When politics and policy clash, politics always win. And in this case, senior diplomat Percy Williamson loses. At odds with Canada's new Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Crowley, Percy draws an overseas assignment as ambassador to Bharalya, a small country in Asia that recently discovered a big cache of oil.
When Percy and his wife Marilyn arrive in Bharalya they are quite unprepared for the bizarre experiences they will share and the eccentric people they will meet. There's the king who's addicted to collecting medals from foreign governments, a junior diplomat who impersonates his own foreign minister, a visiting minister caught by the press in a brothel, and a travel-averse diplomat reduced to jelly by his one and only trip outside the capital.
Diplomatic conflicts almost turn into wars over golf tournaments, and Percy's and Marilyn's duties include attending flower competitions, Christmas parties, national day celebrations, and events with rented camels. And regularly erupting at the most awkward moments is the dreaded Bharali amoeba, scourge of the diplomatic intestinal tract. But all frivolity is set aside when the government threatens to close down the embassy; the Foreign Service springs into action, with surprising results.
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The Ambassador's CamelUndiplomatic Tales of Embassy Life
By David Holdsworth
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 David Holdsworth
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOur Man in Bharalya
The foreign minister let out a resounding belch and pressed the button on his intercom. 'Send up Percy,' he barked to the quivering assistant outside his office. 'I have an offer he can't refuse.'
Now, what country was that visiting prime minister from at lunch today anyway, he wondered? I never can remember those foreign names. He was so boring but at least the steak was good. I sure could use a quiet nap with my boots up on the desk right now. But I don't want to miss this meeting with that fancy-pants diplomat with the fancy-pants title: Senior Assistant Deputy Minister for Asia. No sir-ee.
He licked his still-greasy lips with pleasure at the prospect of finally teaching Percy who was boss.
'What are you going to do to this guy, George?' asked Willy, his twenty-something chief of staff.
The minister snapped to attention. In his post-luncheon reverie, he had forgotten the presence of his political adviser. Willy was gazing through the grand floor-to-ceiling windows at the stunning view of the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills.
'Have you decided to tell him you're closing down that Asian embassy of his?'
'I'd like to close down the lot of them, for all the good they do me. The problem is, our oil and gas boys in Alberta tell me there's a big drilling contract coming up over there and they want me to avoid making the locals unhappy. No, unfortunately we'll have to keep the embassy open. Just for a little while longer. No, I have a better idea for Percy.'
'Smart move, boss. Never too early to think of financing your next election campaign.'
Ever since becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada three months ago, George Crowley had been at war with the senior diplomats of his governmental department. He didn't like them, he didn't understand them, and in any event, he was sure they were closet partisans of the Opposition.
He certainly never expected to be in Cabinet, especially on his maiden voyage to Ottawa. But in politics, timing and luck are often more powerful than ability. He was a self-made man who built up a small empire of used car dealerships in rural Manitoba. In his used-car world, he had been absolute monarch. He expected his employees to carry out orders without asking difficult questions. The professionals in his department, on the other hand, insisted it was their duty to advise him what he could or could not do.
'Percy and his gang of so-called experts even have the gall to oppose some of my ideas,' he grumbled. 'Willy, what was wrong with inviting all the Caribbean islands to join Canada? Canadians go there for holidays all the time; that way, they wouldn't need a passport. Or appointing my brother as ambassador to Italy? He loves pizza. Why not? Well, just let them try to stop me after they're posted to Siberia or Timbuktu.'
Just then the door opened and an immaculately dressed diplomat entered and crossed the thick carpet to greet him. 'Good afternoon, Minister,' he began, smiling pleasantly. 'I understand you wanted to see me.'
'I sure do, Percy. Let's sit over there. I have a very important matter to discuss with you.'
* * *
As they moved toward the couch, Willy had a chance to compare the two men. They were roughly the same age, just over fifty, but otherwise could not have been more different.
George looks like a middle-aged prize fighter gone to seed, he thought. Short, bald, and broad in the beam thanks to all those years noshing on hamburgers and fast food. Loves plaid shirts, suspenders, and most of all, straight talk. Successful businessman and big fundraiser for the Party. Only has a diploma from Manitoba Technical High but he made it in life anyway. Percy, on the other hand, looks and sounds like your model ambassador: tall, silver-haired, chiselled features, physically fit. Advanced degrees in economics and international affairs from Harvard and Oxford. Lots of international experience. And smart. Very smart.
Those two are well matched, he decided. This is going to be more a championship prize fight than a simple knockdown by the minister.
From his ringside seat, he imagined an announcer stepping into the centre of a ring and calling out in a nasal twang:
In the bluuuuuue corner, The Minister, heavyweight, face like a punching bag, not too fast on his feet but has a powerful right hook and home advantage. Knows political power and is not afraid to use dirty tricks to win. Inthe rrrrrrrrrrrred corner, The Diplomat, middleweight, twenty three years of senior jobs in Europe, Asia, and Ottawa, very fast on his feet and a survivor of a dozen ministers. The underdog but not to be counted out.
The minister started by softening up his opponent. 'Great to see you, Perce,' he bellowed, slapping him on the back so hard that Willy thought a couple of ribs snapped. 'How's your lovely little wife, Jocelyne, doing?'
'So what are your plans for the future? I expect an experienced guy like you will want to go back abroad at some point. Am I right?'
'Haven't given the matter any real thought,' countered Percy noncommittally, feeling out his opponent's strategy.
The minister continued probing for a while. Then, when Percy dropped his guard for a second by talking about a job at the World Bank he'd like one day, George went for the sucker punch.
'The thing is,' he said, putting his hand on Percy's arm in what under other circumstances would be a gesture of camaraderie, 'there's a little country somewhere out there in Asia that's had a big oil find lately. Damned if I can remember the name, much less pronounce it. Starts with a B, I think. Butane? Banglydish? Something like that. Hell, Percy, do all those countries over there have to start with a B?'
'I met their ambassador with you one night at a reception. Talked about his days at McGill. A bit too smart for my taste though.'
'Bharalya, sir. It's a small country bordered by China, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. One end touches the Bay of Bengal, the other the Himalaya Mountains.'
'Could be. Anyway, we need someone there to help the drilling boys win some big contracts. The embassy's been without an ambassador for some time, I understand.'
Willy: Point to The Minister for the element of surprise.
Percy then danced backwards, deftly shifting into a classic bureaucratic defensive stance. He pretended to support the direction the minister wanted to take while simultaneously spelling out all the reasons why the minister should go in exactly the opposite direction.
'Yes, Minister,' he replied, bobbing and weaving. He had heard on the grapevine that the former Minister of the Environment had been looking for a soft landing after his defeat in the last election. 'You're absolutely right. Great idea. And I believe you and the Prime Minister already have a good candidate.'
Willy: Throwing someone else to the lions. Point to The Diplomat. Throwing a politician to the lions, bonus point.
'He had a better offer,' replied the minister, smoothly blocking the blow. 'A provincial judgeship. Anyway, his wife put her foot down when she found out there was no Holt Renfrew over there.'
Willy: Two points to The Minister for deflecting opponent's punch.
The minister did not tell Percy he had then offered the job to thirteen other people: defeated members of Parliament, party bagmen, a rich businessman looking for a new challenge, a well-known television personality, even a former wrestling star he met briefly at a Party fund- raiser in his riding. To a man and woman, they turned down the dubious honour to serve their country in Bharalya's insalubrious climate.
Willy: Point to The Minister for holding back key information.
'In that case, Minister, I'd be happy to pull together a list of people from within the department who would like a shot at an ambassadorship. That will probably take some time but the acting ambassador can surely hold the fort until the next posting cycle.'
Willy: Attempt to buy time. No points but a good try.
'No, no, Perce,' George replied, moving in on his opponent. 'We'd like somebody senior, somebody really experienced. Right away. I think you'd make a perfect fit. You and your lovely wife Jocelyne.'
Willy: Right hook to the chin. Three points for The Minister.
'That's very flattering of you to think so,' responded Percy, dazed by the blow. Then shaking it off, he came back with a one-two combination of his own.
'But I thought you wanted to close that embassy. That's the message I've been getting from you for months. Anyway, I doubt the department could release me this year. You will remember I'm quarterbacking that Asian policy review your government promised in the Throne Speech. Changing horses in midstream could mean you as Minister of Foreign Affairs would miss the deadline the Prime Minister set you.'
Willy: Three points to Percy for aligning political pain for the minister with his own personal interest.
The minister was rocked back on his heels by that one but recovered quickly and moved in for the kill. 'Oh, I think the deputy minister can be persuaded to let you go. In fact, I've already had a personal word with her. I've promised her the job she wants next year if she finds a replacement for you. No one is indispensable, you know, Percy.'
Willy: Knockout for The Minister. Match over.
'You see, Percy,' said Willy, 'when policy and politics clash, politics always win.'
As Percy picked himself up, the minister, ever the used-car tycoon, gave him another bone-cracking slap on the back. 'A pleasure doing business with you, Perce,' he said with a broad grin. 'No hard feelings, eh?'
Chapter TwoKings and Dragons
Minister of Foreign Affairs Communiqué The Honourable George Crowley, Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced today the nomination of Percival James Williamson as Ambassador-designate of Canada to the Kingdom of Bharalya.
Godfrey was amazed at the communiqué that flashed onto his computer screen. He had been consul for the past four years and acting Canadian ambassador to Bharalya for almost two. In absence of an ambassador, he had been in sole charge—an arrangement that suited him perfectly.
He quickly called the ambassador's personal secretary, known less than affectionately as The Dragon, into his inner office.
'Percy Williamson? Ambassador? Here?' he sputtered. 'That's impossible! He must have committed some terrible sin. My spies in personnel division assured me absolutely no one wanted to come to this forsaken place.'
'Now, now, Godfrey,' the Dragon soothed in a condescending tone. 'I know you are disappointed. I know you always wanted to be a full ambassador, just like your father, but it just isn't to be. Get over it ... sir.'
The Dragon was a fiercely loyal, take-no-prisoners woman who had served and protected numerous ambassadors around the world for over twenty-five years. She was always groomed and dressed in exactly the same way, whatever the occasion: hair pulled back into a bun, white high-necked Victorian blouse, black skirt, and sensible shoes. And never, ever, any makeup. Her severe face and feisty temperament matched perfectly the nickname she had acquired (some said) back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.
'Think of it this way,' she added. 'Having an ambassador will give you more free time for things you enjoy.'
Godfrey had certainly built a reputation as a Casanova. He gained particular notoriety in his early years by having to be whisked out of Turkmenistan under cover of darkness. Something kinky involving the wife of the foreign minister, her sister, and the French Ambassador's stable boy, it was rumoured. Safely back in Ottawa, he had claimed, 'A small misunderstanding. Merely a case of premature evacuation.'
Alas, he thought to himself, my skirt-chasing days are almost over too. No self-respecting young female is going to be excited now by a pear-shaped geezer with a fringe of gray hair and a big red-veined nose earned by years of diplomatic drinking.
Godfrey had found refuge in remote Bharalya, home to one of the last absolute monarchies on earth. Now, suddenly, his cozy life was threatened with work.
'You'd better get busy and organize the Presentation of Credentials ceremony,' the Dragon snapped, interrupting his thoughts. 'Those things may be boring but they're important in the diplomatic world.'
'Well, I think they're an utter waste of time! It just means dressing up in fancy clothes, handing over a letter from our government to the King, making a series of vacuous speeches pledging eternal friendship between the governments and people of the two great sovereign nations of Canada and Bharalya, and drinking toasts in tepid Scotch to the longevity of our respective monarchs. Lots of work for nothing. Why not just send each other e-mails and be done with it?'
* * *
Within hours, he was in his air-conditioned limousine on his way to the palace for a meeting with the chief of protocol.
The capital of Bharalya was a half-urban, half-rural place where animals of all kinds—slow-moving water buffalo drooling streams of saliva, sheep tethered for slaughter, goats calmly chewing scraps of garbage, emaciated cattle with flies buzzing on ugly sores, underfed snorting pigs, and ferocious street dogs—all jockeyed with humans and machines for survival.
'What the hell?' he cried in fright to the driver as the gleaming black Mercedes-Benz suddenly lurched to a stop just before making hamburger of a herd of cattle shambling slowly down the dusty road. When the car finally was able to move again, he surveyed the streets through its tinted windows.
Two and three story buildings made from the same reddish-brown brick filled the flat, torrid landscape, adorned only with the occasional coconut palm or tuft of bougainvillea. Tiny houses fashioned from mud, discarded cardboard or metal were clustered up against the more permanent buildings in the vain hope of avoiding being washed away by the next monsoon. Many streets were little more than open sewers; the rancid stench was overpowering in the tropical heat. That Bharalya was among the poorest countries in the world was evident from the rags on the people and the pitiful condition of the fly-blown, runny-nosed children who lined the narrow streets, begging for money or sweets.
There was no plan for the streets; they all ran higgledy-piggledy into narrow alleys. Except, that is, the three main thoroughfares, all of which led directly to the palace. The King had clearly learned something from Napoleon, Godfrey reflected. A clear road where soldiers can move quickly is essential for any self-respecting despot.
The car slowly wound its way to the top of the highest hill overlooking the capital and passed inside a pair of golden gates protecting the palace from the squalor below.
The driver then repeated the same question he asked his passenger every time he passed through the gates, 'Is it not beautiful, sir?'
Godfrey mumbled an indistinct 'harrumph' as he contemplated yet again the garish monument to bad taste and extravagance in front of him. The grandfather of the current King, His Majesty Sasha II, Beloved of His People, Slayer of the Elephant, and Divine Leader of the Kingdom of Bharalya, had constructed it when the British were still in India. It was somewhat smaller than the Vatican but larger than the three hundred and forty-seven-room behemoth constructed by the Maharaja of Jodhpur in India. The King's grandfather had clearly intended to beat the maharaja at his own game. 'Palace envy,' he commented under his breath.
Excerpted from The Ambassador's Camel by David Holdsworth Copyright © 2010 by David Holdsworth. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsOur Man in Bharalya....................1
Kings and Dragons....................7
Diplomacy in the Land of Nothing-to-Do....................17
Roll Over, Beethoven....................25
Sex and Politics....................35
The Year of the Tourist....................43
Piggy and the Foreign Minister....................51
Swimming with Diplomats....................65
Christmas in Camelot....................71
Shakespeare Strikes Back....................77
I've Got a Lov-er-ly Bunch of Coconuts....................83
Management by Results....................87
War and Peace....................95
All's Well that Ends Well....................109