Always Travel Tuesday to the Middle East

 

During the late 1970’s, international terrorism had reared its angry head (yes, nearly fifty years ago). As a Foreign Service radio technician my job was to provide two-way radio nets at American embassies and consulates between Athens and Karachi (this was before cell phones). The local telephone systems were unreliable. The two-way radio was the only means of communicating with the embassy during a terrorist event (many diplomats lived off post).

Monday was the absolute worst day to arrive at an American mission abroad. My job required interaction with all offices within the embassy. Everyone was busy catching up after the previous two to four days of reduced activity due to U.S. and local weekends. When traveling from my home base at Am Consul Karachi, Pakistan the flights heading west typically departed between midnight and three in the morning.

Third Country Nationals

I would arrive in the Middle East around eight or nine a.m. and head straight to the mission. The forty-some U.S. embassies and consulates that I supported were predominately Muslim. Most of the Islamic countries recognized Friday and Saturday as their weekend. However, some of them defined their weekend off as Thursday and Friday. To compound matters, to get into to Israel I had to use a separate diplomatic passport (the Arab countries would not allow me in with an Israeli visa). The weekend in Israel was Friday and Saturday. During all these “weekend” days American missions would be under staffed, as the TCN’s (Third Country Nationals) would be off.

Why did it matter to me whether the TCN’s were working or not? If I wanted to arrange travel, obtain visas, or work on the electronics in the Ambassador’s official vehicle, I needed support from travel office, motor pool and consular section. All were manned to a larger extent by TCN’s.

In regards to staffing by TCN’s (Third Country Nationals), some embassies, such as Am Embassy Athens, were practically run by the locals (the Greeks), while in others such as Am Consul Karachi the Pakistani locals were not so involved.