The Foreign Service Journal, July/August 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JULY-AUGUST 2018 23 NAIROBI, KENYA The Practice of Leadership at Every Level Prudence Bushnell U.S. Ambassador to Kenya I was into my second year as U.S. ambassador to Kenya. With two colleagues from the Commerce Department, I was meeting with the Kenyan minister of commerce to dis- cuss the visit of an American VIP trade delegation. We were on the top floor of a high-rise building on the other side of the parking lot from the embassy. The sound of an explosion attracted many to the window; I was among the last to stand up. A huge bang with the weight of a freight train bore through the room, throw- ing me back. The building swayed; I thought I was going to die. I blacked out for a moment, came to and descended the endless flights of stairs with a colleague. Only when we exited the building did I see what had happened to the embassy. I realized in an instant that no one was going to take care of me, and I had better get to work. After leaving my injured colleagues in the care of medical help, I went to the Crisis Control Room that had been quickly set up at the USAID building. We were a large mission with competent, experienced people throughout the ranks. Col- leagues had already set up communications with Washington. I saw the practice of leadership at every level of our wounded organization and community; it got us through the next 10 months, when I departed post. Our building, our organization, our community and our neighborhood were blown up. As ambassador, I was responsible for security; and while I had pushed and pushed to get Washing- ton’s attention to our vulnerabilities, I remain keenly aware that I failed. Hours after the attack, as my attention was pulled in mul- tiple directions, I remembered the advice of a mentor: “Take care of your people, and the rest will take care of itself.” I did so as well as I could. I discovered a depth of sadness and breadth of anger I did not know I had. I also learned I could not take away anyone else’s pain, trauma, anger or sadness, but I could accompany them. I could also promote an environment in which leader- ship, healing and achievement were possible. Every individual in our community responded differ- ently. The diversity of reactions created a pace that helped us both to remember and to move forward. It also caused tension between the people who felt we were moving too fast or com- memorating too much. Creating a New Normal These are the things that helped me in the aftermath: My husband Richard Buckley and Office Manager Linda Howard were with me from the start. Not only did they help me to cope in the immediate aftermath, but they enabled me to face new and challenging FS assignments for the next six years. Community helped. The kindness and forgiveness of families who lost loved ones helped. The trust, competence and team- work people demonstrated helped us literally move on from the rubble. The support of family and friends, even if far away, provided a bridge to what “normal” looked like. Work and time helped. I had meaningful work to accomplish that built on the leadership experience from Nairobi. Better understanding and talking about what happened gave meaning, while the passage of time gave comfort. Healthy habits for body, mind and soul helped. These included gardening, walking, knitting, reading and cultivating friendships. Therapy helped. It was not until I retired seven years after the bombing that I tended to my symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, using somatic therapy (EMDR), which I found helpful. Commercial Officer Riz Khaliq and a nurse from the emergency medical unit at the embassy take injured U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell to safety following the bombing of Embassy Nairobi.