Sometime in the 1960’s, a young American woman’s first overseas diplomatic assignment was to the former French colony, Guinea. After the French left, Guinea fell under the influence of the Soviet Union.As Guinea’s official Independence Day approached, the young woman and a young colleague, John, were assigned embassy duty during the weekend event. Anticipating that President Sekou Touré would deliver a fiery anti-American speech, the American Ambassador advised the rest of the embassy staff to remain in their homes.
On duty at the embassy the young woman and John turned on the radio broadcasting President Touré’s speech. As expected, he was vehemently denouncing the United States and inciting the crowd to chant “Yankee a bas!” (Down with the Yankees!”)
Looking up from the radio, the two young staffers were shocked to see tanks approach and point their gun turrets at the embassy’s glass front. Young Guineans in camouflage with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders positioned themselves between the tanks. The young woman tried to reach the Ambassador by phone…no signal. John tried other embassy officers…no signal. They tried the shortwave, nothing. (They later learned that as weaponry was being positioned, armed young Guineans had been dispatched to all American embassy employee’s homes. They had been surrounded; their telephone lines cut, and their shortwave radios controlled.)
John knocked on the embassy front glass to summon one of the young Guinean guards. After many attempts, one of them came forth. Shortly thereafter, the young woman was escorted between two armed men up the street to her apartment.
The woman had experienced no major fear for her safety believing in the largely respected convention that embassies were protected under international law. But when she got out on the street, she had a fleeting thought, “Should these Guineans decide to do me harm, I will be totally defenseless”.
The armed escorts walked her up the flights of stairs to her fifth-floor apartment where she planned to contact her neighbor, the German Ambassador’s secretary. Immediately, however, there was a knock at the door. “Did the armed Guineans come back for her?” Cautiously, she opened the door a small crack preparing to slam it shut if need be. But there was Diallo, the apartment building security guard. Standing tall and dignified in his white gallabiyah, he said in French:
“Mademoiselle, are you alright? Do you need water? Do you need food? Tell me what you need, and I will bring it to you. I am so sorry for how you and the other Americans are being treated. I do not understand why my president is doing this. But, Mademoiselle, do not be afraid. I promise you that as long as I am the guardian of this building, I will protect you.Before Allah, I pledge my life to protect you.”
The crisis passed. And the young woman’s eyes were opened.
The young American woman in the story is my friend Nancy Splain. Her experience during those tense times and the solemn pledge by Diallo was her encounter with the “other.” Diallo pledged before Allah that he will protect Nancy with his life.
Nancy had subsequent tours of duty in Libya and Tunisia. Returning to the States, she became a lawyer and had her law practice in Arizona. In post-retirement, she has served as Interfaith Outreach Ambassador of the Beatitudes Campus, Phoenix, Arizona. Nancy and I have collaborated for many years to promote interfaith understanding. Thank you, Nancy.
[Picture: Nancy Splain and Dr. Albert Celoza, in front of the mission statement at Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix, where Nancy has served as its Interfaith Outreach Ambassador.]
Blessings,Albert Celoza, Ph.D., Executive Director
|P.S. Please be a traveling billboard reminder for empathy and civilityon the road and beyond….Golden Rule license plate is available at www.servicearizona.com|