Perhaps good diplomacy sometimes comes from serendipity. At least that is how it seemed this week when I found myself in Biak, an island in the Indonesian province of Papua, participating in the inauguration of a new hospital wing in honor of my grandmother. My work in Embassy Jakarta's political section requires me to travel to Papua often -- providing me the happy coincidence of both coming to Biak to discuss political issues with the island's leaders and being able to visit the sites my grandmother likely saw during her time in Biak as a World War II army nurse who advanced across the Pacific with each Allied victory.
Perhaps my diplomatic career is destined to be a slow-motion journey along the route of my grandparents courtship. My second posting was in Australia, the same location where my grandparents met 60 years earlier during World War II. (He was a fighter pilot in the Sydney Hospital; she nursed him back to health.) The couple was then separated by the war, with my grandfather getting back into his fighter plane and my grandmother coming to Biak, located in what was called at the time Dutch New Guinea. My grandparents met up again in the Philippines, where they married in the middle of the war and spent the first night of their 62-year marriage in the nurses' tent (which the other nurses graciously vacated for their one-night honeymoon). Since I've lived in the first two countries where my grandparents had WWII postings, perhaps their Philippines wedding predicts a future posting for me in Manila?
That short history lesson brings me back to more recent memory. Before I came to Biak, I met with Yusuf Maryan, the Bupati, or local executive leader. He was moved by the description of my grandmother's posting in Biak and her vivid recollections of its people and beauty, which she had relayed to me prior to her death two months ago. Like many people in the Pacific, Papuans continue to hold WWII history close to their hearts. And just prior to my arrival here, the Bupati proudly told me that the about-to-be-complete wing of the Biak hospital would be dedicated in the name of my grandmother -- as a symbol of the friendship from WWII which remains alive today in the Comprehensive Partnership between the United States and Indonesia.
Thus I represented both the U.S. Government and my own family in the inauguration of the new hospital wing, when ties of friendship between the people of America and Papua were again renewed. So perhaps it's not serendipity but simply good diplomacy that together the people of Biak and I were able to rededicate ourselves to a shared future between Indonesia and the United States, while remembering our past at the Margaret Wheeler Mitchell memorial hospital wing.