The American Embassy in Armenia…
I’ll be honest with you. I’ve got nothing but wonderful things to say about the people there. All those that I’ve met have been personable and desire to put forth the best American face possible while helping this country as much as possible. I have had a wonderful time and enjoy their free beer and sympathetic gifts of peanut butter and Fritos… but as dedicated American tax payers I feel it my duty to tell you what it’s like over here.
Many times these “pork barrel” policies within the US government are only able to survive because they are out of the public eye enough to not draw any attention to themselves. By flying under the radar their existence is preserved. I would categorize the American Embassy in Armenia as under said “radar.” Maybe the millions upon millions of dollars spent on the embassy compound and lavish housing for its employees is all made of that stealth bomber material. Whatever it is, it all seems a bit much. And damn it, I’m here to expose it! (All this time around former hippy / 1972 Berkeley grads who organized protests in “their day” and are now PC volunteers has gotten me all fired up about having “a cause.”)
My drive from Gyumri to the capital city rolls past many impoverished villages. Some of which sprouted up around soviet era factories that now sit unused and broken down. As one might imagine the loss of the major (almost singular) employer in the area has led to a severe lessening of their financial well being, and one can imagine how these villages look. What they do not look like is coastal Orange County California. But lo and behold as I approach the outskirts of the city of Yerevan I can look to my right and see just such a coastal Californian scene. The eye can sneak peaks through the protective walls to strips of manicured green grass and well kept streets with what look like gutters. I always expect to see Land Cruisers or other such vehicles, but I think they’re all kept in their garages. For my local readership; garages are things attached to houses that hold cars to protect them from the elements and prying eyes of bitter Peace Corps volunteers.
But the wall is not extensive enough to shield the eyes from the two and three story monstrosities inside the complex. These houses are ridiculous! I haven’t been in many of them, but the few I have been in are nonsensically nice. We’re not talking MTV Cribs here (for my older readership, ask a youngster, they’ll know) but they are way more than is necessary, prudent and culturally sensitive (I can’t believe I just used that buzz-word seriously.)
I am in no way downplaying the job that these Foreign Service officers do, only saying that there is no shortage of qualified people fighting tooth-and-nail for these Foreign Service jobs. Though I can attest that it is definitely difficult to work in a foreign country, there is no need to incentivise (according to MS Word this is not an actual “word”) these people in such a way. I happen to know that with free housing, mostly tax-free status, and life in a place with a low cost of living, the financial incentives are present. I suppose I forgot to mention that the government of our fair country (America) pays them pretty handsomely too. The demand for these jobs coupled with a small number of positions available would lead any amateur economist to the simple conclusion that excessive pay and incentives are not necessary. But this is only half of my gripe, or cause if you will.
We come to the issue of cultural sensitivity. I realize that the Embassy is not Peace Corps (an organization that wants us to live at the level of our surrounding neighbors and beneficiaries) but I do think that there is something to be said for being inconspicuous. Projecting this sort of effusive wealth to the local population does no favor to the organizations trying to convince people that they really do want to help, just because. I have a helluva (another example of an MS Word “non-word”) time convincing anyone here that I’m a volunteer. Their exposure to the excess of America that many see as a byproduct of her capitalist greed foments bitterness and distrust of Americans countrywide. I would assume worldwide also.
It just all seems so insensitive, imprudent and again… Ridiculous. It would seem obvious that it would behoove the United States Government to scale back their flashy and excessive provisions for Embassy staff. Even if it was necessary to incentivise the Foreign Service employees in this way (which I find hard to believe) it could be done in a more unobtrusive way. Maybe try and fly under the radar of the Armenian people and not the decision makers in Washington.
Post-disclaimer: In the spirit of transparency I should admit that the posting of this does coincide closely with the defeat of the Peace Corps Football team in the first annual “Embassy vs. Peace Corps Thanksgiving Football classic.” Take that as you will.