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F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L / J U L Y - A UGU S T 2 0 1 1
seas post is more difficult than in Wash-
ington,” she concludes. Carrington also
points out thatwherever the employeemay
be, workplace flexibility is anecessary com-
ponent forwomen to advance in their jobs
or enjoy greater career opportunities.
“The State Department has programs
and regulations inplace, butmany people
are unaware of what is available,” Ikels
laments. “We want to see more employ-
ees teleworking, sowe are in the process of
identifying every positionas telework-pos-
sible or not. If it is, the employee will be
notified.”
Ikels highlighted the department’s life
care program, which was specifically
designed for peoplewhohave todo things
from a distance. “Information Quest can
helppeoplemanage their checkbooks, find
a contractor, locate a therapist,manage time
and everything inbetween,” she says. “All
you have to do is to let them know what
your needs are and they will do the leg
work.”
Family Issues
Oneof themost difficult challenges fac-
ing ForeignService families is finding pro-
grams and support for childrenwith learn-
ing difficulties. Stephen Morrison paint-
ed a picture of the heart-wrenching expe-
riences he andhiswife facedwhen finding
support for their learning-disabled child:
“It was like playing 52 pick-up, only you
had toplay it every time youchangedposts.
It was starting over each time, finding the
right school, the right therapist, the right
support; but you do it because it is your
child, and you can’t quit on your child.”
Ikels commented that the culture of the
ForeignServicebreedsworkaholics, and too
few superiors take the stance of former
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who
famously told State employees: “You are
not going to impress me by being here at
8 o’clock tonight. What will impress me
is if you are at home with your family.”
During the question and answer peri-
od,membersof the audience raiseda range
of issues, frommaternity leave and lacta-
tion stations tohow taking assignments to
meet the needs of your child can prevent
an officer from being promoted.
AFSA MERIT ESSAY WINNER
Life’s Serendipity
BY CAROLINE HUSKEY
10:34 a.m., Aug. 7, 1998. My world went black. A violent, ter-
rible shake sent chunks of cement crashingdownonmyhead. Dust
obliterated my senses. I recall the roar of flames, the cries of the
trapped, the pervasive fear. Then a reassuring hand clasped mine
and led me toward a pinpoint of light — a hole torn through the
thick steel door; on the other side, devastation.
The scene that ensuedwas a blur of roaring flames, fleeing bod-
ies, and thick dust. I remember a Kenyan man kneeling on the
embassy steps, mouth open wide in agony, the color of his deep
ebony skin eclipsed by the crimson red of the blood that soaked
throughhis tornclothing. Despite the surrounding chaos, themem-
ory of this man is clear. I understood then that I shared with that
man an experience of terrible, hateful, unfair violence.
Just onemonthaftermy fifthbirthday, I barelyunderstoodwhat
was happening. I couldnot have explainedwhatmotivated the ter-
rorist group al-Qaida. Nor could I have comprehendedwhat fault
they found in theUnitedStates embassy inNairobi, or for thatmat-
ter, theUnited States itself. I couldnot have understoodwhy I had
been a victim of their hate.
Al-Qaida’s 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi cre-
ated a wave of despair throughout Kenya. It was felt by 10 chil-
dren left to mourn the loss of their father, Stephen Kimani, who
had supported themonhismeager salary. Itwas felt by SueBartley,
whowas robbedof her husbandand sonwith just oneheartbreaking
blast. It was felt by Rose WanjikuMwangi, who suffered for four
days trappedunder the rubble as the nationprayed for her survival.
It was felt by Teresa, a Kikuyu woman who suddenly found her-
self confined to a wheelchair.
One day, weeks after the bombing, I started to realize the ways
in which the Nairobi bombing had enabled cross-cultural under-
standingas Iwatchedmymother teachTeresa—theKikuyuwoman
confined to awheelchair—howtodance. The attackbrought tears
to our eyes, and our knees to the ground, but it brought our hands
together: Kenyans and Americans, Kikuyus and Luos, young and
old, rich and poor, theman crying on the steps andme. Together,
we built amemorial park; we prosecuted the guilty; wemoved for-
ward; we learned to dance again.
Still, the burning question remains. Why did a few angry men
froma little island called Lamu hatemy country, my race, my cul-
ture enough tokillme? I have seen, heard and felt the hateful intol-
erance within our world as those with opposing beliefs and glar-
ing differences act violently toward one another. But experienc-
ing this unreasonable hate so early inmy life has shapedwho I am.
I am a person who seeks to understand, rather than be motivated
by anger, fear and hate.
I was blessed to have survived al-Qaida’s bombing of the U.S.
embassy inNairobi, blessed to havemy family alive and blessed to
have walked out of a building in which hundreds died. The peo-
ple in Nairobi that day did not deserve the hatred of a few angry
men. The victims were not in any way at fault. They were just in
the wrong place at the wrong time. Grateful for my family’s sur-
vival, I amleft feeling that life, for all its logic, is ultimately andunex-
plainably serendipitous.
Yet this is whatmakes us equal. This serendipity is whatmakes
the story of the man on the steps, the story of Rose Mwangi, the
storyof StephenKimani, the storyof SueBartley, the storyof Teresa,
my own story. The possibility that our fates are interchangeable
makes us equal. My life experience has resulted in my belief that
life’s serendipitymakes a stranger’s storymy own, whichmeans in
every way humans are equal. This belief set my life goal of cross-
cultural understanding and acceptance. Together, we live seren-
dipitously.
Work-Life Panel • Continued from page 38