The Foreign Service Journal, May 2024

56 MAY 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Rwanda/Burundi: The Unrest Next Door HEATHER CHASE In 2015 I was on my first assignment, to the then-quiet, stable country of Rwanda doing low-volume, low-stress consular work. Then, all hell broke loose next door. There was a military takeover in Burundi, with gun battles in the streets … and our colleagues were still at post with their families. After three tense, busy days, the looks of relief on colleagues’ and private citizens’ faces as they came off the evacuation plane and saw our small team standing behind a table draped in an American flag is something I will never forget. Belgium: No Language Barrier JUDITH M. HEIMANN In mid-1987, when Belgium had its turn to preside over the political cooperation meetings of the European Union, I was warned by my boss, the political counselor, that the U.K. and France were anxious that the U.S. not know the details of what was said during such meetings. (The E.U. is a rare international organization in that it includes many Western countries, but the U.S. is not—and is never expected to be—a member.) During my first visit to the Belgian foreign ministry’s two permanent staffers on Africa, they implied that they were drafting confidential messages to those expected to attend a meeting on African issues. I asked them (in English) what might be raised there. One of the staffers turned to the other and began speaking Flemish, a language used in two-thirds of Belgian homes but seldom with foreigners. I broke in right away, saying, “Ik spreek Nederlands.” They grinned and switched to English, but they seemed more forthcoming than I had expected. And, indeed, when I came to see them after the Africa meeting, one of them walked me to the elevator afterward and slipped into my hand the minutes— in Flemish—of the meeting I had asked about. Surprised and delighted, I concluded that this was their way of thanking me for helping them avoid saying something in my presence they would not have wanted an outsider to hear. Our mutual trust grew, lasting for another decade, when I unexpectedly became a retired but rehired Foreign Service annuitant and was working in Brussels once again. Vietnam: An Immigrant Serving Immigrants TOM ZIA I am proud to be a Foreign Service officer and an immigrant who serves as the immigrant visa chief (in Ho Chi Minh City), enriching lives and my country simultaneously. South Africa: Mandela’s Funeral KATHRYN PONGONIS While serving as deputy political counselor at U.S. Embassy Pretoria, I was proud to be part of our embassy team supporting President Obama’s participation in South African President Nelson Mandela’s memorial service on Dec. 10, 2013. More than 90 heads of state and government, 30 retired presidents, and leaders of 20 international organizations, among countless others, commemorated the life of one of the greatest statesmen and peace builders of our time, who in his book Notes to the Future said: “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it.” U.S. President Barack Obama with Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, at Mandela’s memorial service shortly after his death, in Johannesburg, South Africa. GALLO IMAGES/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO