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Rafer and Me, in Kabul and on Network TV

February 17, 2013

Jazz DeCou

As Ernesto Uribe told the Public Diplomacy Alumni Blog, public diplomacy officers sometimes end up in the big time world of show business. Jazz DeCou, retired from USIA and now living in France — colleagues may remember him as Jim DeCou — tells how his USIS work with American Olympic decathlete Rafer Johnson landed him on the popular early network TV show “This Is Your Life.

One day at the Agency in ages past when I was in the last stages of preparing to ship out to Laos — a country where a conflict was in progress involving three princes and their respective factions — I stepped into the hallway to be confronted by a lady employee who said, “There you are, Mr. De Cou” Had she thought I had been in hiding?

She continued, “Hollywood has been trying urgently to contact you.” I was dumbfounded. To be sure I had been in a high school play twenty years before but had no drama experience since then.

I called back the telephone number I had been given and was greeted by a voice with a charm that did indeed have something Hollywoodian about it. The voice informed me that the TV series “This Is Your Life’ was going to pay tribute to Olympic champion Rafer Johnson and that they wanted a segment about his experience in Kabul, Afghanistan, which he had visited under State Department auspices.

“This Is Your Life” had learned that I was involved with his program in Kabul and would like to have me on the show to speak about Rafer’s stay there. The show would make all the arrangements for transportation to Hollywood and my lodging there.

So, suddently, instead of heading to Laos I was going to Hollywood. My departure to Laos wold not be delayed by the Hollywood interlude.

On the show appeared Rafer seated next to Ralph Edwards with an album telling Rafer’s life story. Ralph described his life in episodes. He would then say, And here is So and So to tell us more. I was introduced to tell about Rafer In Kabul.

As a JOT (junior officer trainee) at USIS I was the Embassy’s de facto sports affairs officer, inter alia. One day at USIS we learned that our post was being offered the services of Olympic champion Rafer Johnson. This was very exciting news to me. Rafer Johnson would symbolize the enormous importance our country attached to friendship between our two countries. He was one very great celebrity.

I had only minutes to say something about Rafer in Kabul, so I spoke of his appearance on independence day in the country’s largest stadium where the audience included, inter alia, His Majesty King Zahir Shah. It was pure coincidence that Rafer was in Kabul for independence day and his appearance was ad hoc. His was not the only event staged but it may have been the most unusual as he was the only foreigner to perform.

All that was such a long time ago. Should we try to remember it? Afghanstan was one of the poorest countries in the world and least known. I rarely met anyone who had ever heard of it.

But while Afghanistan was then a very poor country, it was a country where signs of progress were everywhere. Afghanistan was breathtakingly beautiful with the world’s most invigorating air. Maybe the air was invigorating not just because of atmospheric conditions but because there was so much hope in the air. Although a rugged people they also loved poetry and music and flowers. I guess that what I remember best was that there was so much laughter.

I wonder how much there is now.


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