As a child, Ursula was very good at inserting herself between two warring factions: namely her male siblings. As the middle child she knew enough to take a moderate, balanced and neutral stance in family disagreements while still holding her own and protecting her interests (namely a lock on her bedroom door to protect her from her younger brother and an occasional ride to the mall from her older brother).
Yes, even as a child, Ursula Upright was a shrewd negotiator, willing to take some chances with her own personal safety in order to keep the family structure intact.
And so it was simply the path of least resistance to apply for a job in the Foreign Services after she received her degree in political Science (with a minor in Economics). Although it was a grueling process, as a solid French speaker with exceptional references, and as model of good health and clean living, Ursula was accepted and was given her first assignment: Fiji.
It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.
Although she was surprised to find herself in this South Pacific island nation comprised of more than 300 islands (and where French is not one of the three languages spoken there), Ursula stood up straight, held her head erect, whistled a happy tune…and flew the 14 hours to Suva, Fiji.
Now that she’s been with her first assignment for six months, Ursula feels she’s getting the hang of the job and a feeling for the people of Fiji. Every day she makes a point to eat at least one meal outside the embassy, to be able to visit with the various Indian shopkeepers and eat with some of the local people and their children (Ursula was surprised to see so many Indian people; she assumed that Fiji was mostly full of… native Fijians. As it turns out, when the British ruled Fiji, they brought with them thousands of indentured servants from their other colony takeover, India. Now it’s the Indians who own most of the businesses, the Fijians patronize them and the country as a whole seems pretty stable.)
Ursula lives about three miles from the American embassy and each morning a car comes to drive her to work. At first she was embarrassed about this—she felt like some sort of movie star being driven to the set—but she soon came to accept it and even look forward to the conversations she would have with her driver, Tanoa, a Fijian who keeps her abreast of the local news of the day.
On the way to the office, Ursula looks over the morning’s activities: first a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new gymnasium, funded by some Fiji-Americans, followed by a press conference for a visiting dignitary from Samoa, another island country near Fiji. (The two countries have had to settle several differences over the years and the U.S. Embassy is helping to ease the tension a bit by bringing mid-level leaders of the two nations together occasionally. Ursula isn’t sure anything is really working because the nations are comprised of such incredibly polite and friendly people that it’s hard to tell when someone is angry or upset.)
Then Ursula has planned to take a visiting Australian cultural attaché to lunch at one of her favorite spots. They have a larger issue to discuss—human trafficking within and around the South Sea Islands—but as Ursula is known for her polished style and friendly American ways, she thought a casual lunch might be a better way to launch into what may turn out to be a difficult conversation.
As it turns out, it was. The visiting Australian had never even met an American, let alone shared a meal with one, but once he was in Ursula’s calming and focused presence, he began to warm up to her and they spent the afternoon discussing the issue at hand.
The late afternoon was surprisingly open. But just as Ursula was getting ready to call Tanoa, she was informed by her boss, the secretary for the Ambassador to Fiji (who was out of the country visiting relatives in the U.S.), that an elderly American couple had recently shown up at the embassy scared, wallet-less, purse-less and without passports. Apparently they’d been robbed while touring, by boat, several of the inhabited Fiji islands and were scared witless.
Her wits have clearly left her.
Ursula went down to the main floor and personally greeted the couple who seemed mighty relieved to see what appeared to be an American face, and took them into her office. She asked her assistant to bring in some tea and cakes, calmed the couple down, and started the measures to ensure they got new passports and that the old ones were invalidated. Ursula also provided the couple with some money in order to be able to get home safely, and personally helped them change their flight plans (they were ready to go home a few days early).
All in a day’s work for Ursula Upright. And as she and Tanoa headed back to Ursula’s apartment, Ursula wondered what assignment might be coming her way next; she was told it could come anytime and be anywhere. Ursula secretly hoped it would be somewhere north of Fiji, this hot, sweltering place. Although she had learned to love it here and would miss the personal and professional friends she’d made, Ursula was ready—and even anxious—to keep the adventure moving.