Ever heard of a travel "warden"? Probably not—though hundreds of them are employed by our own U.S. State Department at embassies and consulates all over the world, where they perform invaluable services for American tourists who are in various stages of mishaps.
Travel wardens are simply volunteers. They are usually Americans living abroad in locations near our various diplomatic outposts. They have offered their helpful services out of a sheer desire to be of aid. They are numbered in the hundreds, and are found at most, but not all, U.S. embassies and consulates.
A travel warden offers to help when an American traveler has encountered problems and needs assistance. A tourist is taken to a hospital, for instance, and needs assistance in talking to and dealing with local doctors whose English is slight. A tourist is robbed, loses all of his or her money, and needs food and lodging before aid from home arrives. For these and numerous other situations, the local U.S. embassy or consulate calls on a nearby warden to immediately come to the aid of the tourist.
Why don't embassy or consulate personnel themselves provide that assistance? It is because, as I myself have seen, most embassies or consulates are understaffed and under siege, their personnel unable to leave the offices of the embassy or consulate.
Recently, on a cruise of the Canadian maritimes, my wife and I witnessed the pressure on U.S. consulates when we visited one in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to deal with an expired passport. It was like coming to a heavily-armed fortress. The outer door was locked. You first communicated with personnel inside via an intercom. About ten minutes after the first contact, an armed guard came to the door and required that my wife divest herself of all bags and parcels before going inside while I took those belongings downstairs and waited for her interview with people inside. With the lesson of Benghazi in mind, it was obvious that U.S. diplomatic personnel were unable to accompany us to any location outside for the purpose of overcoming an emergency.
Why isn't the availability of helpful wardens publicized by the State Department? (I, for one, had never heard of the function.) It is probably to avoid the wardens being overwhelmed by tourist problems. I learned of those Samaritans in the course of a radio interview with a Washington Post reporter who had written a helpful, lengthy article on the subject. And I am now pleased to give the subject even broader dissemination.
Next time you encounter a difficult situation in a foreign country serviced by an American consulate or embassy, consider asking U.S. diplomatic staff whether they might contact one of their wardens to come to your aid.