What's the biggest difference between serving as a tandem and being an Extra Freeloader in Mexico (EFM)? A second government paycheck.
OK, so the second paycheck would be earned through putting in hours at the Consulate, and I'd have to pass all sorts of tests, but whether I like it or not, I'm a diplomat. (And, yes, I know the feeling is mutual. Like it or not Americans, I'm representing you and your image down here. I apologize in advance for any lasting repercussions.)
EFMs are kind of like First Ladies in that way. We didn't really sign up for this job when we married our spouses, and the government didn't really get too much of a say in picking ideal EFMs to accompany their Formally Selected Officials (FSOs). The only screening they did on me was a background check and a medical test. Essentially, the only requirement to being an EFM is not getting into too much trouble and being disease free. (And who knows, they might not even care that much about those two criteria either. Anyone know of any potential EFM being rejected for medical reasons?)
Also like the First Ladies, how we fulfill our role is entirely dependent on our own ambitions. We can be Hillary Clintons and be - perhaps - too involved, or we could be Laura Bushs lead and be essentially out of sight.
That said, I'm not locking myself in the house and never making public appearances. And when I do go out, I am representing how Americans behave. And I stick out a bit, too, given that I have paler skin than most of the native Hermosillians, and that I also probably have a general look of confusion.
Some of us are better at this job than others. Take Novakistan (formerly Minnesota Gal) for instance. She does us proud in her job as a diplomat. These two stories - this one written by her, and this one written by her friend who was visiting - are some of the best things I've read from fellow foreign service spouses since I entered the fold. If you have time, you definitely need to read these pieces. If you don't, then stop reading this one and go check them out instead.
I don't have the language skills, yet, to be able to be that involved, but I did get to practice a little this past weekend doing some Beach Diplomacy.
There are two beaches near here - San Carlos and Bahia de Kino. From the best that I can tell, Kino seems to be more of the locals' beach whereas San Carlos is more "vacationy." While at Kino this past weekend, we - Natalie, one of her colleagues, and I - had a Frisbee with us. It wasn't the most effective toy with the wind making it difficult to throw, and when it went into the water, it sunk making it hard to retrieve. In short, it was a crappy Frisbee.
Near by, there were two young boys (both 6-9ish) playing in the sand. I think they were digging, but they didn't have any tools. They also didn't have any bathing suits and were just wearing their underwear instead. Natalie's colleague invited them into our game of throwing the Frisbee and looking for it in the Gulf after we inevitably missed it. They were loving it.
They left eventually, and we were getting ready to go our hut when a young girl (9-12ish) walked up to me - I was holding the crappy Frisbee - with a JuMex box in her hand and said "Hi," in English. A bit relieved that she spoke some English, I decided to test it. "Do you want to throw?" "Yeah," and then she handed her juice box to some and threw the Frisbee to Natalie's colleague. She threw a few more times before she started getting bored, or distracted, and then her little sister came over and we played with her some.
She was fascinating, and I'd love to have had more time to talk with her. But I did learn that she was born in Phoenix while her parents and older sister were born in Mexico, and that she had (or still does?) attended school in Tuscan. Her English was incredible, probably even better than some of her American contemporaries. But she also said it was her job to teach her parents and her sister English, too. Like I said, I would have loved to hear more of her story.
But the game ended and we went our separate ways. I'd like to think that the parents were watching and were thinking that those Americans aren't that bad after all. And I'd like to think that as those children get older, they'll remember playing with some Americans on the beach, and that we didn't have fangs or fences.
You'll never find me serving the United States in a Consulate or Embassy, but I'm just find deploying a little Beach Diplomacy here and there.
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