Friday, March 26, 2010
Living on the U.S. Embassy Compound
I get asked by friends online, what’s it like? Well here you go…
It is somewhat isolated for security reasons, but it’s actually quite nice. Libreville, Gabon is a small post and luckily, all of the State department and Military personnel stationed here are warm and pleasant. I can see how you could get stuck at a post with some horrible people, which can happen at any job, but that would completely suck at such a small post.
It is very much a community here. We celebrate birthdays and holidays together, invite people over for dinner & drinks, share weekends on the beach together or tour the countryside, take each others money in poker games.
Similar to business, morale is set by the CEO; in this case the Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission. The major difference being that they also have to concern themselves with your life outside the confines of the Embassy workday. In Libreville, despite the challenges of living in a foreign culture with a foreign language, I think morale is pretty good. This is due in great part to the tone set by the Ambassador and the management staff. Everyone is intelligent and here to do a job, but the process is relaxed and not overly formal.
The living quarters are nice and comfortable; two and three bedroom townhouses in a secure compound on the beach with a pool. Basic furniture and appliances are supplied for you and facilities maintenance, i.e. gardening, garbage, painting, cutting back the coconuts, etc. are managed by a general services officer.
Although mail only comes 1x per week, it is a fantastic benefit because we all know that everything is available online. In addition to the pool, the opportunity to receive US mail is an advantage that all of our expat friends living in Gabon are envious of.
The major benefit to working in the Foreign Service is that most living expenses are taken care of by the Federal government. You don’t pay rent or utilities and your salary is subsidized with a cost of living allowance ($500 - $1000/month). At many posts, Libreville included, you are also entitled to a differential (+10% - 35% of salary), based on hardship (danger and/or difficulty in getting things done). Libreville is currently a +20% differential. So while the compensation is not exorbitant, your out-of-pocket is greatly diminished; plus you are living a life with diplomatic status in a foreign country.
I am happy to be here because it is such a unique experience. I am getting exposed to things that were never part of my reference before, our government perspective and why are we here, who else is here and why is that important, the many contributing factors and variables to measuring success and failure outside of the bottom line in a P&L…plus you always the parties and events at the Ambassadors residence.