United States Ambassador David Huebner presented his credentials to then-NZ governor-general Sir Anand Satyanand in 2009. He returned to the US this week and, here, he writes of his time in New Zealand and Samoa:
I knew when I arrived in Wellington in 2009 that the time would come to depart. What I didn't know was that my term would fly by so fast. I have been here for more than four years, which is longer than usual, but it really only seems like yesterday that I walked down the street from Camperdown to Vogel House to present my credentials to the governor-general.
Since then I've enjoyed traveling extensively throughout New Zealand and Samoa, spending about 50 percent of my time on the road. Of course I've been to Parliament and MFAT, but I've also spoken at more than 100 secondary schools; appeared on university campuses dozens of times; judged beauty pageants, agricultural exhibitions, and student science competitions; toured with a gospel choir, a hula troupe, and the Marine Band; hosted pep rallies and tailgate parties; trained with rugby teams and military units; preached in church; tweeted and blogged; and otherwise veered off the beaten path as frequently as I could.
In my view, I was appointed ambassador to all of New Zealand and Samoa, not to a tiny subset of these countries. I was sent here to represent the real United States to the real New Zealand and Samoa, not to reinforce old patterns and stereotypes, replay old conversations, or accept old constraints. I have thus tried my best to do the whole job, expansively and creatively defined, rather than settle into a narrower, more traditional, or more comfortable rut.
In the process, I have certainly learned a great deal, developed a thorough appreciation for the peoples and cultures of my host countries, and formed large numbers of friendships that I know will last a lifetime. I have also probably annoyed some people because being different and direct can cause discomfort, change can be disorienting at first, and having a real conversation certainly requires more effort than just grinning and nodding.
So, were the past four years well spent? That's for others to judge. I do hope that I've done a few things positive, useful, and sustainable while I've been here. I hope that I've broadened the conversation, swept a few pebbles off the path, energized a few folks who will be leading us in the coming decades, and helped redirect the bilateral focus forward.
As Robert Louis Stevenson said so wisely, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant." I look forward to seeing what grows in the future.
What I can say with assurance is that as a result of the commitment, hard work, and generosity of many hundreds of colleagues and counterparts, bilateral relations are deeper, stronger, and warmer today than they have been in decades, and perhaps since the crucible of World War II when values-based relationships were sorely tested and proved their power and worth. It has been a great honor, privilege, and pleasure to serve with those colleagues and counterparts.
As that great American philosopher Oprah Winfrey has said, "Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo. What you really want is a friend who'll take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." That's the kind of relationship our societies have always shared, whatever the vagaries of the day and even in cash-and-carry times.
Although I am returning to private life for now, I will remain a vigorous advocate for the relationships I have been blessed to help steward over the past four years. I look forward to remaining active in the ongoing conversation, and to working to make sure that all voices are heard, not just those that shout the loudest, spread the most money around, or claim particular entitlement.
What I can also say is that I've had a wonderful time. Although it's been hard work, and not every day has been warm and fuzzy, I would not trade the past 50 months for anything. I have loved exploring the depth and beauty of New Zealand and Samoa and getting to know so many extraordinary people. I am sorry to be departing.
I am tempted to share a few highlights, but I can't really bring the list down to manageable size. With so many transformative visits, new programs, joint projects and exercises, historic anniversaries, and exciting or moving events, there is simply no way to choose. So, I'll just refer you back into my blog - DavidHuebner.com - and leave you with a sincere thank you.
Thank you for embracing Dr. McWaine and me so warmly, and for making our time here so rich and memorable. We have made many life-long friends, and we will return.
Kia ora & fa'afetai tele lava. E le galo oe i le agaga. Kaati ake i konei, maa te Atua koutou e manaaki.
- Mark Gilbert has been nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Ambassador David Huebner as US Ambassador to NZ and Samoa.
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