Deb MacLean, spokesperson of the United States Embassy, speaks of the fond memories she has of Nigeria and the similarities between its people and Americans as she departs for her new posting. She spoke with Damilola Oyedele
What would you be doing if you were not a diplomat?
Before I joined the Foreign Service, I was doing sales and marketing. My degree and background is business, I have a marketing degree so I was working for a translation company and an advertising agency. If I did not enter diplomacy, I would probably be doing something like that but I had always wanted to live abroad, and I thought working for a large corporation would take me abroad. At one point I was in a job where the pay was just okay and paid the bills, instead I entered the Foreign Service. I took the Foreign Service exam which is what we do to get into our diplomatic corps and I passed. I decided to give it a shot, and ten years later, here I am. It is an honour to represent my country, my family and my friends doing this job.
Do you enjoy the moving around that comes with the job?
Yes. I moved around a lot when I was younger, my dad was in the Steel business so I did not know anything different than moving around. It’s a great way to clean out your closet (laughs). I am a bit of a nomad and this is a fairly easy lifestyle when it comes to moving. It is hard to leave the friends that you have made, but fortunately due to communication technology now, it is a lot easier to keep in touch than it used to be.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Canada, my parents were living there while my dad was working on a steel project. They are both Americans though. We later moved to California. We moved around a lot when I was younger, but we stayed for a while in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for six and a half years so I consider there my childhood home. Fortunately I come from a very loving and close family; just my parents and myself so it is a small family but it was great because my parents instilled in me a love for my country. Family vacations involved travelling around the US. Both my parents travelled extensively before they got married and then my dad’s job took them abroad often. But when I came along, they said it is better for me to see where I come from and understand my country before I travel abroad, so we had all our vacations all around the US.
What schools did you attend?
I studied marketing at the University of Notre Dame in South Bent-Indiana. It is the premier Catholic University so I have a lot of pride for my alma mater as most people do. It was a great education because it also instilled a lot of ethical values and morals to adhere to, not just book learning.
You have been here for a little over two years. What was your impression before coming over?
Nigerians themselves know that Nigeria has a little bit of a bad reputation outside for being home to a lot of people who do scams and problems with corruption. Not having been here, my husband and I came with an open mind to see what the real Nigeria is versus what people think is Nigeria. We are both leaving with the realisation (like anywhere else in the world) of what the government does and what the people are which are two different things. Nigerians have this zest for life and this ability to live in what I would almost say is controlled chaos. While it is difficult to live here, people are doing that and I think that is just absolutely tremendous - the resilience, the creativity, the colour; I just love how vibrant it is here.
Did you get to make local friends?
I did. Admittedly because of my position, it is a little more difficult being a spokesperson at the embassy, so I had to be more careful. I was probably a little choosy if you will call it that, but we did make some very good Nigerian friends and we leave with an overall positive impression of Nigeria.
How many places did you get to visit outside Abuja?
I was in Sokoto recently for an overnight trip. I was able to visit Plateau, Adamawa, Taraba, Nasarawa states, Kano I visited a couple of times, Katsina, Lagos, Port Harcourt. I did not get to see as much as I would have loved to. I did not make it down to Calabar. I’m disappointed I did not get to do that, but sometimes you have to leave one thing to bring you back. I was not able to visit the South-West also, the opportunity never quite presented itself but that just means I have to come back to see what else is there. I look forward to getting the chance to come back here, maybe not immediately but in a few years down the road and see how things change because things change so rapidly here. I know there are great things to come.
Did you notice any similarities between Nigerians and Americans?
Absolutely, Nigerians and Americans are very ‘loud’ in a good way. Although some people would say it is obnoxious, but I do not see it that way. It is more of an appreciation and a comfort level in your own skin and embracing life. Both Americans and Nigerians are like that. While Americans have a separation between church and state and we really try to uphold that, many Americans are religious and very spiritual and Nigerians are also very spiritual people. There are a lot of ties that bind us together in our makeup.
As the link between the embassy and the press, what is your impression of the local media?
I describe the Nigerian media as aggressively friendly. The media itself works really hard to try to remain objective and report the news despite some difficulties. It is extremely friendly and extremely approachable but also not afraid to ask the difficult questions that need to be asked. I appreciated that not only as a reader of news but also as someone who had to work with the media. So I have been impressed. The Nigerian media made my job fun; it was a very good challenge over all. I loved my job here.
What do you do when you are not working?
We like to go to Mogadishu to get grilled fish, we did that a lot and a lot of it was socialising with our friends that we did make here. There were not many restaurants that we enjoyed so it was mostly socialising with our friends at homes, golfing, tennis and other activities like that. It was a lot of just forging bonds with our friends.
Your husband is also a diplomat. Did you meet through work?
My husband and I met while we were in Jordan and we got married while I was in Copenhagen, he was in the States at the time, then he came and joined me. He was in the military, then he retired and so we were here together..