Well, after a fair few months of thinking that I’d never get to meet the Ferrero Rocher brigade (and I still haven’t), I thought it time for a “job description check” of who has actually decided to come into contact with travelswithadiplomat. We have had a glut of guests through our apartment recently where I have been more comfortable in the background, or “sommelier and put-Isla-to-bed” person. None of which bothers me in the slightest. I am the NKOTB (New Kid on the…you get it) and that’s reality. Still, I’ve managed to meet a fair few people associated with various key charities, coupled with high grade political and diplomatic staff. All from different countries.
Getting to stroll round our local park and sashay through the evening Yoga class in Limpini with Canada’s ambassador to Pakistan was a recent highlight as he took some time out for a personal trip. The evening before that particular gyration involved a celebrated photo journalist and author – a man who has met Aung Suu Kyii; his partner being a key associate for the upper echelons of OxFam. The former is delightfully quick to be curious about people, nods towards the political Left (certainly anti-Thatcher) yet still has a best friend called Caspar who is a Hedge Fund Manager..
Then there is the professor who travels the region consulting and advising on the issues surrounding human trafficking; the litany of NGOs who all work hard to achieve change for their respective groups like Unesco, ASEAN, TSPCC, etc.; the man who quietly and unassumingly knows everyone in the Jazz world and makes a mean lemon cake dessert; the Program Managers and the Ambassadors; the lady who runs Canada’s aid to Eastern Africa; the lady who goes around the world helping (face-to-face) women who have been victims of rape; the child psychologist and her husband who seems to unflappably assist all those Canadians who go a touch overboard and decide a swim in the Chao Phraya is just a great idea; the fact that everyone here seems to speak at least three languages and have visited more countries than I’ve had thoughts about; the sheer realization that the average IQ of everyone in these vast networks is clearly 140+ minimum. It’s mind boggling to meet so many people so actively engaged at the peak of their crafts. People wanting to make a difference. And all these people know a thousand others way above my pay-grade, speak of them familiarly, respectfully, intelligently. I am kinda used to it…before we even came out here I could count on more than all my fingers and toes the amount of times I would be either watching the likes of Paxman interviewing someone or viewing some commentary on the news with an expert talking away in a high-brow manner; the Diplomat would stroll past, glance and say:
“Oh, yeah. Know him/her. We were at such-and-such a conference together. Had a glass of water afterwards and chatted about <insert applicable really important topic>. They also like to garden, eh.”
To top it all off, the people I have met are really nice people. This might sound overly sycophantic but, as I think most people will acknowledge, I can be bluntly critical at times so there’s precious little obsequiousness in my statements. Having worked in the same industry (financial trading software) all my professional life it’s a little humbling to be around people who actually DO something for the common good. People who get away from the safety of an office desk as often as possible, like doctors and nurses and teachers…those who leave a mark on society by their actions. I am referring, of course, to the bureaucrats and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) who work tirelessly for their respective countries and organizations. I never quite knew how it really was in this world till I hopped on a plane and traveled further east than Warsaw for the very first time.
Trust me, it’s not politicians who get things done. It’s their tirelessly working team of people on both the political and consular staff who deliver what’s needed. It’s the NGOs who get out on the ground and put in all the things that are promised, work out the reality of what people need. You see, they have no need to be re-elected. They just try and fix stuff, to help people. They deserve a glass or two of wine, in my honest opinion.
That’s closer to the mark than you’d think. I often read pieces in newspapers, in editorials, online…of the so-called ex-pat cocktail party lifestyle. I’m new to all this – and I’m just a diplomat’s spouse – but I can tell you there’s precious little in the way of cocktail parties. In true Western society style, the bureaucrats endlessly self-flagellate as to whether accepting a grande latte rather than a tall latte in Starbucks might make its way to the gleeful press to publish as another example of the pampered, voracious gluttony paid for by whatever country’s tax payer. More often than not, they cautiously and politely accept in a more down market establishment. I’ve seen more boozed up party-goers in the financial markets corporations than I know I will ever see on the diplomat circuit. It’s a close knit community and that sort of behaviour just isn’t acceptable. Of course, no “team” is ever perfect. There’s the occasional mishap, but it’s usually not involving the photocopier, one’s derriere and a swimming pool’s worth of champagne. And, of course, as ever some people consider themselves a slightly bigger cog in the machinery than they really are; but that’s no great shakes. I don’t have to work with them; I just get to observe people in their working habitat. At times, bureaucracy is a regimented, frustrating, curious place. At others, it’s fascinating, colourful, interesting, erudite and downright carefree.
My UK-centric eyes have been opened a lot more and I understand people a lot better having spoken to them, experienced their lives (just a little bit). It’s given me a new perspective on Britain’s place in the world and what global social responsibility should mean. That’s not to say I have the answer to it, but I’m aware my UK-blinkered upbringing isn’t quite as flawless as I thought it was and, as a nation, we’re riding a downhill slope on our sadly wilting laurels. We need to wake up because the time of our social consultancy to the rest of the world is fast ending. I’ve a lot to learn and may well never complete my education but living out here has given me a whole new appreciation for Life and how people live it. This is without talking about the common people out here, their lives, their dreams, their loves and hates. That’s an entirely different view again and I’ve learned a lot from the smiling Thai on the corner selling his ahaarn Thai. Stuff that I now know is actually just as important as anything any Ambassador might tell me.
Talk and I will listen. That’s all I can promise.
So yes. I’ve met a bunch of people who continue to amaze me for different reasons. People in positions where they have a global impact. However, I can still beat the lot of them racing round Limphini Park on a cycle. Heck, I was within 200m of President Obama last year and my life still remained the same. I may be bottom of the pile out here but I’m lovin’ it. And that’s all that matters, really. In the grand scheme. You know it.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?