From Timbuktu To Duck And Cover: Improbable Tales from a Career in Foreign Service documents US Ambassador Lewis Lucke’s thirty-year career abroad. Below is an exclusive excerpt from the memoir.
While spending thirty years overseas in the US Foreign Service, and living in eleven countries and working in many more, I accumulated many stories that would never have happened “at home”. These stories would leak out occasionally to my “normal” friends and family back in the US. To many, their eyes would soon glaze over and the conversation would shift to “How ’bout them Longhorns?” as they tried to change the subject. But some would actually listen, and a few of them said, “You ought to write a book.” So I did, but not just to respond to those who challenged me.
My work took me to Timbuktu (twice), to places in West Africa where kids ran away in fear at their first glimpse of a person with white skin, to the scary run up to Gulf War I in North Africa, to the jungles of Bolivia and Lake Titicaca in the Andes, the fall of Communism in the old Czechoslovakia, biblical sites of Jerusalem, the passing of King Hussein in Jordan, to interaction with a few US Presidents and far too many Congress-people.
I fell smack into the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, into the war zone of Iraq, and served as US Ambassador to the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
My take on my thirty-year career abroad? It was never boring.
Growing up, I had no vision at all of living and working overseas. I was from a mostly rural state in the South, where one’s normal vision of a great life was to become a hometown lawyer, buy a condo at the beach or in the mountains and live mostly in semi-ignorant bliss about the rest of the planet.
Had I had a clue then about what else was possible, I would have actively pursued what eventually proved to be a rich and rewarding career. However, the truth was, as a kid and young man, I had no idea that such an interesting and rewarding overseas life was possible.
I didn’t know because I came from a small city in a then not-so-cosmopolitan state in the South during the pre-computer, pre-Internet, pre-social media, pre-full time cable news cycle era where knowledge came from school, books and study.
Neither was I particularly connected to adult mentors or school advisors who could tap my interest and point me in the right direction. My home town, located nonetheless in a beautiful part of the world, was where textiles and hosiery were made; the culture was inwardly focused, certainly not worldly or inspirational.
My parents, both college graduates, did not inspire me to an offshore vision either. My engineer father was a former WWII pilot and had served in England, France and Belgium, but that was all I knew, and like so many war veterans, he wouldn’t talk about it. My mother, who years later would fall in love with Switzerland, had never been abroad.
However improbably, I ended up in the Foreign Service, my tenure divided more or less evenly between three regions. Except for a two-year stint as a US Ambassador in Africa, the balance of my thirty-year Foreign Service career was spent with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the agency that provides economic development and humanitarian assistance overseas in about eighty countries which works closely with the State Department.
All in all, it was a fascinating career, fulfilling and always interesting to me. Almost every day for thirty years, I looked forward to going to work. Even more improbably, I ended up at the age of fifty-two moving to Iraq in the middle of a “conflict zone” (to put it nicely), but that story comes later.
Never would I have predicted any of it.