Last week I had the good fortune of meeting US Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, who joined a group of 8 Peace Corps Volunteers and I for a ‘happy hour’ in Iloilo city, an event that coincided with the 2015 Dinagyang Festival. We were told the dress code for the event would be ‘smart casual’, and after surveying my limited wardrobe I decided my quick dry pants that zip into shorts best fit that description. But, acting on the advice of my regional manager, I wore regular pants (although they did not seem very smart nor casual) and cleared the (many) spider webs off my one pair of close-toed shoes- which I hadn’t worn in over a year of living on my island. My Filipino coworkers were a bit concerned with my beard, which was longer then normal, informing me that I should trim it to avoid looking like a terrorist and potentially causing a security threat- I agreed.
At first it was mildly intimidating talking to Ambassador Goldberg, a very accomplished diplomat appointed by the president, serving as Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research and formerly as the Ambassador to Bolivia. Despite this, he was a very laid back guy and seemed to enjoy hearing about our projects and experiences in the Philippines. I had promised my office that I would inquire about the mangoes served to President Obama, which we believe to come from Guimaras, a bit of local folklore arising from the fact that one of the president’s head chefs is a Filipina from our region- who would surely only serve Obama the world’s sweetest mango (aka the Guimaras mango).
The following day Ambassador Goldberg proceeded to Guimaras to visit the three Peace Corps Volunteers on our island. My site was honored to host the Ambassador for lunch which was a feast of fresh lobster, mango, roasted duck, fish, shrimp, and of course plenty of rice. When President Obama visited the Philippines he too was served lobster from Guimaras (another point of pride for our island). A string quartet serenaded us as we ate to ‘aid in digestion’, needless to say- this was not a typical day in my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. I enjoyed the face time with Ambassador Goldberg, and he jokingly agreed to accept my supervisor’s request to sign over my citizenship to the Philippines.