Sunday, March 6, 2016

US Ambassador Locates Ecuador

For U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Watt C. Muffly, it's all about relationships and opportunity.

Apparently. That's what he says.

The new U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador speaks softly and has an easy smile that generally makes him immediately approachable, but today it's somewhat different. He's still speaking softly but (for a while) his tone was uncertain, evidencing perhaps a slight amount of trepidation. Perhaps confusion. Disorientation. He was not exactly sure where he was, exactly. For a while.

True, the Ambassador has heard of Ecuador, a smallish country sitting on the left shoulder of South America, and did know that he had been posted there, and was sure that his plane had been pointed in that direction. But he wasn't sure that he had actually arrived.

The map, his map, didn't seem to match up with anything he saw, which was initially somewhat confusing.

But this was all straightened out when he turned the map over, and then things got even better when he put north back where it belonged — on top. Everyone sighed. Some with relief.

According to those who know him, the Ambassador is is the kind of man you would invite to dinner at your house, just because you know he would be a good addition to any mix of company. Which may be why he got the job. Or maybe his map-reading skills indicated that a posting to France could be problematic for various reasons.

Anyway, he's here (or there, depending on where you're standing at the moment), and things are looking better now.

Last week the Ambassador was in Cuenca, a city known as a U.N. World Heritage site, due to its funky old buildings, and also known as possibly the cleanest city in all of Latin America, and the one with the best drinking water. All good things.

Once in Cuenca, the Ambassador introduced himself to local authorities, expats, and members of the news media while becoming more familiar with the city. By stepping in a pile of dog excrement. Which happens, even in Cuenca, because clean is a relative ranking, compared to other places, which can be much worse.

But it happens. You have to get past it. Which he seemed to do by way of a short hop following a brief utterance. Before wiping his shoes on the mayor's lawn.

Coincidentally, and possibly felicitously, Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera was traveling, out of town at the time, so no one other than second-rank flunkies saw any of this, and an introduction to the mayor will have to wait for another time.

This is also good, most likely.

Other than that event, as noted, the Ambassador said that he has had a smooth start in building those relationships that he views as critical to his work. The prefect and the governor presented me with no complaints, he said, smiling with a satisfaction that presumably represents his government's views about right and wrong.

I really tried to get them to tell me if anything was not going well, and they said 'no, the American expats who have settled here are all great — they seem to do nothing but eat, and deposit gobs of money from their retirement checks, right here in and around our city streets, and since they had to leave their guns at home, we mostly don't fear them so much any more'. And that's wonderful to hear — just the way we like it, the Ambassador concluded, pretty much amicably.

In an expat media interview Saturday morning, Ambassador Muffly continued to express his approval, suggesting only that U.S. citizens could advance the work of the U.S. State Department a bit by integrating themselves even more into the city and its efforts at improving education, health, the stray dog situation, whatever, like helping to fix up some of these old buildings, maybe getting a Walmart or two out there — that sort of thing. Couldn't hurt, as long as we bring here only the best that American culture has to offer.

Also, of course, whenever anyone coming to a new country experiences things that are a bit different or that we don't like, the Ambassador said, continuing to wipe his shoe after moving to a fresh patch of lawn.

I would hope that expat media would not use its platform for complaining about Ecuador. Saying 'why don't they have this here' or 'why don't they do that' makes our job as relationship builders more difficult, he said, seeming to be only slightly distracted by this time.

And now, a full two weeks after arriving, how does Muffly feel about his new posting to Ecuador?

I'm excited. Terrifically excited. Really. I am. Just going on a brief walk around Quito (where the Ambassador resides) I found two shoe shops that carry footwear in my size. I can't wait to get back there and do some serious buying, he said, shaking his left foot as he spoke, perhaps unconsciously. I'm definitely not looking backward, or downward, only forward toward a successful resolution of all issues, he said, continuing to smile weakly, though diplomatically.

Which might be why he got the job.

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