Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Day in the Life

When I was in Pol/Econ training, one of the sessions involved us discussing the daily schedules of FSOs who had taken the class previously and who were settling into their routines in their first reporting position.  I found it immensely useful; I had few expectations going into this position, and this exercise gave me a better idea about what my days would likely look like.

Now that I've been in my job about two months, I've developed my own routine.  I'm a reporting officer - that means I collect information and report it.  I get this information from a variety of sources: media reports, asking my contacts questions via phone or email, visiting sites to see with my own eyes what's happening, and meeting one-on-one with people who know what I need to know.  The exact mixture depends on what information I need, where my contacts are, and how much time I have in my schedule - the Consulate is located in the northern suburbs of Istanbul, and it's a hike to get to wherever my contacts are located.  When I do go out for meetings, the best way to get information, I try to schedule two or three meetings back-to-back.  Otherwise, if you figure 45 minutes of transit to the meeting, an hour for one meeting, and an hour back (rush "hour" starts at about 3 PM), I've completely shot my afternoon.  Moreover, it doesn't make sense to return to the Consulate for any meetings that start after 3 PM, unless I'm planning on staying at my desk until sundown.

It's not hard to find people to meet with.  I'm blessed to be in a city and a country where activists, religious leaders, and NGO staff want to meet with US diplomats - that's not always the case.  So when I set up meetings for Thursday afternoon this week, I didn't really think about the logic of the ordering, I just contacted someone I've been meaning to meet for a few weeks and someone else who was only going to be in Istanbul for two days.  It was only after I returned home that I realized the bizarre juxtaposition I'd created.  First I met with an activist affiliated with the Istanbul gay rights group on a balcony in their office, a top-floor apartment at the back of an alley, off another alley in the heart of modern Istanbul.  After that, I dashed off to the Four Seasons next to Ayasofya to have coffee with the lay leadership of the American branch of a Turkish church.  At one meeting we talked about gender reassignment surgeries, legal challenges, pride marches, and hate crimes in the 100-degree heat; at the other I sat by a tinkling fountain and sipped expensive tea with movers and shakers, discussing religious freedom, property disputes, and EU accession.

Superficially, the two meetings have little to do with each other.  Their political and religious positions couldn't be much different.  However, at a deeper level, my interest (and the US government's interest) in these groups is the same: we support the rights of these two groups, others like them, and many more not so like them, to operate in freedom and in peace, without harassment, and with the legal protection to operate freely.  We dedicate a significant amount of resources worldwide to human rights, and for most reporting officers this is the first portfolio they ever cover.  I don't cover the "prestigious" issues - the political heavyweights, the business leaders, the prominent authors and journalists and academics.  What I cover now is actually more interesting to me...  the people fighting at the grassroots level for their rights, the organizations that help the poor, the illiterate, the refugees, and the discriminated against, and the community and religious leaders who stand up to incredible pressure and lead their communities in modern Turkey.  And I love every minute of it.

3 comments:

  1. What a great opportunity to meet with so many diverse groups and individuals! That is awesome!

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  2. I'm sooo proud of my country right now. (sniffle)

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  3. I take it you're responsible for the Human Rights Report? I enjoyed that portfolio as well!

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