As an undergraduate, I settled on history, and diplomatic history, because I had a really cool professor. I was thinking, Hmmm, I wonder how you get to be a diplomat? I eventually went on to law school. At one point, during the summer, this fellow gave me a Wall Street Journal. And there was a small ad that said, “U.S. Department of State Announces Examination for the Foreign Service.” And I said: “You take a test? Oh, God, I can test!”
I took the exam in late 1979; it was right near the time of the Iranian hostage crisis, which was a great eye-opener: “What is this thing I’m doing?” But ultimately I was accepted.
My first posting was in Bombay. You get off that plane and step out into this throng of humanity. The air was not only damp, but it was rich with odors: every scent imaginable. On the first day as we went to work, a beggar put his arms through the vehicle to request alms, but you noticed that his arm was missing its hand. You realized this was a leper.
India was one of those places that is so intense that people either loved it or hated it. I loved it: The diversity. The color. The vibrancy. Trying to understand this multitude of faiths; the Hindu pantheon of Gods. India was a wonderful introduction for me into the foreign service. One of the greatest joys of being in the foreign service is that opportunity to learn something new. What you require is career attention deficit disorder. It’s that idea that for some of us, every two to three to four years at the most you’re changing jobs.
People seem to think we sit around in a lovely suit and drink tea, or have cocktails, and eat canapés and talk about exalted issues of policy. But life in the foreign service is not that. The range of issues that we address, the responsibilities we take on; I spend a considerable amount of my time working on issues related to the fighting of HIV/AIDS.
Here in Uganda, what’s a typical day? It can be anything from a meeting on how we’re going to reduce the rate of maternal mortality, which is way too high here, or today, I met with the president, and we were talking about a new initiative to fight malaria, where, if we’re successful, we can save 156,000 lives of children under the age of 5 in the next few years. That’s a good day’s work. It’s the totality, every day, for 32 years, to serve our country. To try to make a difference, to advance the values. The work we do matters. And the message that our country has to offer the world, that matters.