Society

At home across the world

Andie De Arment. Photo: H. Vibhu

Andie De Arment. Photo: H. Vibhu  

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A look through Andrea (Andie) De Arment’s Twitter feed is a refreshing exercise. Rather than the socio-political hue that colours the tweets of most diplomats, Andie tweets about people she meets, places she visits and things she eats, with the occasional retweet of some material which gives a hint of her designation: Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai. In town for a conference organised by the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), she spoke at length about her work in Asia, her India experience, and her family. Excerpts from an interview:

You’ve spent a significant part of your career overseas, what kind of work did you do?

I started out as a lawyer and then worked in Shanghai, Poland and later for the American Bar Association, Africa, combating human trafficking in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. After joining the U.S. Department of State seven years ago, I worked in Indonesia, Pakistan and Cuba before coming to Chennai three months ago.

What is your role in India?

We work on many different areas such as cultural exchange programmes, U.S. speaker’s programmes on topics ranging from energy and foreign policy to gender-based violence, as well as the grants programme, which is what helped facilitate this conference. The title of Cultural Affairs Officer can be misleading, as we are involved with a lot of different areas.

What has the India experience been like for you?

I’ve really embraced this part of the world, the food and the hospitality and the clothes. But it is the history that fascinates me. I was at Mattancherry and visited the Jew Synagogue, which was built by people who came here centuries ago. In comparison the U.S. is such a young country.

The hospitality and politeness of the people of South India was also new to me. Even in Cuba and Pakistan, people would often challenge me when speaking on U.S. policy and the like, but the audience here are so polite to the point where I say, “come on, I know you have tougher questions for me!”

As an objective outsider who has worked in India and Pakistan, what is your view of the dynamic between the people?

I have always looked at it from a human perspective more than one focused on foreign policy, and the people have this wonderful natural curiosity about each other. When I came to Chennai, I met a woman who was born in Pakistan and came here after the Partition, who was fascinated that I had the opportunity to live and work in the place where she was raised and hopes to visit again. And friends in Pakistan have introduced me to their friends and acquaintances in India. There are so many areas where the two countries can cooperate.

What is one area you would like to see these countries focus on that has potential?

I think the environment is quite important right now, with the Lima climate change talks and the upcoming climate change conference in Paris. A lot of people do not realise the impact pollution has on the economy, such as the effect on the public health sector. So I believe this is important not just for India, but the rest of the world to focus on as well.

Any updates on the work you do as far as the India-U.S. relationship is concerned?

It’s a very exciting time to be working on the relationship between the two countries, with the recent Prime Minister’s visit and the upcoming Presidential visit. We are now in a period of unprecedented cooperation between the two nations on topics like energy, environmental policies, education exchange, trade, women empowerment and so on. We are working on providing more opportunities to students, and not just Indian students, there has also been a six percent increase in American students coming to India. Of course there will always be some bureaucracy where foreign relations are concerned but we try to be as transparent as possible and promote our activities over social media.

This is your first visit to Kerala, what are your impressions?

It’s a beautiful place. Ever since I came to Chennai, people have been asking me to visit Kerala so I’m excied to finally be here. The greenery, the waterways and the history are all amazing. I’ll be attending the Biennale and also the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in Thiruvananthapuram, so I’m finding time to enjoy the place between the requirements of the work schedule.

How do you spend the time when you’re not working?

I like to be with my family. My husband is from Karachi and we have a nine-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son, so there’s always music and dance going on. We play cricket too, and though I’m not a good bowler I can hit a ball let me tell you!

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 1:04:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/at-home-across-the-world/article6690996.ece

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