Thank you everyone for the feedback on yesterday’s post with questions YOU’D like me to answer for you. As I go through this transition time of adapting to new medical regimes and side effects, the posts on the blog may be more personal in nature as they are easier to respond and write about at the moment. Today’s post will likely be historical for I am in a sentimental mood as I write on today’s Father Day.
The question’s I am responding to are:
“ When did you first go to a foreign country? Was it a life goal to serve overseas or just something you picked up later in life? Do you recall what was most shocking to you when you had your first overseas assignments? What took the most getting used to? Did you accidentally use your left hand when you should not have? Or other cultural no-nos that you can laugh about now?”
My father was the one who most influenced me in my desire to travel and see the world. My Dad, a World War II veteran pilot, loved history and travel. These two loves were also combined with the rare gift of storytelling. Growing up as a young girl he would bundle up my mom, my four siblings and I into the big old family car and we’d take annual vacations traveling to 4 -6 states within a three week period. During those travels we’d go to the historical places in those states and my Dad would make that American history come alive again before our eyes. I remember staring out at an old rocky field one time in Pennsylvania and within minutes I am seeing, feeling, smelling and hearing the battle that took place there. I could see the soldiers as they hid behind the craggy rocks with the fear on their face, sweat dripping down from their forehead. That field came alive and I imagined myself as part of that battle during America’s Civil War. I felt the same when we visited old plantation homes which were part of the Underground Railroad during the times when slaves were wanting to escape their Southern owners and make a new life for themselves in the freedom of the North.
By the time I was 12 years old I had seen most of the United States to have included spending a summer in Fairbanks, Alaska. I went salmon fishing, pooled for gold and learned how to play cribbage. Of course a regular trip with the family was to Titusville, Pennsylvania, just minutes from our family home. This was where oil had been first discovered. My Dad so enjoyed sharing Titusville with my late husband, Abdullah! Perhaps Titusville was the first hint in my life that I would not grow up and remain in Espyville all my life!
My Dad stirred my interest to see the world. The more I saw of America and then Canada the more I wanted to see of the world itself. I began to follow and take a keen interest in world events, geography and culture. I married a man who was in the US Air Force and that spread my wings further over the United States but not yet outside its boundaries.
Now ironically as I was growing up and entering my late teens my peers and I would talk about what we wanted to do or what we wanted to be. They were always more focused than me with ideals of professions in place or at least knowing what they wanted to study in school. Me, I could not decide. There were so many choices! Of course my Dad told me I was always going to be a Princess for him and for a special man all my life. With those high expectations I better choose the right path and direction! My friends kept pressing me for an answer though. They said I needed to at least get some ideas what I would do until I became a Princess! One day it hit me, I’d work for the CIA! That’s what I told my friends and they all laughed. They just could not envision someone from Espyville going off to be some kind of a CIA agent. Actually, neither did I but it sounded interesting and different.
Moving fast forward my life eventually ended up in the Washington DC area. By this time I was in my early 20’s. I’d been invited to a cocktail party. I’ve never been shy and enjoyed meeting new friends at the party. I noticed there was an active conversation near the swimming pool so I sauntered over to hear what was capturing this group’s attention. All the focus was on a woman and she was speaking so eloquently and positively about her employer. She said words that caught my rapt attention – travel, promotion, challenge, training, education….I crept closer to the group. When there was a break I held out my hand and introduced myself to the woman. I complimented her on how refreshing it was to hear such positive remarks of one’s employer and then without meeting a beat, asked her where she worked. It sounded like my kind of place.
To my surprise, she was a recruiter for the CIA. We kept in touch and about 13 months later in 1983 I became one of the CIA’s newest hires. The career was everything she had promised and more. My first international trip working as a CIA operative was to Geneva, Switzerland. Working for the CIA a whole new world opened up to me with travel, intrigue, politics, specialized training, experiences and exposures I would never receive anywhere else. My trip to Switzerland was the first of thousands of trips to various places around the globe. I was exposed to foods I’d never seen or heard of, ways of life that were far different from the lakeside life of Espyville. I was not only seeing history in the places to which I traveled, many times I helped formulate history. However I always remembered my Dad’s lessons to seek and learn and explore. He taught me to appreciate the differing cultures and not to be judgemental.
While I met a goal that I never consciously thought I’d achieve by working for the CIA, I could not talk about it. The reason is that I was an under-cover operative meaning that although my ‘true and real employer’ was the CIA I could not disclose that fact for security reasons. Instead I would tell someone I worked for the Defense Department or State Department or whatever the directives were at the time. I worked for the CIA until September 2002 when I resigned to begin a new chapter with the love of my life. That was also when I was brought out from working under cover and while I do not reveal details of the work I performed, I must now disclose the identity of my true employer over the many years.
I guess I am not easy to shock so I do not recall any shocking experiences just having many different experiences. My greatest faux pas was probably when I told a senior foreign government official I was expensive when I thought I was saying hot in response to a query in the local dialect! Thankfully though that faux pas created a bond between us of friendship that has lasted over the years. I’m left handed so I was always using my left hand. I would speak up and candidly state I did not have coordination of my right hand and did not want to offend. In closing on reflecting on funny experiences I have to say receiving a camel as a gift was funny and also among the most special!
I have found over all the years that people are truly people underneath whatever dressings or masks that may be in place. If we drop the pretenses and just be our natural selves, special bonds and friendships are formed.
I hope this post has answered the questions which were asked and probably provided many more answers you never expected to receive!
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