Life in the Foreign Service extends far beyond the office, following its officers into all realms of existence abroad, at times for the worse. In 2003, after a military invasion, the United States had just begun its occupation of Iraq. A betrayal by Iraqi dissident Ahmed Chalabi thwarted U.S. efforts to set up an Iraqi president that would be accepted by the Iraqi populace.
For the Foreign Service Officers posted to Iraq at this time, this meant arriving in a host country with no established embassy, no consulate, and no country team.
When Beth Payne arrived in Baghdad, she quickly discovered that she and her co-workers would be taking up residence in the Al Rasheed hotel, initially sharing rooms that failed even to lock, following the theft of the building’s doorknobs. In her first few months, as she established an Office of the U.S. Consul, Payne also adapted to shootings outside of her hotel, the prevalence of weapons in the hotel bar, and the harassment of women at the hotel pool. Already, her service as a Consular Officer felt marked by a sense of fear she had not felt in her earlier postings in Kuwait, Israel, or Rwanda. Yet, this aura of danger proved merely a precursor to the events that would follow that very October.