members have so much hope for the future. More hope than I have, but working with my team every day teaches me the work done by the U.S. State Department is changing lives, one cubicle or teen talk at a time.