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Monday, July 10, 2006

Happy 8th of July

Americans living overseas tend not to be an especially flag-waving lot, particularly those working in health and development like myself. It is not that we don't love our country or feel particularly American (because there is no choice but to feel American over here), but I think that we tend to be more reflective of the strengths and challenges of America - what with having lived outside of it for awhile - than the average patriot.

Personally, I've never felt more patriotic than during the times that I've spent living overseas. Seriously. Somehow the current US government fades away and what I remember are the nostalgic things - like how the electricity works all the time, and how escalators are good for my knees, and how nice that once-a-year BBQ hotdog tastes on the 4th of July. However, even though I often think of my country fondly, I would never be so arrogant as to think that my country is the best in the world. In any case, pretty much everyone - even people trying to immigrate from their countries - think that their country of birth is "the best". I'm just not into playing that game of one-upsmanship.

So it was with great interest that I attended the US Embassy of Tanzania's 4th of July party this past weekend - held fittingly on the 8th of July. The party promised hotdogs, hamburgers and games to those with an American passport and their guests. I thought the kids would have fun and perhaps I would met some new people to socialize with. So I packed up the kids and Secunda and off we went... through the three layers of security at the gate, paid our $40 dollars for entry and food(which is seriously a lot of money here for just about anything), and entered the sacred American territory of the embassy compound.

And what did I find when I got there? Well... it felt just like... humm... a high school carnival, except without the good food and fun games. After the kids and Secunda were safely carted off to the bouncy castle (which seems to be the highlight of every single kid event we've attended here), I stood in the middle of the ground to take stock of what was before me.

Let's see... There were the:

Hippies - Lots of them... most of whom were on round-the-world tickets and decided they liked Tanzania and are staying for awhile. Tanzanians call them - in Swahili - "the dirty people".

Development Folks - Like me (I was in a tie-dyed shirt) informally dressed with big "public health" rococo jewelry. Our kids ran wild followed by harried looking nannies. We pretty much all stuck together, as we usually do. For my Mamaroneck High School readers, the public health crowd is pretty much like hanging at SWAS wall.

Business People - There are quite a lot of business people here in Dar these days. These folks were dressed much nicer - perhaps wearing pearls with their sweater sets and khaki capris. They were mostly without their kids, because children don't belong at these sorts of social events. I'm sure that they were all the jocks and cheerleaders of their high schools.

Embassy Officials - The main clutch of embassy people could be found clustered around the dunking tank. Word has it all the most difficult embassy people (the ones who say "no" to everything) were letting themselves get dunked and it seems like the staff were really enjoying it. I'm sure it was the biggest money-making game at the fair.

Marines - There is a group of US Marines here who protect the Embassy - and I suppose I would have to rely on them to get me out of here should there be some type of emergency. I don't want to say anything negative about these bald young men, except to point out that they were in charge of the beer.

The Ambassador - I met the Ambassador and his inner circle for the first time. He looked just like your high school principal.

The Girl Band - The most incongruous thing at the party was the entertainment. Some girl band, on a USO tour to perform for the troops in the Middle East, was detoured to Tanzania for our 8th of July party. They were all blond and buxomous and wore very short skirts and very low cut halter tops. They didn't sound so great, but the Marines clearly enjoyed them. It seems like the USO knows their target audience.

So you see, Americans in Tanzania did come together to celebrate their heritage and diversity, even if we were a few days late. I kind of enjoyed getting to see my "community" here. And although the kids and I left before the fireworks began, I'm told that no one in that section of Dar es Salaam would have been able to miss the fact that the Americans had arrived! They were loud and flashy and ruled the night sky.

P.S. As I was introduced to Ambassador, my USAID colleague told me that the Ambassador, a Bush appointee, owns about 30 McDonalds in the Midwest. He is evidently interested in knowing about how we at T-MARC are implementing our marketing and communications and wants to teach us a few things about how to do it. Now... selling safer sex like McDonald's sells Quarter Pounders with Cheese Meals might be tempting to a man of his background - and I must admit, I'm curious what he might bring to the table. I'll let you know how it all works out... it could give new meaning to a Happy Meal :)

P.P.S. The hamburgers they served at the party sucked. Connections aren't everything.


Blogger MommyWithAttitude said...

It's interesting how even just visiting overseas (and even Canada, for that matter) gives you such a different perspective on being American.

My good friend is from a very conservative, very patriotic family and she never questioned any of it until she moved to Asia ten years ago. It's been interesting to watch her grow in that way (and I've gotten to grow with her, becuase I never would have gone to Asia on my own!).

And now she's married to a Lebanese Muslim which is about the last thing I ever in a million years would have imagined her to do. But his perspective on Bush's foreign policy has really been a wonderful learning experience for her (and me!).

I'm rambling, sorry... but this is a great blog.

8:31 PM  
Blogger KathyB said...

Sounds like fun. Yes, it would bring new meaning to a Happy Meal... :0

3:48 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

The poor damn, dirty hippies. They just can't shake that label anywhere, can they.

This is the kind of essay I love you for. Your perspective is so amazing and that Happy Meal line...perfection.

I can tell from all these commenters that I'm not the only one who's impressed. You rock it, Hal.

4:18 AM  
Anonymous Al said...


What a wonderful entry!

I can't believe they charged $ for the 4th of July party: how cheap! The only US embassy one I've been to was in Ethiopia, and I'm sure it was free to all invitees. The embassy staff and local hires worked forever to pull off that event: a real community effort. I think every kitchen on the compound was commandeered.

That cast of characters... as you say right out of high school.



10:04 PM  
Anonymous david h said...

I can't wait to hear about how the Happy Meal turns out ;-)

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Lisa said...


Loved this entry! Good to know that I would have a place at SWAS in Dar! Rock on!

11:15 PM  

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