2002. I’m in Turkmenistan, my first job that requires ongoing negotiation with government officials. I am in the anteroom at the Ministry of Health, for my introductory meeting. I am very, very nervous. Natasha, our project manager and my translator for this meeting watches me fidget. She tells me, “I will translate what you say, and if I don’t understand something, I’ll just stop and ask you.” I calm down. She’s literally not going to let me say anything stupid.
Rural Turkmenistan, beginning a long gauntlet of meetings with doctors, hospital directors, and local health officials. They are good, friendly meetings that build our rapport and help our programs succeed, sometimes catch a small problem before it gets big, but they get tiring after a while. I sigh a little as I get out of the car. My colleague Zulfia hears me. “Alanna,” she says, “just keep smiling that American smile.”