This Week On Metro Connection: Diplomacy (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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The Week On Metro Connection: Diplomacy

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today's show is all about a topic that's been all over the news of late.

SECRETARY OF STATE

This is an attack that should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world.

SHEIR

That, of course, was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, followed by international news reports of the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, an attack that took the lives of Chris Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans on September 11, 2012. The attack was followed by protests at, and evacuations of, embassies across the Middle East including the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia. 14-year foreign service officer, Ingrid Larson, along with her young son and daughter, was there.

MS. INGRID LARSON

When an embassy evacuates, we don't get that much notice and so I left with my children very quickly. And we went back to the United States so that I could settle the children again since we're not sure how long the evacuation will last. Now that we're here, we have to find our lives again, find child care, figure out how to get to work, I need to get a car, because my car was burned at the embassy.

SHEIR

So in light of these recent events, and given the number of Washingtonians who work in diplomacy or follow foreign affairs, we wanted to bring things closer to home this week. That's why over the next hour we're focusing on the topic of diplomacy. We're bringing you an assortment of stories, some more serious, like the challenges of exercising political diplomacy as the election season heats up, and some more light-hearted. Like how our founding fathers began an intriguing tradition of plant diplomacy. But to begin today's show, we'll take a closer look at people like Ingrid Larson, the roughly 13,000 Americans working at the 260-plus U.S. diplomatic missions around the world.

MS. SUSAN JOHNSON

Hello, this is Susan Johnson.

SHEIR

Since 1980, Susan Johnson has served at a number of those missions. Like Havana, Cuba.

JOHNSON

And Mauritius.

SHEIR

Moscow.

JOHNSON

Romania.

SHEIR

Iraq.

JOHNSON

And Bosnia. I probably left something out somewhere along the way. Now you have it all down.

SHEIR

These days, Johnson is president of the American Foreign Service Association, or AFSA, a union representing workers in five agencies.

JOHNSON

State Department, AID, Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and International Broadcasting Bureau.

SHEIR

Johnson pretty much grew up in the Foreign Service, since her dad was a member.

JOHNSON

And my mother would have been, except she married my father and in those days, in the '40s, married women were not allowed to serve in the foreign service.

SHEIR

Since then, that rule obviously has changed. As have a lot of other things. Take for instance, the number of posts around the world. That's gone up and with it the number of the hardship posts.

JOHNSON

So hardship posts really -- it's just all the things you do not get that we would consider normal.

SHEIR

Like say, a lack of schools.

JOHNSON

A difficult climate and health situation.

SHEIR

Prevalence of organized crime.

JOHNSON

And then perhaps a lot of different dangers, be they, you know, snakes, insects, who knows what.

SHEIR

Employees assigned to these posts receive a hardship differential of 10 to 35 percent of their salary. The greater the hardship, the higher the percentage.

JOHNSON

I got some statistics from AFSA surveys over the last eight years. So we see that 89 percent of the Foreign Service now say they have served in hardship posts of 15 percent or above.

SHEIR

And when it comes to what the Foreign Service refers to as danger posts...

JOHNSON

33 percent say they've served in unaccompanied posts. And unaccompanied post means they're so dangerous that you can't take your family.

SHEIR

Then, as we've recently seen in Lebanon, Tunisia and Sudan, there's the number of Foreign Service workers who have experienced an emergency evacuation. To date, about 22 percent. Johnson has this big spread sheet of all authorized evacuations since June 1988, and the reasons for these ordered departures are numerous.

JOHNSON

Earthquake, civil unrest, terrorism, war, cyclones...

SHEIR

Seeing some crime there.

JOHNSON

Crime, yes, see this is all organized crime. So that's the environment in which diplomacy needs to operate. And we accept that.

SHEIR

And someone who accepted that environment for more than five years is this guy.

MR. CRAIG LEBAMOFF

Craig Lebamoff, attorney for the U.S. government.

SHEIR

Before Lebamoff became associate council at the Department of Homeland Security, he was a foreign service officer.

LEBAMOFF

I joined a few months after 9-11, because I think I was caught up in the, you know, the idea that we should all do something. Do whatever we can, if you could.

SHEIR

I recently met up with Lebamoff at a bustling coffee shop. Where he told me about a day he'll remember forever -- July 28, 2004. It was a sweltering summer afternoon in Uzbekistan.

LEBAMOFF

The temperature in Fahrenheit is usually between 110 and 120.

SHEIR

And Lebamoff was at the U.S. Embassy there. Where he and his wife were serving as diplomats. Lebamoff as...

LEBAMOFF

The general services officer in charge of most of the embassy's blue collar employees.

SHEIR

And his wife as...

LEBAMOFF

The community liaison officer. And my wife and the co-community liaison officer were outside waiting for the cake to come for the retirement party...

SHEIR

Of an embassy colleague. Lebamoff says he was doing paperwork in his office when suddenly right around 3:15...

LEBAMOFF

There was a big boom.

SHEIR

A big enough boom to throw staffers in the embassy's front room against the wall. Lebamoff's office was further back in the building, across a courtyard, so by the time he felt the impact.

LEBAMOFF

The first thing that went through my head was did a car blow up in the parking lot? On second thought I thought maybe it was a grenade that someone had thrown over into the courtyard.

SHEIR

Turns out he was wrong on both counts. Two local police officers had tackled a bomber in front of the embassy and as they struggled, the bomb went off.

LEBAMOFF

Unfortunately it killed the policeman, so they gave up their lives to protect the U.S. embassy.

SHEIR

The bomber died, too. Some embassy workers were injured, but the scariest part, Lebamoff says...

LEBAMOFF

Was the lack of control. Not just, is it a more concentrated attack and are they going to breech the perimeter and come and kill me? But more, you know, where's my wife, where's my employees that I'm responsible for and are my kids all right?

SHEIR

And says Susan Johnson of the American Foreign Service Association, those thoughts have crossed the mind of many a Foreign Service officer. Because the way Johnson sees it, international diplomacy inherently involves two things: risk and danger. Okay, so what are we looking at here?

JOHNSON

So here we're looking at some names that I drew just from AFSA's plaque. AFSA maintains a memorial plaque for all members of the Foreign Service or the embassy community who are killed in the line of duty.

SHEIR

Since the year 2000, those names number more than 20. That's including last month's attack in Libya. As for how these individuals died, there's a plane crash, a helicopter crash, an earthquake, a heart attack, even a case of cerebral malaria. But one cause of death trumps them all.

JOHNSON

If you add up all the terrorist attacks, we have a 16 out of 22. So the majority of them.

SHEIR

And yet, says Susan Johnson, for all the risk and danger that accompany the diplomatic life, there are plenty of rewards, too.

JOHNSON

It's not a career where you're going to get rich, but you may have a very rich life experience. And most people retire really proud to have served in the Foreign Service and to have represented their country and lived history. Because that's a lot of times what you're doing. Other people are reading about it, but you're part of it, living it.

SHEIR

To learn more about the Foreign Service and to read what it takes to become an officer, visit our website metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We turn now from American embassies overseas to foreign embassies here in our fair city. You can find more than 180 embassies packed into Washington's 68 square miles. And these buildings are more than just brick and mortar. They're symbols of public diplomacy as they represent a foreign nation to the American public. Our brand new "Metro Connection" reporter Jacob Fenston takes us to several of the city's embassies, starting with one that was recently repurchased more than a 100 years after being lost as imperial plunder.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

When you think embassies, you probably don't think Logan Circle, and when you get to Logan Circle, you might not even notice the house on the corner of 13th Street hidden behind huge magnolia trees.

MS. LORETTA JENKINS

The house is such a beautiful piece of architecture. We didn't wish to see this house broken up like all the grand houses around here.

FENSTON

Loretta Jenkins and her husband bought this old brick Victorian back in 1977. A few years later, as they headed out one Sunday afternoon, they happened to notice...

JENKINS

There was a Korean man standing on the corner across the street. And he was still standing there when we came back a couple of hours later from the event that we had gone to.

FENSTON

Their home, it turns out, once housed Korea's first diplomatic mission to the United States back in the 1890s. And the man standing across the street? He said he was the grandson of Korea's first ambassador here.

JENKINS

My husband invited him in and I made tea and he walked around the house with such reverence that it struck a note with us.

FENSTON

Over the years they got several offers from Korean businessmen to buy the house but they worried the historic building wouldn't be preserved. Finally, in August, the Jenkins and the Korean government hammered out a deal.

MS. ANDREA CHOI

Yeah, so basically this building that we recently repurchased holds great historic significance.

FENSTON

Andrea Choi is with the Korean Embassy's cultural center. Korea first bought the building in 1891 for $25,000.

CHOI

Which back then was a huge sum of money.

FENSTON

But then they lost the building when imperial Japan occupied Korea in 1905. So for many Koreans, the building isn't just an old house.

CHOI

It really does show our ancestor's efforts to ensure that Korea was free from imperial powers.

FENSTON

Today's newer embassies also have a lot to say. Take for example, the Finnish embassy -- a copper and glass box, ultra-modern architecture.

MS. ANNELI HALONEN

Architecture is -- Goethe actually said, architecture is like frozen music.

FENSTON

Anneli Halonen is the embassy's cultural counselor.

HALONEN

Music expresses the soul of the nation, and so does architecture.

FENSTON

Every design element here reflects Finnish culture, says Halonen. There's even a sauna, a necessity in any Finnish building.

HALONEN

Yes, our Parliament also have -- and we call this sauna diplomacy because in sauna we are all equal. We are naked, or wrapped in towels.

FENSTON

It's not just the sauna or an embassy's architecture that says something. It's also the properties upkeep, or lack thereof, even the location.

MR. ERIC LEWIS

Now, this is the only embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C., between the White House and the Capitol building.

FENSTON

Eric Lewis is leading a helmeted gaggle of tourists on Segways around the National Mall. Right here, in the midst of all these symbols of America, stands a six-story building covered with Canadian flags. Shannon-Marie Soni with the Canadian Embassy says the location here reflects the closeness of our two countries.

MS. SHANNON-MARIE SONI

The Canada-U.S. bilateral relationship is so complex that we need to be speaking on a daily basis to the members of Congress. Our location, if I can use a hockey metaphor, at center ice, between our two goal posts, is really important to us.

FENSTON

Embassies in Washington weren't always these big architectural showcases. Architecture historian Jane Loeffler says the first embassies, like the old Korean one on Logan Circle, began life as private mansions built around the turn of the 20th century.

MS. JANE LOEFFLER

A lot of people built fabulous houses in Washington -- millionaire tycoons who wanted to get closer to the center of power.

FENSTON

But when the Great Depression hit, the tycoons couldn't afford to keep their second homes in Washington.

LOEFFLER

Miraculously, there were foreign governments looking to buy property in D.C. and establish themselves here at that very time. So they bought a lot of those houses and saved them from what would have been destruction.

FENSTON

Now many of these homes are returning to private hands. Realtor Bobbie Brewster is trying to sell this former embassy in Kalorama.

MS. BOBBIE BREWSTER

The embassy of Portugal. This is a beautiful Georgian building with all the best motifs of the Georgian style. It's a classic.

FENSTON

Brewster has sold six embassies before and this will be her seventh. Most were bought by private individuals. And now this one could be yours. In fact, the price was just reduced to $2.5 million. I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

To see photos of some of the embassies Jacob visited check out our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Time for a quick break. But when we get back, the woman once considered the least diplomatic leader of the D.C. public schools. We'll catch up with former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

MS. MICHELLE RHEE

I think one of the mistakes that we made was we were doing the work. It was sort of obvious to us why closing schools or doing layoffs by quality instead of seniority was important. It seemed so obvious to us. And yet we didn't do a good job of connecting the dots for people.

SHEIR

That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today's show is all about diplomacy. And unlike the people we met before the break, the individuals we'll hear from next don't work in an embassy or for the Foreign Service. No, these folks are engaging in diplomacy of a more everyday sort. The type you might employ with friends, colleagues or family members of opposing political stripes. Jonathan Wilson has the story.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

Richard Crespin had heard his potential business partner, Joiwind Ronen, was pretty darn liberal. And so when they met for the first time, he tried to tone down his own admittedly conservative look.

MR. RICHARD CRESPIN

You know, it's funny. I actually dressed slightly differently, you know, as not to put it off right away. And I did try to steer clear and try to find issues where I thought we might have some common ground before jumping in to, you know, actually debate her in any way.

WILSON

While she may have appreciated his sensitivity, Joiwind -- she says her name came from hippie parents -- doesn't remember thinking Richard had toned down anything about his clothing.

MS. JOIWIND RONEN

I was immediately shocked. I thought, you know, here's someone I want to partner with and he is as preppie and Republican as they get. Are we going to be able to find common ground?

WILSON

The perfectly named liberal, Joiwind, and Richard, the conservative, found enough common ground. They've been business partners for years after all, promoting corporate environmental responsibility. And even as they discovered more political differences, the two say their relationship has deepened as they've bonded over other things such as both having young children. Ronen says one key to dealing with each other is laughter.

RONEN

We'll cast each as, you know, the diabolical Republican and the, you know, extreme liberal, so when I have a question about conservatives I call Richard. And when he has a question about the liberals he calls me. And so we really find humor in our relationship. And we remember not to take each other too seriously.

WILSON

For Sue Gainor and Scott Murdock, learning to deal with their political differences wasn't quite so easy. Part of the issue is, well, they're married. Their differing views also came as a bit of a surprise -- to one of them, at least. Luckily they can laugh about it, but it took a while.

MR. SCOTT MURDOCK

So I'd say it was probably the Clinton administration that really, you know, brought it to a head. And I knew how avid she was and I went, oh, it won't be a good conversation if I tell her.

MS. SUE GAINOR

I thought we were in lockstep until some months after the election he informed me he had not voted for Clinton. And I had assumed all the while, because we agreed on certain things that I was very active about and he had shared my activism, that we had voted the same and we had not.

MURDOCK

You know, the elections happened and Clinton won but then, you know, we were discussing amongst friends of who voted for who and, you know, I felt I should be honest. We just didn't talk about it. And I said, you know, I didn't vote for Clinton. And she was pretty irritated.

WILSON

Gainor says she stayed mad for a few months but eventually got over it. Now she says she's learned not to assume that her husband is passionate about something just because she is. And she says they've both learned when a political argument has become more trouble than it's worth. But Gainor hesitates to draw any comparisons between her marital relationship and what lawmakers on Capitol Hill have to endure.

GAINOR

There's very little in the interaction, day-to-day, that politicians can learn from a couple like us. Because the stakes are different for them. And for us, the stakes are harmony in the household, and harmony among our friends. In fact, for his birthday, which was last week, we had a dinner with three other couples. One of them very far to the right, and one of them we refer to as the neighborhood hippies. And it was really enjoyable because we just avoided political conversation as a general rule.

WILSON

That's not a luxury elected officials have. Bob Gibson, director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, says political civility is at a generational low.

MR. BOB GIBSON

It used to be that congressmen and delegates and senators could go out after work and talk to each other and have dinner and drinks and understand each other better.

WILSON

Gibson says that's changed in part because we're in an era of permanent campaigning and elected officials don't feel they have time to socialize with their opponents. But Gibson says political civility can make a comeback. And he believes it can be a grassroots effort.

GIBSON

There doesn't have to be a magic moment at which the country turns around. It can be an individual one-on-one thing in which people just take the time to listen. Mostly it's listening and understanding the other side and that we have plenty in common with people we don't agree with. We just have to find it.

WILSON

To recap, elected officials listen a little more and laugh a little more, too. All right, so maybe it can't be that simple -- can it? I'm Jonathan Wilson.

SHEIR

This story came to us via WAMU's Public Insight Network or PIN. It's a way for people to share their experiences with us and a way for us to reach out for input on stories we're working on. You can find more information about the Public Insight Network by visiting metroconnection.org/PIN.

SHEIR

Our next story is about a well-known D.C. figure who quickly earned a reputation for being, how shall we say, not very diplomatic as she ran D.C. Public Schools.

RHEE

They are getting a crappy education. You can try and sugarcoat it all you want, you know, subpar or whatever but what it is in terms that everyone can understand they are getting a crappy education.

SHEIR

We're talking of course about Michelle Rhee, who made those comments in an interview with ABC News a few years back. Rhee left her job as schools' chancellor last year to head up Students First, an organization advocating for nationwide education reform. WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza recently caught up with Rhee, who gave her thoughts on DCPS now and what she would do differently if she were running the schools today.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

Apart from vouchers there seems to be a rough consensus on President Obama's and former Governor Mitt Romney's positions on education. How do you see education reform, whether the piece or the issues as being different?

RHEE

In terms of President Obama, he has changed the game in a lot of ways in terms of his education reform stances I think that raised to the top was a absolutely move. It sparked more legislative changes than I think the country has ever seen before. I think that his support of the growth of charter schools and teacher quality efforts have really, really been very strong.

RHEE

From what I've seen of Governor Romney's stances on these issues, I think he too wants to see a lot of changes happening within teacher quality. So similar to President Obama, there are more choices. Obviously his platform includes vouchers whereas the president's does not.

RHEE

I think the biggest thing that I worry about with a potential Romney administration is around accountability because just as the Democrats have to worry about cow towing to the special interests within their party which is the teachers unions, the Republicans also have a special interest within their party, the Tea Party, which is very aggressive and I think the Tea Party wants to move to less federal involvement in education, which I actually do not think is the right stance to take.

CARDOZA

Have you seen from the time you started with education reform that unions, whether locally or nationally, are more willing to agree on certain issues?

RHEE

Well, I think that they've had to come along to a certain extent and if I use, you know, our experience here in D.C. as an example, though it was a very, very tough negotiation and it lasted a very long time, we ended up with a groundbreaking contract that to this day really sets a precedent nationwide. And so they did agree to that contract.

RHEE

I think sometimes on the disappointing side of things though they will try to keep the reforms that they support, keep them isolated. So, you know, it's not like after D.C. that then they went around the country and said, let's have more contracts like D.C.

CARDOZA

When we talk about teachers pay being linked to students tests scores, in D.C. you negotiated a contract that counted for 50 percent and recently the current chancellor announced that now it would be 35 percent and the union is pushing to go as low as 20 percent. Do you see that as rollback?

RHEE

No, because from what I understand that student achievement gains are still going to account for 50 percent, it's just that the D.C. cast specifically will only account for 35 percent, the other 15 percent will be based on other kinds of assessments and certainly, you know, as long as though tests are valid and reliable tests then overall you're still looking at the 50 percent.

CARDOZA

Is there anything you would've changed about when you were chancellor?

RHEE

You know, we made a lot of mistakes along the way but I also think that we've learned from our mistakes. And so now when I talk to school superintendents across the country one of the things that I say is that, you know, you have to be very cognizant about how you're communicating. One of the mistakes that we made was we were doing the work, it was sort of obvious to us why closing schools or doing layoffs by quality instead of seniority was important. And yet we didn't do a good job of connecting the dots for people.

CARDOZA

Do you think the pace of reform has continued?

RHEE

Well, I think that the reforms have definitely continued. Kaya Henderson worked with me for three and a half years and I have a tremendous amount of faith in her and her team. I do think there's a difference though. Mayor Fenty and I spoke every day. I think when you have that dynamic it creates a different sense of urgency in the city overall.

CARDOZA

You are introduced in every article I read as the hard-charging, controversial former chancellor of D.C. Do you ever get tired of being introduced that way?

RHEE

I don't get tired of it, but I will say that I remain a little baffled by it because the reforms that we put in place here in D.C. and the reforms that we are advocating now through Students First across the country are common sense reforms. So how they have been sort of framed in the public as controversial and hard-charging, it still bewilders me a bit but if it helps people to have conversations that are much needed and that maybe in some cities have been avoided for a long time, then I'm okay with that.

CARDOZA

When Oprah introduced you as a warrior woman on her show last year, you said you wanted to raise a billion dollars for education. How much have you raised?

RHEE

So I said two things, I said we were going to have a million members by the end of the first year and raise a billion dollars over a five year time period. We actually met our first goal and we're at 1.83 million members, which is exciting. And we're making a lot of progress towards the billion dollars as well.

CARDOZA

What's the dollar amount?

RHEE

I'll just say we're making very good progress.

SHEIR

That was former DCPS chancellor Michelle Rhee speaking with WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza. And if you would like to chime in on the state of D.C. Public Schools, diplomatically or otherwise, you can reach us at metro@wamu.org or find us on Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro.

SHEIR

And now our weekly trip around the region. On today's "Door to Door," we visit Lorton, Va. and Woodland Normanstone in Northwest D.C.

MR. LARRY AURBACH

Hi, I'm Larry Aurbach. I'm president of the Woodland Normanstone Neighborhood Association. Our neighborhood is bounded by Rock Creek Park, Massachusetts Avenue, 34th Street, Garfield Cleveland, Calvert and 28th Street, essentially continuous to Woodland Park.

MR. LARRY AURBACH

The neighborhood has approximately 160 homes. There are no commercial establishments. About two dozen of the homes are residences for embassies. The embassies are a major part of the neighborhood. They participate in neighborhood activities and generally the embassies have been terrific neighbors.

MR. LARRY AURBACH

Well, the main reason you'd know you're here is that the grid plan stops. You're not on grid streets anymore, you're on streets that follow the contours of the land better and protect the land better. It has a different kind of feel to it. If you go to the top of the Washington Cathedral and look down to your southeast you'll see a blanket trees, that's the Woodland Normanstone neighborhood.

MS. IRMA CLIFTON

My name is Irma Clifton. I'm 70 years of age and I'm a lifelong resident of Lorton, Va. Lorton probably covers an area from the Potomac River on the east to the Occoquan River on the south, Fairfax Station on the west and Fort Belvoir on the north. It has a population of about 20,000 in that area and it's a very diverse population.

MS. IRMA CLIFTON

I love the easy access to Washington, but also we have a tremendous amount of open space here. I have seen many changes in Lorton, most of all was the building of 95, but probably the most significant change was the closing of the prison in 2001.

MS. IRMA CLIFTON

Before that, people had been sort of reluctant to say I live in Lorton because they thought it had a stigma as the prison. I guess you would have to say the prison closing was sort of a double-edged sword. It took some of the economy base away but it also added housing and on the property there was also space available to build a new high school, a new middle school.

MS. IRMA CLIFTON

All communities change over time but I think Lorton's sense of community and its center on its educational and recreational assets keep the community grounded and pretty much together. Lorton has progressed to a really great place to live.

SHEIR

We heard from Larry Aurbach in Woodland Normanstone and Irma Clifton in Lorton. If you think your neighborhood should be part of "Door to Door" send an email to metro@wamu.org and to see a map of all the doors we've knocked on so far, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

After the break diplomacy for the green thumb.

MS. ANDREA WULF

He, I mean, literally frantically begins to send seeds of possibly good crops over to America from England.

SHEIR

It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we're talking Diplomacy. So far in the show we've covered international diplomacy, political diplomacy and in just a few minutes, we'll engage in a bit of plant diplomacy. Yes, plant diplomacy. But first, we'll meet some folks who are immersed in what I guess you could call musical diplomacy.

SHEIR

We're in Northwest Washington at the Embassy of Hungary, where a four-member band is rehearsing for an upcoming gig.

SHEIR

The band is called The Diplomats and initially it consisted solely of Hungarian embassy staffers.

MR. AKOS VEISZ

But that's the nature of diplomacy, it's about change. People come and go and most of the band members left and are now back in Hungary.

SHEIR

Except for this guy.

VEISZ

I'm Akos Veisz and I'm a diplomat at the Hungarian Embassy dealing with political and economic issues.

SHEIR

Veisz started The Diplomats last year when the long-time saxophonist came to the U.S. and realized so many of his new colleagues dabbled in music too.

VEISZ

We had a drum, we had a guitar player, we had a piano player, we had singers, but no bass player so I've decided to learn the bass.

SHEIR

Nowadays, not all members of The Diplomats work in the Hungarian Embassy, but they do have diplomatic and/or Hungarian ties. First up, on vocals Bryan Dawson.

MR. BRYAN DAWSON

I'm executive chairman of the American-Hungarian Federation.

SHEIR

And on guitar, David Rakviashvili.

MR. DAVID RAKVIASHVILI

My name is very complicated to pronounce, a family name, Rakviashvili. I'm diplomat the Embassy of Georgia.

SHEIR

And on drums, The Diplomats newest member...

MR. RIGO JANTY

Rigo Askosh (sp?) .

SHEIR

Did we just make this name?

JANTY

Given name, given diplomatic name. It's a rock name.

DAWSON

Rigo Janty.

JANTY

Try again, all right. Rigo Janty.

SHEIR

Rigo Janty, as he requested we call him, as only been with The Diplomats a couple of weeks. The Diplomats just lost a drummer, at the Hungarian embassy and with less than a month before their first gig outside Washington, a Hungarian Festival in Sarasota, Fla., Veisz says they scrambled to find a replacement.

VEISZ

We had Craig's List, we had the same emails that we have sent when we found our singers and that's how we found Rigo Janty, his Hungarian name.

SHEIR

Okay, so Rigo Janty may not have actual Hungarian roots, but he says he loves rehearsing here at the embassy.

JANTY

Even, like, the ambassador came by. I mean, the ambassador’s working and we’re bashing away, playing rock and roll covers.

VEISZ

We have a cool ambassador, Ambassador Gyorgy Szapáry. He's going to be there in Sarasota, Fla. with us.

SHEIR

So like a roadie.

DAWSON

Yes, the manager. Let's give him -- we'll give him a little.

SHEIR

The Diplomats perform American and Hungarian songs like this one by Bikini, a Hungarian band which formed in 1982 when the Communist regime was suppressing freedom of speech.

VEISZ

The Hungarian title is "Adj helyet magad mellett," which is, like, "Give Me a Place Right Next To You." So they were trying to write songs, which had these double meanings. So this one is about love, one meaning, the other is the love for freedom.

SHEIR

Singer Bryan Dawson says he's spent years trying to reconnect with his Hungarian roots and so this music means a lot to him.

DAWSON

My mother was very affected by all that happened. The multiple wars, the revolution, she was kicked out of school because of her family name. And so she largely wanted to forget when she came here and never really instilled anything in me. But my grandparents, whom I spent a lot of time with, from that, the love of my heritage really grew and I really tried to do what I can to give back what this country gave to me and my family.

SHEIR

That's why he joined up with the American Hungarian Federation, an interest group representing the Hungarian-American community. It’s also why he joined The Diplomats.

DAWSON

A lot of folks have seen movies about the importance of music to the folks stuck behind the Iron Curtain. David talks about how he was not allowed to listen to rock and roll and so he would practice in secret. When I was in Hungary in '89, I was amazed by all the little clubs that were popping up, the little jazz clubs and salsa clubs and young people coming in just hitting the piano. And so it's an amazing experience to sit here in freedom and play rock and roll.

SHEIR

Not that The Diplomats just play rock and roll. They do blues too, including a tune inspired by Bryan Dawson's father. It's called "Baby Blues."

SHEIR

The band hasn't recorded an album, though it hopes to eventually. It also hopes to expand its Washington venues beyond the embassy.

SHEIR

So you do think maybe you'll like play gigs around town?

DAWSON

We're looking for a manager. Rebecca? 10 percent in for you, just for you.

SHEIR

Yes?

VEISZ

We are looking for an audience, guys, out there.

SHEIR

Yes, there is that.

SHEIR

And part of the reason they want an audience so badly, says Akos Veisz, is to lift that shroud of mystery that's surrounded diplomacy through the years.

VEISZ

There is a part which has that secrecy and intimacy. But on the other hand, you have something else as well, which is the people-to-people diplomacy or public diplomacy. To understand the civilization of two countries, you know, to have a better understanding at the end of the day. And part of this effort is the rock and roll, what we are having here with The Diplomats.

SHEIR

Because ideally, Veisz says, this public diplomacy will bring the world together so it can sing as the old tune, "in perfect harmony." The Diplomats will be performing in Sarasota, Fla. at the 6th Annual Hungarian Festival this weekend.

SHEIR

So we're going to go back in time now to one of the most important diplomatic periods in our nation's history. Arguably that would be the founding of the United States of America. The revolutionary era was fertile ground for big ideas which were passed back and forth between the founders of our country and other big thinkers overseas. And these men also exchanged something else, seeds.

SHEIR

That's right, seeds. Environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour wanted to learn more about this early plant diplomacy. So we called up historian Andrea Wulf, author of the book "Founding Gardner's," at her home in London.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

Of all the lenses we can use to look back on our colonial and revolutionary history, why this lens of gardener? What does it bring us to look back at the founding fathers as gardeners and farmers?

WULF

They called themselves foremost farmers and gardeners. They didn't see themselves just as politicians. Their most important, kind of, profession was being a farmer and I think when you actually you'll see that in almost every single letter they write, they will mention their soil, their trees, their plants. So, it was incredibly important for them.

WULF

It's just been a little bit written out of history because for a long time it didn't seem important because they are these haloed revolutionaries, these kinds of god-like figures and for a long time maybe looking at them as farmers, who, for an example, obsessed about manure, was just not very referential.

BEN-ACHOUR

Let's talk about Benjamin Franklin. I mean, you draw an analogy between the independence of the colonies and the independence that comes with living on a farm. He made self-sufficiency of the colony a big priority of his. Can you give me some, tell me some stories about that?

WULF

Well, so at that time, Benjamin Franklin is in London as the agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly but he very quickly becomes a kind of spokesperson of all colonies. And he says, If we just produce everything ourselves, then we don't need Britain and, you know, we become self-sufficient. So he, I mean, literally frantically begins to send seeds of possibly good crops over to America from England.

WULF

He suggests that in America we can kind of brew our own tea. We don't need to have the tea from the East India Company. We can kind of make it from other things. And so the self-sufficiency becomes incredibly important and that's all based on agriculture in America, in the colonies.

BEN-ACHOUR

Yes, what kinds of things did he send over?

WULF

So, for example, he sends over rhubarb, he's first the send that over. He sends over kohlrabi, he sends over Scottish kale. So he sends useful vegetables over. He sends over the Tallow Tree from China, so he's not just sending stuff he can, you know, which he gets in England. He actually gets in England from other countries.

BEN-ACHOUR

Ben Franklin wasn't the only one to sort of have this idea of the farmer as the driver of the new colonial economy?

WULF

Yes, and for example, look at Thomas Jefferson, for example. He says that the introduction of a new useful vegetable of a new species to America is the greatest service you can do to your country. And when he judges at the end of his life, when he judges his services to his country, he writes a list because he's an obsessive list maker, he always writes lists.

WULF

So he writes this list which obviously includes writing the Declaration of Independence but on the same list, he also includes that he introduced upland rice to the southern colonies, which he had smuggled under the threat of the death penalty from Italy while he was in Europe.

BEN-ACHOUR

Virginia, for example, was basically entirely clear cut several times over. Something that James Madison bemoaned. Were the founders environmentalists as we think of it?

WULF

Well I would argue that James Madison was. What he didn't do is, he didn't suggest that man had to live in kind of, you know, misty-eyed harmony with nature as maybe the romantics later did. But what he said is that nature was a very fragile ecological system that could be easily destroyed by mankind, which is what he had seen happening in Virginia through the felling of forests but also through tobacco cultivation and then he basically said something really extraordinary.

WULF

He said that man had to return to nature what he took from nature. You know, this was a time when most people still believed that God had created plants and animals, nature, entirely for the use of mankind. So at that time he's actually saying we cannot expect that nature can be made subservient to the use of man.

WULF

And he said that man had to find a place in nature without destroying it. so to me, that very much sounds like, you know, what environmentalists are saying today and I mean, in my book, I'm arguing that he's really, Madison's the forgotten father of America's environmentalism.

SHEIR

That was environment reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour, speaking with Andrea Wulf, author of "Founding Gardeners." You can find more information on Wulf's book and her speaking tour, which will bring to her D.C. later this month, on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Okay, so if you're an avid Public Radio listener, you've no doubt heard of StoryCorps. It's the oral history project that gives Americans the chance to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives. Well, StoryCorps has set up one of their mobile booths right here in our region, in Arlington, Va. and over the next few weeks, we'll be airing some of stories recorded at that booth.

SHEIR

We begin with Tanya Renne and her partner Cindy Morgan-Jaffe, who've been together for 14 years and are raising five kids. Cindy says her life dramatically changed when she left a heterosexual marriage. Her world was given another jolt when she and Tanya decided to have a baby and ended up with twins.

MS. CINDY MORGAN-JAFFE

Before meeting Tanya, I was married for 14 years to the father of my three beautiful daughters. So...

MS. RAPHAELLA BENNIN

Do you think you're up to answering the question of what it was like to come out for you?

MORGAN-JAFFE

When I moved into a homosexual relationship, there was a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty and anxiety around what is happening to me. And I remember I went to a story down in DuPont Circle called Lamda Rising and there I found myself thinking that all the alarms were going to go off and there were going to be arrows pointing at me. And I went over to a table and there was a book called "Married Women Who Fall in Love with Women."

MORGAN-JAFFE

It was like it was sizzling there and I wanted to pick it up, but I was terrified to bring it up to the cashier. And so I just checked out the page and headed out of the store.

MS. TANYA RENNE

And then we had seen each other at this mutual friend's house and that's when we started, you know, I don't know, moving around each other and seeing...

MORGAN-JAFFE

Dating.

RENNE

Dating, I guess, yes, dating 14 years ago.

MORGAN-JAFFE

And when we got together, we bought a house together and we decided to go ahead and tried to have a child. And so, Tanya, you want to tell the story about how we found that it was twins?

RENNE

Well, so we did get pregnant very quickly and I had my first sonogram and I was only 31. We hadn't used any drugs at all. There were absolutely zero chance of twins and I went to the maternity center in Bethesda and we were going to have this, you know, birds tying ribbons in your hair sort of home birthing experience, you know, all that stuff in a four-poster bed or whatever.

RENNE

And so on a Monday morning, you know, when you go to the sonogram, Cindy, who's seen three sonograms, I who was just concerned about not peeing because they make you drink all this water, was lying there and Paulette, the sonographer, first thing out of her mouth was, well, there's two in there.

RENNE

Cindy, cue the water works, immediately starts crying. And I look at Paulette and said, so how long have you been doing this? And she says, 15 years. And I thought, my God she can't possibly be wrong. And I have to say that in the moment that she said it, I was thrilled and then the next moment we were just petrified.

MORGAN-JAFFE

And of course, I started crying immediately because it was astounding news and exciting and all that but also just one more big change really and I remember my mother, who had been a wonderful mom through all of this with a divorce and then you're with a woman now. And there we were adding twins to the package and what could be better. And I would say that those incidents are fairly typical of our lives.

MORGAN-JAFFE

I mean, we really do live a very conventional life, but we've been, you know, managing a blended family and we've had a lot of challenges.

SHEIR

That was Tanya Renne and Cindy Morgan-Jaffe speaking at the StoryCorps booth in Arlington, Va. This story was produced by "Metro Connection's" Raphaella Bennin. To find out more about the StoryCorps mobile booth in Arlington, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jonathan Wilson, Sabri Ben-Achour, Kavitha Cardoza and our brand-new superstar reporter, Jacob Fenston. Jacob, welcome abroad. Our acting news director is Meymo Lyons. Our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Raphaella Bennin. Lauren Landau and Raphaella Bennin produce "Door to Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts" and our "Door to Door" theme "No, Girl," are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

SHEIR

Also on metroconnection.org you can find our Twitter and Facebook links, you can read free transcripts of stories and if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing by clicking the this week on "Metro Connection" link. To hear our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or find us on iTunes.

SHEIR

We hope you can join us next week when we'll be testing out a little Trial and Error. We'll go inside a court case that's causing a big rift between local farmers and environmentalists. We'll meet a woman who's trying to teach middle schoolers how to try and try again in the kitchen and we'll do some theatrical mold breaking with the folks at D.C.'s Studio Theater.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ONE

Sometimes you'll find a play that's unfinished or that feels particularly experimental or noncommercial but you feel passionate about producing it.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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