The Foreign Service Journal, May 2021

84 MAY 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Peter X. Harding is a retired FSO who served in 10 countries during a 30-year career. He is also a Vietnam veteran and served two consecutive winter-overs in Antarctica before joining the Foreign Service. S ometimes, it turns out that a diplomat has to choose between lying for his country to save a life and telling the straight and narrow truth, only to potentially suffer the consequences. The consular course at the Foreign Service Institute may hesitate to use an experience I had in Chad in 1997 as an example in the American Citizen Services’ “thinking on your feet” handbook, but I’d like to think there might be a hidden wink and an unspoken nudge in the hesitation. I was stationed at Embassy N’Djamena from 1996 to 1998. The incident in question occurred almost precisely midway through my tour. Our embassy had a solid front office and country team, but was often gravely shorthanded. In my case, I had many hats to wear: I was the political officer, economic officer and commercial officer, as well as the sole consular officer. I had three separate offices in two different buildings and only one Foreign Service National assistant. Always busy multitasking (as the saying now goes) but always coming up a day late and a dollar short, I would come in on the weekends to catch up and read correspondence. One Sunday near the end of my first year, there was a Rescuing a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sarh BY PETER HARD I NG handwritten note on my desk from the ambassador that read: “I need to see you right away.” I walked over to the residence, which was in the same compound as the chancery, to meet with him. As soon as I arrived, the ambassador said: “We have a ‘situation’ down south, which I need you to help resolve immediately. It seems that a Peace Corps volunteer was involved in some kind of accident and has been arrested. The PCV has apparently been charged with manslaughter, and the vic- tim’s family is threatening to lynch him.” I made some calls in my capacity as commercial officer and discovered the Esso-led oil consortium in country had a small Twin Otter aircraft that flew daily to the southern oil fields near Sarh, where the incident in question had occurred. Foolishly dressed in a grey pin-striped wool suit, I met up at the airstrip with the Peace Corps nurse, a Cameroonian named Dorothy, to fly down to Sarh, about 500 kilometers south of N’Djamena. Dorothy and I were the only pas- sengers on board. The pilot, a Pakistani from Rawalpindi, informed me that he could drop us off in Sarh around 11 a.m. and would be returning at about 2 p.m. He told us that if we weren’t at the airstrip at 2 o’clock sharp, he would take off directly for a return flight to N’Djamena regardless. On arrival, we grabbed a local taxi and asked where the governor’s office was. “The governor is not here,” the driver replied. “A relative of his was recently killed in a bicycle accident, and he is out of town attending the funeral.” (Uh-oh!) “So who is in charge?” I asked. “The attorney general,” he said, cautioning that the man was notoriously corrupt. When we arrived at the AG’s office, I asked for an immediate audience. The meeting included the attorney general himself, his assistant, nurse Dorothy, me and the frightened-looking Peace Corps volunteer, who had been released from jail (at our insistence) with a bandage on his head. The attorney general’s assistant then told us the story: A village chief, a close relative of the governor, possibly drunk on palm wine, was coming down a hill on his bicycle. Riding up the hill was this young PCV wearing a helmet. Improbably, neither one saw the other, and they collided. As fate would have it, the front tires of the bicycles perfectly touched each other, and both riders went over the handlebars and conked heads. The PCV survived because he was wearing a helmet, but the village chief died. The village chief left behind four wives and as many as 25 children. The young man was formally charged with manslaughter. In addition, as is the custom in this part of Chad, his fam- ily and friends were demanding either revenge or compensation. Once his assistant had finished, the AG promptly asked me, “So, which will it be?” “Well, he’s an American citizen, so we intend on taking him back to N’Djamena as soon as possible for medical treatment.” REFLECTIONS