Thursday, September 13, 2012

Game Changer

Folks, I always try my best to post my thoughts and experiences as they occur. Sometimes, due to one circumstance (busy schedule) or another (chronic laziness), I am not able to. That happened recently when I began writing Part Three of my Guanajuato adventure. I began this blog, which recounts events from August 26th and 27th, on the afternoon of August 30th before getting horribly sidetracked. Trouble is, the world around us can change in an instant sometimes, making what came before seem trivial, immature, and small minded. That has happened to me. For the sake of bringing some semblance of closure to that particular tale, I will share what I had written up until the moment where my thoughts were derailed.


León...and Comforting News From Guadalajara

Driving from the bus station to our hotel, we had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of León's bustling metropolitan area. There was a HUGE outlet mall (one of only two I have seen here in Mexico) and a fancy looking art & history museum. Wide streets, clean sidewalks and sharply dressed pedestrians indicated that this was a town with a bit of money behind it. The GM factory we passed on the way into town only confirms this.

The skies were turning gray, so with the smell of rain in the air we quickly checked into our room and bolted for León's historic center, hoping to snap enough pics to prove we were there before the sky let loose a torrential downpour. We succeeding in seeing just about everything and even found shelter at a gross little Chinese restaurant before the bottom fell out of the sky. We made it back to our room with a minimum of dampness and rested for a bit before heading back out. Two of the town plazas display a laser-light "History of León" show on a nightly basis and we were hoping to see it. Sadly, and despite the rain having ended, the show was cancelled for the evening. Sigh...

Being a Sunday night, the nightlife wasn't very, well, lifelike. We wandered around for a while, had a few drinks at a local bar, then called it a night.

We awoke the next morning and grazed lazily on the hotel's continental breakfast, then sat back and waited. There had been no further narco blockades overnight. Still, we weren't sure if we'd be allowed to return home or simply continue living the refugee lifestyle.

I'm glad we held off on any early morning excursions; shortly after 10:00 we received a phone call that basically said "You can come home, but do it RIGHT NOW." Our Regional Security Office had determined there was no immediate danger and that it was best for all consulate employees to be at home and accounted for within the Guadalajara metropolitan area.

We quickly loaded up the car and headed home, bummed about missing out on lovely
León, but admittedly happy about an extra day off of work.


That's as far as I got. I wanted to revisit the post, attaching photos and additional commentary about churches, the hotel, etc. But I never did. And I never will. Here's why:

On August 31st, our Regional Secuity Office (RSO) notified us that we should be aware of potential sites for demonstrations/protests in light of the recent decision by the Electoral Tribunal that the Mexican presidential elections (always a point of great controversy) had been fair and valid. So far, no incidences have been reported that threaten our safety.

On the afternoon of September 6th, RSO issued a "Shelter in Place" advisory due to an arrest operation being carried out by the Mexican military and fear of possible narco activity as a result. Thankfully, no blockades occurred...but TJ was out sick that day. It was the first time such a concern had arisen when we weren't together. I felt safe in the consulate, and I knew he was safe at home...but when you aren't together, imaginations run wild.

So far, so good in lovely Guadalajara. But the rest of the world hasn't fared so well.

On September 11th, an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and Security Officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty. The building itself is in charred ruins.

Riots in Cairo, Egypt that same day saw the Embassy walls scaled and the American flag torn down. Three former colleagues from US Consulate General Guadalajara are currently posted there. I am happy to report they are safe and awaiting further instruction.

Demonstrations have continued throughout the Middle East since September 11th, all in protest of the film "Innocence of Muslims," and its place of origin, the United States of America. The film depicts the prophet Mohammed in a very inflammatory and disrespectful way, something not to be tolerated by followers of the Islamic faith.

Israeli and American flags have been burned by Iraqi protestors. In Iran, demonstrators gathered outside the Swiss Embassy to chant "Death to America!" and death to the film's director, an Israeli-American. Photos can be found of protestors walking on the U.S. Flag outside of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Protests in Yemen have resulted in a dozen or so deaths. In Cairo, riot police continue trying to hold protesters at bay.

I walked around the office yesterday with a pain in my stomach that was utterly relentless. TJ is a first tour officer. We did not know any of those that lost their lives yesterday, but the reality is that the longer he serves, the greater the chance that we will know someone who falls in service to his or her country. Just ask this blogger.

It's easy to forget how dangerous the world can be from the comfort of our home here in Guadalajara. Even when moments of high alert occur, the alert doesn't seem very...high. Precautionary at best, but never a your-life-depends-on-it scenario. Many of our friends, in and outside the service, have joked about our cushy lifestyle.

But what we all need to remember is that a safe tour this year could segue into a relatively dangerous tour next year. We will be posted in Jerusalem, Israel beginning in August 2013. As the world has seen over the last few days, the Middle East is still a volatile place. I feel extremely grateful that this Israeli-American film has not resulted in action being taken against the Jewish people of Israel this week.

Two friends have already reached out and asked that we exercise caution during this next tour in Jerusalem.

Of course we will. But we are not afraid to serve there. We look forward to our time in Israel with great anticipation and expectations of a wonderful life experience. We understand the importance of maintaining diplomatic ties with the Middle East. I expect to face many challenges but to reap many rewards. If I do not leave Jerusalem with that sad longing for more time but extreme happiness for having had the experience, I will consider myself a failure.

But I will never again make light of, or joke about the perks of, a Shelter-in-Place, regardless of where we are serving at the time.

And I will never forget that the next time a Foreign Service Officer falls in the line of could very well be someone I know and love.

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