About the Author: Aaron Snipe is a Foreign Service Officer with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Muthanna, Iraq.
The title of the art exhibit was The Colors of Warka, named after the ancient Sumerian goddess of beauty, Inanna. When January 10th rolled around, and the Ambassador's Black Hawks touched down in Muthanna, the exhibit was ready to go. The Ambassador’s agenda for the visit was packed full of meetings and appearances designed to give the Ambassador a taste of what PRT Muthanna is doing in the province. A visit to the art gallery, a meeting with the Provincial Council Chair, lunch with the Governor of Muthanna, followed by tea in our mudhif with the mayors. It may sound simple enough, but transporting the United States Ambassador around Muthanna in multiple ground and air movements to multiple sites, was no small task. Our security guys performed admirably and were flexible with the many last-minute schedule changes.
Due to security concerns, we had kept the Ambassador's travel a secret until that morning. My fellow-team member, Albert Hadi, (pre-staged at the exhibit) broke the news to the stunned group of artists, 30 minutes before the Ambassador arrived.
"Which Ambassador? You mean the American Ambassador is coming to Muthanna?" said one of the women.
"Yes," Albert informed her, "the American Ambassador is coming to Muthanna to see your paintings."
The room broke out in hushed chatter.
"The guy on TV?" one woman asked, raising her arm above her head to denote the Ambassador's high rank, "He's coming to see us?"
The Ambassador walked through the entire exhibit, and took time to speak with each and every artist about her work. The same women, who months ago were hesitant to even have their pictures taken, were now speaking to the U.S. Ambassador, with television cameras rolling. ABC News, the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Al-Iraqiya, Al-Sharqiya and a number of other media organizations were all in attendance. After the Ambassador departed for the day's meetings, the team distributed paints, brushes, an easel, and canvases to the artists. The day's program had been designed specifically for the Ambassador and was a special gallery showing. With their new supplies in hand, the artists could now begin painting in preparation for their three-week exhibit in March.