Gardnerville residents enjoy foreign service life |

Gardnerville residents enjoy foreign service life

Holly Atchison

Gardnerville residents Michael and Toni Markle recently returned to the Carson Valley from a two-year assignment at the American Embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania in northern Africa. However, the Markles will not be puttering around the house this fall.

In September, the couple leaves for Berlin for a three-year stay at the American Embassy in the Germany.

What some would call exotic travel, is all due to Michael’s job as an information program officer for the U.S. State Department, a job which he has had for nine years.

“I handle all types of communication in and out of the embassy,” he said. “I had worked in the military in the communications field previously, and we joined the foreign service in 1988.”

The Markles have been traveling since then. Their first assignment was Stockholm, Sweden where they stayed for three years. Then it was off to Bucharest, Romania for two years and Ottowa, Canada for two years. From Canada, they went to Mauritania.

A hot and arid country, Mauritania is in the middle of the Sahara Desert, he said. Nouakchott is home to half a million people, and Toni said it is not unusual for the temperatures to be between 120 and 140 degrees.

She said there were few restaurants, no music, no theater and basically no culture. The only form of entertainment they had was going to the beach or four-wheeling.

“It’s kind of a boring place,” he said.

The American embassy there is fairly small, with only six people in addition to 25-30 Peace Corps volunteers at any given time who work in the country developing water systems, health systems and agriculture.

“We have a high respect for the Peace Corps,” he said.

Michael said the embassy held 35 people prior to the Gulf War, but when the country sided with Saddam Hussein, the U.S. pulled out.

“We (America) do not do a lot of business with Mauritania,” he said. “There is not a lot of export, but it is an important country.”

Michael worked with radio, telephones, computers and satellites to keep communication between the state department, the embassy and other federal agencies and those traveling through the desert.

The Markles worked with American Ambassador Dorothy Sampas, who has now returned to the U.S. In their travels, they have met ex-Secretary of State Jim Baker, President and Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al and Tipper Gore, former President George and Barbara Bush and former President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.

“Our mission is to support these dignitaries and the presidents,” he said.

Toni works in the embassies doing different jobs, and said the state department encourages the wives and families to be brought along.

She said even though Mauritania is 100 percent Islamic, the women were not veiled and she felt quite safe there.

“We found the people to be shockingly great,” she said. “They really seemed to like us (Americans).”

“It’s interesting,” he said. “We find the places we’ve been assigned fascinating and unique.”

“The upside is you’re able to spend a large amount of time in one place,” Toni added. “You get to know the people and the area.

“It’s a great occupation for young people who have a love of travel, even greater if they have a language experience.”

“I think our favorite place was Sweden – as far as it’s a beautiful country to live in, all the modern conveniences,” he said. “It was our first posting and our longest posting. It has a tender spot.”

The state department encourages them to brief their state legislators when they get the chance, so the Markles had a talk with U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nevada, when he was in Douglas County for his rural tour of Nevada.

They talked about the aspects of living in Mauritania, including the climate, exports, religion and politics.

Michael said he is excited to go to Berlin because of its recent switch back to the country’s capitol. He said a new embassy is being built there and should be completed by the year 2000.

Berlin will be their last assignment before retiring, Michael said. They will return to Gardnerville where they look forward to making their home. The Markles moved to the Carson Valley four years ago from Sutter Creek, Calif. and have bought the old Stodick house on Toler and Elges. They have five children, all living on their own.

The Markles left for Washington D.C. this week and will then spend a week in Florida. Afterwards, Michael will return to Virginia for training before leaving for Berlin in September.