The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 97

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
NOVEMBER 2014
97
Edward J. Peck is a former ambassador and
current member of the AFSA Awards and
Plaques Committee.
An Unusual Expression of Gratitude
BY EDWARD PECK
REFLECTIONS
I
n 1966, when I was principal officer at
Consulate Oran, Algeria, we drove a
small sedan to a tiny, isolated Saharan
oasis to attend its annual, unusual
festival: 300 miles south to Colum Bechar,
now known as Bechar, where civilization
ended; 210 miles east on a one-lane road
to the town of Adrar; then 120 miles north
through the sand to Timimoun.
Where there was no road, as experi-
enced Sahara travelers who had served
in Morocco and Tunisia, we just followed
the tracks, reasonably confident they
were made by those who went where we
wanted to go. (Today there is a road and
an airport.)
At one point, coming over a dune, I saw
a man on a donkey in the valley. Driving
over, but not too close, I greeted him prop-
erly and, for certainty’s sake, asked him to
indicate the direction to Timimoun. He
sawmy surprise and consternation when
he pointed off to the side of the tracks and
said, “Timimoun exactly that way.”
I apologized, and then asked if that was
the way by car. He looked at me with what
was clearly pity, and said, “No, you asked
where it was, not how to get there. By car,
follow the tracks.” Arabic can be quite
useful.
We followed the tracks until an
unseen rock cracked the oil pan about 35
miles from our destination, leaving us in
absolute silence amid an endless sea of
dunes. We had plenty of food and water,
but luckily a jeep-load of Algerian soldiers
appeared the next morning and towed us
to Timimoun.
There I learned that
the car would prob-
ably have to be sold
for parts, the nearest
mechanics and mate-
rials being in far-off
Bechar, with no way to
get it there.
On the second
morning of the
festival, however, a
trans-Saharan truck
brought a load of
bagged and U.S.-
flagged USAID
wheat straight from
Bechar. The villagers
persuaded the driv-
ers to take the Ameri-
can consul’s broken
car on the return trip,
in exchange for the
American wheat, and a
happy crowd watched
and shouted encouragement as villagers
struggled to put it on that big truck—by
hand.
We traveled the long, bumpy trip back
to Bechar inside the car and took a train to
Oran. The Army later delivered the car to
us there, where it was repaired and used
for the remainder of the tour.
That included: the outbreak of the 1967
Arab-Israeli War; broken diplomatic, but
not consular relations; nine different mob
demonstrations outside the offices-resi-
dence; evacuation of all the other Ameri-
cans; temporarily running our nation’s
only one-man post; and flying the only
in-country American flag, without further
assaults, until full relations were restored
several years later.
The most compelling memory of
Algeria, however, is not of the mobs, but
of the enthusiastic crowd that watched
the raising of the car, cheering loudly and
repetitively in Arabic and French, thank-
ing America, still waving until lost to view.
That experience still generates a pervasive
feeling of personal pride and patriotism.
I coincidentally rediscovered this
photograph of the trip, not seen for
decades. I am no longer sure of the exact
circumstances in which it was taken, but if
you look closely you can see the car’s roof
behind us.
n
Photo Courtesy Ed Peck
We traveled the long, bumpy
trip back to Bechar inside
the car on the truck.
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