Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Douglas K. Watson
WATSON: Yes. I had asked for assignment either to Mexico (my first choice), Bolivia (my second choice) or Spain. I was instead assigned to Cairo, which gave me and my wife some pause. As a matter of fact, the gentleman who was my counselor in the Junior Officer Division, Fred Day, the Friday before I was to have gone into French language training for Cairo (since they wouldn't assign you Arabic training unless you were a “demonstrated” language learner), called me and said they would instead like me to go to the Arabic language school in Beirut, and to study Arabic for two years, which gave us even more pause. That wasn't really down my alley; I had had Spanish and Latin America in mind. We had resigned ourselves to go to Cairo, and first to study French. So I said to Fred, who was a wonderful fellow, something along the lines of “No, I won't do that. It doesn't make any sense.” He said, “Well, your language aptitude is very high,” which it happened to have been for that famous test, the MLAT (Modern Language Aptitude Test), where I had simply had a good morning and scored high on the test.
So, off, indeed, we went to French language training, 16 weeks of it. Unlike most language learners, at training's end I scored higher on the verbal than I did on the reading and translation portion of the examination. At the end of those 16 weeks, with a 78 MLAT on the scale of 80, I earned a three in speaking, but only a two plus in reading. Consequently, I would have to continue French language training in Cairo.
We had quite an arrival in Cairo, a city and country I really hadn't been quite prepared for. I felt when we debarked at the airport that I was indeed in a foreign country. It was a marvelous first overseas experience. Driving in from the airport, night just having fallen, with the embassy driver and our welcomer, FSO Jim Robb, whom I remember well and favorably, describing the sights and scenes of Cairo, amidst crazy, careening, honking traffic. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel for two nights on El Tahrir Square, not far from the Semiramis Hotel and not far at all from the embassy, then located in the Garden City section of Cairo.
Q: This must have been in late 1966 or early 1967.
WATSON: We arrived in March of 1967. My tour lasted just 12 weeks to the day. We evacuated mission families owing to the Six Day War at about ten weeks after our arrival. Many of us stayed on another two weeks, a core staff, including relatively junior officers.
Q: What did they have you doing when you arrived?