Ambassador James Freeman was unhappy with the Information officer. The feeling was mutual. One or the other would have to pack up and leave Dar-es-Salaam—and it wasn’t the Ambo. He demanded a competent replacement. And fast. It didn’t happen. No available Foreign Service Officer would touch an assignment that looked like a suicide mission. Then I came along.
“That’s the deal. Take it or leave it,” I was told.
Having been IO at a similar post before resigning to marry a hot shot foreign correspondent, I had no qualms about handling the local press. Jousting with a touchy ambassador was another matter. How long would I last? Irrelevant. I needed a job.
“I’ll take it,” I said.
Saying a cheery ciao to an ego-bruised husband in snow-bound Moscow, I celebrated Christmas in Florida with my parents, then spent a few days on paperwork and briefings in Washington, where I also did some detective work. Tanzania was a tourist Mecca for many good reasons. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Going on safari to view (or hunt) the fauna. Visiting the ancestral boneyard at Olduvai Gorge. Ogling Masai in tribal regalia. Spice-shopping on exotic Zanzibar. Yet I, a renegade, had been recruited to fill a slot that should have been fought over. If Human Resources refused to supply the ugly details, old colleagues might.
One did. We’d served together in Indonesia, and—happy coincidence—my friend had worked under the reigning ambassador when Jim Freeman had occupied a top career position at the U.S. Information Agency headquarters in D.C., a not unusual springboard to his current position.
“It was a clash of alpha males,” my colleague told me over burgers and fries (for him) and caesar salad with salmon (for me). Since then, the uppity IO had been set to learning Hangul in preparation for an assignment to Seoul, and Freeman had accepted the wild card. Me. “Now everyone’s happy,” my friend concluded. “For the moment, anyway.”
“So what’s your advice?” I asked.
“Play it straight,” my friend said. “If Freeman wants your input, tell him what you think and why.”
“Easy,” I said. “Is that all?”
“Not quite. He may or may not agree with your brilliant analysis—and it’s his call. He’s the Big Enchilada.”
“Remember where I’m coming from,” I laughed. “Dealing with a Principal Officer’s big fat ego beats kowtowing to a husband’s”
My friend raised an eyebrow and claimed the check. “Good luck,” he said. “Let me know how things work out.”