In 2004 I was a mere 24 years old in our nation's capital. Barely an adult in an ill-fitting, too light grey suit, I was on year two at my non-profit job. We received word that we were about to host the Washington visit of a delegation of Iraqi businessmen who had their hands amputated as punishment while in Iraq. After traveling from Baghdad to Texas (where they were fitted for and received their prosthetics), we organized a number of meetings between government officials and the delegation. Cue my massive freak-out. Why? Because my colleagues were busy and yours truly was tapped as their handler.
The first meeting was with…oh, I don’t know…the President. Of the United States of America. That dude. We brought the group in, they tried to take a picture of the White House and we were surrounded guys with big old guns. After we dodged that bullet (badumbum), we were escorted into the White House, got our box of M&Ms (apparently matches are now a no-go) and high-fived W. Then the PR people asked me to name each delegate (who had JUST arrived hours earlier) and I fell flat on my face. I could feel my tongue flailing around my mouth in the hopes I would come up with something, but nada. Their disapproving looks communicated exactly how disgusted they were with me…a child leading a delegation into the White House. Awesome.
The delegation proceeded to meet with various high-ranking U.S. officials, telling their heart-wrenching stories over and over again. We even had dinner with a large group of soldiers going through rehab at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and toured the rehab clinic.
As you can imagine, it was an incredibly emotional week. Especially as a young person charged with such a high-level delegation. Between cultural miscommunications and a general lack of sleep, I think I lost my mind at one point. How do I know? Oh, well I told the group that I could get ALL of their clothing dry-cleaned between 9 PM and 6 AM. And then I spent the night washing and drying their clothing in our communal, paid machines (I expensed that, yo!) Then my husband helped press their clothing and putt it onto hangars and into plastic dry-cleaning bags. Good as new. I might have also yelled (via the interpreter) about respecting my schedule and passed out in a cab. Multiple times.
Then there was the day we spent shopping and eating at buffets. Let me tell you, delegations, at least this one LOVED buffets. Like “marry-them” loved buffets. They also liked shopping for their families and using their arm span to demonstrate the width of their wives. (Note to ANYONE – don’t liken your wife to what one would look like holding a large barrel). And I am pretty sure we visited Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, but at that point, it's all a blur.
Many meetings later, cameras, tears, etc. they were on their plane back home. It was an amazing experience that, in hindsight, was a real gift. One that still provides incredible perspective when I am feeling sorry for myself and helped me understand the need to be creative when life gets absolutely nuts. And that I really need to be a little more discerning when picking out suits because good God, the one I wore was just the worst.
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