The Foreign Service Journal - May 2014 - page 60

MAY 2014
Dangerous Places • Continued from page 51
Persian New Year
(“Nowruz”) is
celebrated annually
on the vernal equi-
nox, when Earth is
renewed with the
coming of spring.
Partly rooted in
Zoroastrianism, the
holiday is enjoyed
by people all over
the world including
Afghanistan, Iraq,
Iran, Tajikistan,
Uzbekistan, Azer-
baijan, India, Paki-
stan and Turkey.
With Nowruz
comes the setting of the “Haft-seen” (seven ‘S’) table, so
named because it includes seven meaningful items whose
names start with the Persian letter ‘seen’:
•Senjed (dry fruit of a lotus tree) denotes love and
•Sumaq (Sumac) symbolizes sunrise and the warmth
of life
•Seeb (apple) stands for health and beauty
•Seer (garlic) indicates good health and well-being
•Samanu (wheat pudding) represents the sweetness
of life
•Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass) represents the
renewal of life and the rebirth of nature
•Sonbol (hyacinth) stands for prosperity and good will
in the new year.
On the eve of the last Wednesday of the old year,
Persians celebrate Chahar Shanbe Suri. They gather, light
small bonfires in the streets and jump over the flames say-
ing, “May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be
mine.” The flames symbolically take away all the unpleas-
ant things from the past year to prepare one for the New
Nowruz lasts 13 days. The last day is called “Sizdeh
Bedar,” which literally means “getting rid of the thirteenth.”
Families and friends spend the day picnicking outdoors to
get rid of bad luck.
–Raeka Safai, AFSA Staff Attorney
Feierstein argued. He also
deplored the trend toward
one-year and unaccompa-
nied assignments.
“I do not think it is pos-
sible for our diplomats to do
a good job in only one year,”
he stated. He also noted that
U.S. missions in dangerous
countries are forced to rely
too heavily on entry-level
Another effect is that
U.S. missions are becom-
ing increasingly militarized.
“When I left Yemen, we had
110 Marines at the embassy,”
observed Feierstein. “I truly
appreciate the work of the
Marine Corps. But if you
have this number of military
[personnel] in an embassy, it
is noted by the public.”
Restrictions on move-
ment for embassy personnel
and their families increased
dramatically, as well. Feier-
stein cited Sanaa, where all
employees had to move into a
nearby hotel.
“Our personnel can’t go
anywhere,” Feierstein said. “It
is crucial for our diplomatic
goals that our FSOs be able
to connect with the locals and
have host-country neighbors.”
Making matters worse
in Sanaa, he noted, during
the 2013 embassy closings
the 15-minute drive from
the hotel to the embassy
was considered too dan-
gerous, and all diplomatic
personnel had to sleep in
their offices.
A Realistic Analysis
of Risk
Acknowledging that safety
is a legitimate priority for our
diplomatic posts, Feierstein
suggested that “an adult
conversation about what we
are trying to do, weighing
risks and benefits,” is overdue.
He pointed to the embassy
closings in 2013 as the kind
of “knee-jerk reaction” that is
not helpful.
Feierstein also questioned
whether State adequately
articulates what the Foreign
Service does and why we
need to be overseas within
the interagency community,
given that State officers are
often the ones pulled out first
in a closure.
“This is exactly wrong,”
Feierstein commented. “As we
go forward, our battle is less
in the dangerous posts than it
is inWashington. We have to
continue convincing the State
Department that it is impor-
tant to have people there.
“I still don’t think that the
correct response is to build
fortresses and to lock down
our diplomats. We need a
more nuanced approach.”
The large audience, in what
was AFSA’s first members-
only event, engaged Feierstein
in a lively question-and-
answer session following his
To view the discussion
online, please visit
–Julian Steiner,
Communications Intern
“Nowruz Pirooz!”—AFSA Celebrates
Persian New Year
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