Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Inger F. Sheinbaum
SHEINBAUM: Nope. We went straight to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Gil had been appointed Director of the Colombo Plan. Now that was leaving the Foreign Service. And that was a wake up call. I had asked Gil to go to Denmark and spend a week at my mother's place with the children while I would go out and set up house because I figured it was easier that they stayed in Denmark, and it was much easier for me to move about in Colombo on my own and to fix up the house, which I did. And that was (laugh)...I realized that when I had left the Foreign Service there was no GSO and there was no backup system and there was no wives club and there was no CLO. Wake up! But I met the nicest person who became a very dear friend to me — Jim Spain — who was the American Ambassador in Colombo. And he didn't know me from anywhere. He knew Gil. But when he had heard that I was coming to town he said, “well, if you don't mind, you know, you're very welcome to, you know, stay in my guest wing because I have this very big residence and it's just me.” His wife had died recently before that. And I couldn't, I could never forget that human kindness. I mean, he didn't have to do that. I was not one of his Embassy responsibilities. But Jim invited me in. And I promised myself at that point that I'm going to repay this favor somehow. I stayed there while they were working on our house because my biggest problem was that the Colombo Plan kept saying, “Master isn't here, can't paint.” “Can't get plumber.” “Can't get electrician.” I said, “Yes, master says can get plumber, can get painter.” I'm here to help so that when he comes he can start work, help me find these people! They wouldn't help me. There was no way they would do it because they didn't know that it was Okay with Gil. And I had no way of finding out how. And I decided, well, I'll pay it all. I'll pay it out of my own funds and then I will get reimbursed once Gil gets in. And I had the house pretty much re-wired, painted, cleaned up, by the time he arrived eight days later. But Jim Spain's and my friendship just grew and grew from there on. His wife had died before he came to Colombo and we used to see a lot of him at home — he became sort of a family member.
And before I left Colombo, I was very concerned about the hospital that I had been administrating and been the Director for five years — if that would sort of go down the drain, and all the work that we put into that, if that would be wasted. So, in the meanwhile, Jim Spain had retired in Colombo and decided to stay out there. So I asked him, “Jim, how would you like to run my hospital?” He said “I'm not a nurse, I'm not medical.” I said, “no, but you were well known in the community and you're well respected and that way I know if something happened to you, they would look after you.” And he accepted that, and that was a very good arrangement. But that was sort of the Foreign Service collegial. I mean, obviously, at the time when I arrived, he invited me in because he had known Gil. I mean, it was the Foreign Service family feeling.
Q: Did you really feel so “out on your own” as a detailee to an international organization. Did you feel like you were not part of the State Department? That you didn't have that support system at all?
SHEINBAUM: We were in the sticks. I mean we were way out. Everything that we got from the State Department later was because of my working at the Embassy nurse as a backup.