I was quite pleased with myself. The previous day, I’d presented credentials as American Ambassador to Bangladesh, a capstone to my career. Furthermore, I was the first woman the Foreign Service had seen fit to send as Ambassador to a Muslim country. And the credential ceremony where I met the President had gone without a hitch, thanks to forward thinking on my part.
The first act of a new Ambassador is the presentation of credentials to the receiving head of state in a carefully choreographed, formal ceremony. The Bangladesh Foreign Ministry offered to give me a walk-through the day before. My Embassy staff assured me that wasn’t necessary; the Protocol Office had the drill down pat. But aware that I was the first woman ambassador, I accepted the Bangladeshi offer and we had a walk-through. Walk-through perhaps is the wrong word. As I started across the monsoon-soaked Presidential lawn to simulate inspection of the honor guard, my high heels sank in deep enough to take root. I had to pull my feet out and a gardener rescued my shoes. Needless to say, I wore flat sandals the next day and proudly did the ceremonial inspection and presentation of credentials to the President in style. (except for the shoes). That’s thinking ahead.
The next day I met my diplomatic peers—the other Ambassadors— for the first time. We were gathered to witness the opening of a large, new factory on the out-skirts of Dhaka. My colleagues actually seemed more curious about this novel addition to their ranks—the first lady Ambassador—than about the factory’s contribution to Bangladesh’s development. (In truth, I hadn’t asked either.)
Whatever it was, the event merited nearly two, long hours of speeches, mostly in Bangla. Finally the Prime Minister moved to cut the ribbon and usher us in for a tour of inspection.
My colleagues and I rose to join him but, I fear, at this point the Dhaka diplomatic corps was in quiet disarray, faced with a conundrum of protocol versus chivalry. According to protocol, the newest addition to their number should be last in line. But then again, shouldn’t ladies go first? Chivalry won. So now I was a lady, as well as an Ambassador! The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps gallantly ushered me to the front.
The Prime Minister cut the ribbon and I joined him and the Dean as the doors of the ceramic factory were thrown open. Behold! The factory product, in regimental order awaited our inspection, row upon row of — — —
urinals and toilet bowls.
Hubris got flushed.