Saturday, September 27, 2008

Brief as Photos - 8: Campaign Props

It was early Monday morning when we were summoned to the Front Office for an urgent meeting. We were told that one of the political candidates running for office back home has requested to visit the embassy that week. No one seemed to know why but the ambassador who was a political appointee from the ruling party suggested that the visit was a harmless one. “She will be in town next week for speaking engagements and would like to say hello to her countrypeople,” he explained, almost sounding as if we were country bumpkins.

One of the senior officers brought up the restrictions under the Hatch Act. But the ambassador waved that away. “She is not campaigning here, folks. And we’re not supporting her campaign. She is a private citizen visiting us and we should be mighty proud to be visited by somebody who could be the first woman president of our blessed nation.”

“But won’t we be giving the impression of support by entertaining such a visit?” asked a less senior officer.

“Wouldn’t she be using this visit to burnish her foreign policy credentials and us as props? Is that allowed?” somebody asked loudly from the back of the room. “I don’t like being used as a campaign prop,” I declared helpfully.

"I heard that she was a bee-keeper, is that true?" asked the secretary.

“I stopped voting after Nixon, so I don’t care who gets elected. But Sir, I am concerned that her visit would throw my appointments on Wednesday into a mad scramble. I have a thousand people scheduled for interviews,” added the woman sitting in front.

“Listen up, boys and girls! I have requested and received guidance on this already. We’ve been told “no” and although I disagreed with that, I thought it would be useful for ya’all to know about this should you receive inquiries from local contacts. I have personally called her to apologize for turning down her request; our Press Officer here will distribute talking points so we’re all on the same page,” the ambassador explained.

That must have been the longest unscripted speech I have ever heard him uttered. This was the same ambassador who proudly proclaimed his love of golf and gambling as credentials for becoming ambassador. I supposed you only need to tee or deal, so he got a point there but it was a revelation to hear him speak in complete sentences.

By mid week, the candidate was in town with the entire press corps in tow to mark this historic occasion – at the border crossing pointing at the marker dividing the United States from its neighbor, at the tomb of the Great Hero laying a wreath of white gladiolas, at a farm for bat crap for renewable energy, at the wave factory (I seriously don’t know what they manufactured there), and other such places. She was so popular, that the local newspapers had to run a morning and afternoon edition since she arrived. By Friday, after her big do at the Presidential Hotel, I was looking forward for the traffic and TV programming to return to their normal schedules. But on Friday afternoon, just before quitting time, pandemonium broke in the most unexpected way.

“My name is ---. I am an American and I want to see my Ambassador!” the presidential candidate told the embassy guard at the gate as cameras flashed.

“We are closed now madam. What is the problem?” the guard politely inquired.

“Do I have to talk to you? The ambassador knows me,” she answered sweetly in a low voice as she smiled and waved to the cameras.

“I am the embassy guard madam, you have to talk to me or you don’t go in,” the old guard answered simply, unfazed by the crowd.

“Very well; please tell the person in charge that I’ve lost my passport and I need a new one A.S.A.P,” she enunciated each word carefully as if afraid that the guard would not understand what she was saying. Then she turned and waved to the adoring media some more.

To make a long story short, when the security officers and the senior embassy officials got wind of the fact that the candidate was really at the gate, they had no choice but to come down and meet her. The Ambassador excitedly escorted her to the Consular Section where the Consular Chief (the one who was worried about her visa appointments) supervised the ACS officer in quickly generating an emergency passport.

The next day, the front pages of local and international papers came out with full spreads of her foreign policy meetings at the American Embassy. My favorite photo was of the candidate blowing a kiss to her countrypeople as she got into a car departing the embassy grounds. Right smack in the middle of that photo was somebody wearing a big pumpkin head. The caption reads: "Who is this Pumpkin?"

Tee-hee! That was me.

Read: About this series and the All Persons Fictitious Disclaimer

No comments: