The Consulate closed for the day on September 11, and all employees, both foreign service officers and locally engaged staff, and engaged in various service projects in the city.
I was on the “urban beautification” team, which meant that I picked up trash along the canal. If you know anything about big cities, you can guess that there was a very big beautification potential along the canal.
Several local people were very curious about a bunch of foreigners picking up trash. More than one photo was taken with a cell phone. One guy offered to notify the media. We all had a good laugh at that offer. We can’t imagine that the local non-free press would report that foreigners were doing selfless service projects.
It’s fair to ask that if we weren’t getting local press coverage, is it worth it to engage in these service projects? I think the answer is yes, for two reasons. First, even though the media wouldn’t report on it, as we were out there working, we interacted with several people. When asked who we were and what we were doing, we simply said that we were US diplomats, and we were trying to make the city looked better. I saw a lot of thumbs-up gestures, and heard some approving comments. We did a lot of direct diplomacy that day. For those of us whose job it is to try to further international understanding and prevent wars, this was a big win.
The second reason why this was a worthwhile activity is that service is an appropriate way to remember the people who were murdered on 9/11. Doing something positive for the public good affirms who Americans are as a people, and exemplifies why diplomats are sent to live in other countries.