Writers group spurs conversation
January 13, 2012
A session of the readers’, writers’, roundtable is about to begin. We’re a loosely knit group of individuals who deign to read something we’ve written, or hear what others have to say. For two hours we nibble homemade cookies, swill coffee or tea, and shut the outside world out. This is our time.
This particular meeting is a doozy. You can feel the vibes. Tables are set in a square so that we are never out of each other’s sight. Who will read first? Lengthy pause, and then with restrained modesty, I volunteer. My topic is light hearted and entertaining. I receive polite applause. Len recites a poem in his usual, eloquent way. Len is an orator and can recite long stanzas from memory. Laura reads three short pieces and receives well deserved praise. Later, Jeanne, Bill and Purky share some really good material, but now it’s Ruth’s turn.
Ruth is tiny in stature, jolly by nature, and talks like she comes from the Bronx, which she didn’t. Ruth is chameleon by nature. She has a crackerjack mind and snappy wit. She’s just completed 26 years in the U.S. Foreign Service. Her last assignments were in West Africa. Ideas fly out of Ruth like a blender with the lid off.
Today, Ruth reads something she’s written based on Bible verses. This is a surprise. Ruth comes from the world of dispatches, evacuation plans, and quirky African dignitaries. Why would she choose a spiritual topic to write about with a trove of political adventures to draw upon? I mention this to her.
Her eyes widen. She tilts back in her chair. “I had Embassy security, government housing, a driver, the works, but in Africa, you never knew when someone would hold a gun to your head. In Johannesburg, someone stole my purse while I was sitting in a restaurant with colleagues. In 1999, the Embassy bombings in East Africa, you must have heard,12 Americans were killed, but you never read about the hundreds of local employees who lost their lives, that was Foreign Service’s 9/11,” she says.
“I always felt like I was in the hand of God,” she confesses. “I went to the local church in Benin. My driver used to say ‘Madam, don’t go to that church. Nigerians will steal your purse while you take Communion, but I went anyway. During my time in Benin, dissidents were protesting the dictator in Togo, and they fled to the Benin/Togo border. Bodies were piling up,” she admits sadly. I reflected to myself, that this is why Ruth’s Creator is so important to her.
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Purky, interrupts, sounding quite upset. “I just don’t believe anything those politicians in Washington say, it’s all so hollow. Do you think we are doing any good around the world?” he asks in desperation. “I feel that all of us in the Diplomatic Corps are there to show, by our actions, and the way we treat people, that America is on the up and up. Those people have had generations of dictators brutalizing them and they don’t know any difference,” she says reassuringly. “If I could just try to do my best as an administrator and deal with the locals as human beings, that is the impression I wanted to give of America,” she says.
All eyes are on the tiny, brunette spitfire. I think we all feel we couldn’t have asked for a better person to represent us in West Africa. Best of all, Ruth doesn’t take herself so seriously. I think it’s her perennial optimism. I recently saw her sitting at a table at a local church bazaar. She was the assistant to the cashier, and she fit right into her new role in life. Chameleon. Ruth wears many hats and invariably has a smile on her face. I’m absolutely sure she would give Hillary Clinton a real good run for her money as United States Secretary of State.