I haven’t written about work in a while. Partly this is because I was out of the office for several weeks, and partly because my usual econ portfolio has taken a backseat for the last few weeks while I devote my time and attention to planning for the embassy’s 4th of July party, the annual Big Event of any U.S. embassy. It may sound a bit early for that, but one thing I’ve learned in the Foreign Service so far is that holidays are very flexible. For example, the Japanese Embassy moved the Emperor’s birthday (December 23) up a couple of weeks so the dip corps could attend before heading home for their Christmas vacations. In Guinea the actual 4th of July falls smack in the middle of the rainy season, and apparently a couple of years ago a huge storm put rather a damper on the festivities. (Storm. Damp. Heh.) Anyway, in Conakry we’ll be celebrating the 4th of July in May.
The party planning is being handled by a committee of first-tour officers, another one of the many ways in which I am told Embassy Conakry differs from every other embassy there is. (I expect my next tour, wherever that may be, will provoke a little culture shock.) I have been put in charge of catering and corporate relations, so over the past weeks and months I’ve been devoting a lot of time to soliciting and organizing donations from American companies, designing sponsorship banners, putting together catering prep schedules, and approving service staff lists, a far cry from my usual activities.
It kind of makes a nice change, and is teaching me new things about the nitty gritties of running an embassy and having a big event. Things I never would have thought of, like making sure the catering team has enough wine openers and paper towels. Finding ice machines, and making ice for weeks ahead of time to be able to fill hundreds of glasses all at once. But it’s also a lot of work and a lot of pressure, since the Independence Day party is the Big Event, the main time the Embassy as a whole puts itself on display, and we want everything to be PERFECT. Every guest greeted with a smile, every banner straight, every cue hit, every glass filled. It’s a major organizational undertaking ahead of time, and a complicated logistical operation during the event itself. It’s a party for the guests – for staff it’s work, working to make sure the guests have a good time, no matter what it takes.
But the nice thing about doing the official party so far in advance is that we can use the real 4th of July to have a party for us, where we get to have fun. Probably beer and barbeque poolside – as long as it doesn’t rain.