17 March 2007

All the Kings Horses

Pay No Attention To the Men Behind The Curtain
Recently, I had the unique opportunity to meet two presidents: that of the United States and of Guatemala. Both of them visited three communities near where I live. The entire event was incredibly interesting, but the most enlightening and fascinating parts were long before Air Force One touched ground in Guatemala. In preparation for the President’s visit, a large troupe of workers from the U.S. Embassy to Guatemala, the West Wing of the White House, and the Secret Service among others to ensure that the visit was a success from a standpoint of security, media, and politics.
My first exposure to the possibility of a presidential visit was roughly a month beforehand. I received a phone call telling me that I was to have lunch with the Country Director of Peace Corps the following day. Actually, I thought I received a phone call to have lunch with him two days from them, but either way I was the one who looked like I forgot about the meeting. At the meeting the director and five Peace Corps volunteers were informed that there was a “possibility” for Bush to visit our town, Tecpán. Immediately following lunch, we visited the sites of all four volunteers with the director, who was supposed to make a suggestion to the ambassador on which site. We went from site to site unannounced, which made each of our partner organizations feel like the Peace Corps director had caught them with their pants down. Little did they know that his visit had virtually nothing to do with them. The Director was, under orders from the ambassador, to be more concerned with if it was too far from the road for security purposes and what each place “looked like.” It was ultimately decided that of all our sites, mine was the most photo-friendly and, being on the highway, security friendly.
The other volunteers and I were told to remain in town for the weekend (which included a person who didn’t live in our town), and that we would likely have a meeting with the attaché of the ambassador the following day. It turns out that the director decided that my site was the most, ahem, attractive site of the three for the visit. Though my office was mostly deserted this Saturday morning, I did find the three men on the grounds crew celebrating a birthday alongside 36 mostly-empty brown glass bottles (which was when I decided to work more Saturdays). They cleaned up the empties and unlocked the necessary offices.
At twelve-hundred the black American-made SUVs pulled in for our 11:00am appointment. While walking through the offices, the attaché told me of great ideas he had for photo opportunities, such as women dressed in full traditional Mayan clothing working in our computer lab, I explained to the man with the title of a handbag that the organization was affiliated with Opus Dei and had an unwritten policy of not working with women, but I was sure that we could rent-a-group from a neighboring women’s organization.
After an hour long visit which did not include a free lunch, he told me and the other volunteers (who said less than 20 words combined in that hour) that nothing was guaranteed but I’d likely meet with somebody else Monday morning at 10 o’clock, and he’d let me know as soon as he knew.
Monday morning at 9:00am, I received a telephone call telling me that they weren’t going to visit, after all, and the person calling didn’t know whether that meant I was off the visit list (note: caller was the Peace Corps Director). All was well enough, because that meant I didn’t have to go to the office and explain one more group of people. When I did arrive at the office, I was politely reminded that when white visitors come, we make sure there’s coffee and snacks available and that nobody is caught with said pants down. I told them that the visit was unannounced, and that my pants were in a similar position. I wasn’t however, allowed to tell them the president may come and that my pants were more likely soiled than theirs.
In the following three weeks, I received no contact from the Peace Corps director, the Embassy, or Secret Service. Neither did any volunteer. A week before the arrival of President Bush, I receive an e-mail saying that possibly one volunteer from the Tecpán area would meet the President, but not indicating which.

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