The Foreign Service Journal, July/August 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JULY-AUGUST 2018 63 that I had already passed the Foreign Service Officer’s Test and one week later was due to take the oral exam. It did not matter that I was the lead for the USAID Private Sector Development team. It stung, but I understood. I waited, and when the direct-hire personnel emerged, I was told that all “Americans” would be going via convoy to the alternate command center on the other side of the bridge beyond the now-destroyed embassy. I sought to join that convoy to get to my children because, at that time, it was the only direct route from the USAID building. Due to my hiring status, I was denied participation in that convoy. I was extremely angry. This, I did not understand. I thought, “Why are the lives of my American children any less precious than the lives of the children of direct hires—who would be accounted for in the crisis?!” I had to fight my way past police blockades (using my accent, language skills and family name) to get to my children, and then across the otherwise closed bridge, past the embassy carnage and then home—all without security assistance. Over the next six days, I learned with great sadness from the news reports that a female security guard I had become friendly with had died, but I never received notice of that from the embassy or USAID. I understood that everyone was in crisis mode, and my anger subsided as I prepared to leave for the United States. I arrived in Chicago and took the oral exam exactly one week after the bombing. To my absolute delight, I passed the exams to join the Foreign Service! But the bombing had changed me. I made the decision that rather than join as an economic officer as I had previously determined, I would join as a manage- ment officer. I felt that my experience during that crisis gave me a perspective on caring for all employees, on the value of security and on preparedness. My family and I have never forgotten that the bombing affected a much wider circle than the embassy itself. At my daughters’ school, all things made of glass exploded—lab equip- ment, computer monitors, the few windows that existed, etc. While no one was badly injured, everyone was traumatized. Chil- dren were still moaning and crying when I arrived. Our family was aware of the effects of the bombing on all parties and felt that the U.S. direct-hire officers were unaware of the trauma experi- enced by other families. And the lack of communication left the impression that they didn’t care. My daughters witnessed how their mother was excluded from information and from support in the aftermath. Now both of my daughters are professionals in the international health sector. Like me, they learned from the bombing to pay particular attention to how policies and practices impact all staff—local and expatriate alike. After a long and arduous clearance process, my family and I joined the 95th A-100 class. We have taken pride in being a part of a government service that learns from our experiences, making policy and culture changes along the way to improve our crisis response. Take Time to Reflect and Breathe Vella G. Mbenna Support Communications Officer I was at my desk in the Communications Center. I was expecting a call, but thought I could run a few errands before my opera- tor processed the call and before the new American colleague I needed to train returned. However, just seconds after exiting the office, I thought I heard a phone ringing, so I returned to my desk. It was indeed the call I was expecting from South Africa. Less than a minute into the conversation, I heard a blast and saw the wall come toward me. My chair, with me in it, was blown across the floor, slamming into a rack of communication equipment. I was knocked out. When I came to, I heard the alarm wailing: “Please evacuate the building, this is not a drill.” Instead of evacuating, I imme- diately went to check on my colleagues and to send a message on the telegraphic equipment to Washington, asking them to stop transmitting telegrams to post because something bad had just happened. I then sanitized the Communications Center as much as I could before heading out to see what had happened. The Aug. 7 bombings continue to affect me, my family and my colleagues in many ways. Sometimes when I am in a crowd, I become nervous and feel the need to leave, sometimes abruptly. I often decline to attend work and personal events because I fear being in a crowd. I have a compulsion to always say goodbye to family and friends, never taking it for granted that I will return. Because I forgot for days to call the boarding school where my son (and niece) were to let them know I was fine, I carry a heavy burden: my son still feels that I did not care about what he was experiencing not knowing if I was dead or alive. I became burnt out early in my career because I worked extremely long hours, even as a high-level manager, ensuring and double-checking on a daily basis that the embassy was communications-ready in the event something like the bomb- ing happened again. What helped? Being alone a lot. Thinking of the good I did that day for my Tanzanian colleagues, my American colleagues