Monday, January 07, 2008

The Week When Nothing Worked

This was the week when nothing worked. It started on the weekend when the car I was supposed to receive from a rental company failed to show up. Our Procurement Section has arranged to have a rental car delivered to my house every Friday evening and picked up again on Sundays. After ironing out the details all week long, I sat waiting for my first car like a kid on Christmas Eve. It turned out that the phrase, "your car will definitely be delivered tonight, sir" didn't actually mean that my car would be delivered that night, or any subsequent night either. Language nuances, communication mix-ups, cultural misunderstandings, gross indifference, who knows?

On Monday morning the telephone at my house died and, apparently, in its death throes took my internet line with it. That caused me absolutely no concern for two reasons, a) this sort of thing gets fixed very quickly by my able and competent staff in the Housing section and b) I worked an eighteen hour day that day and had no real need for either the phone or the internet. Senator Lieberman arrived for his visit and I spent most of the day working with the inevitable changes to his schedule. Islamabad received its first rain of the season and the cold rain came as a welcome relief in this dusty dry country. I spent most of the day with wet cold feet, but that's just part of the territory. I was a bit surprised when I got home just before midnight and discovered that the phone/internet was still out and I made a note to remind the guys to look after it in the morning. The rain on the roof was quite soothing and I slept like a baby.

On Tuesday my hot water joined the phone and internet in what was, apparently, a sympathy walkout. I showered with invigoratingly cold water and set off to work shivering but wide 4:00am. Our second group of visitors, three congressmen led by Congressman Mitchell, arrived and I spent the day shuttling between their schedule and Senator Lieberman's. I got back home just after 11:00pm, noticed that the phone/internet was still out, washed my face in wretchedly cold water and hit the sack. It had rained all day and while I slept my cold wet shoes were drying out by the heater. The heaters were warding off the damp cold and I slept soundly for five solid hours.

On Wednesday I had hot water!!, but still no phone and the lights went out, well technically they never went on. Sometime between midnight and my driver arriving at 5:00am the electricity joined the phone and replaced the hot water on the walkout list. I got dressed in the dark which explains the tie I chose that morning and left for work in a hammering thunderstorm. I got home late and the phone was still out. At least one call a day had been put into the maintenance folks and they assured me each and every day that it would be working that same night. They lied. However, someone had made my electricity work again. Unfortunately, the heaters were now in the non-functioning mode so the house was pretty cold but I climbed into bed in my sleeping bag and passed out. The rain pounding incessantly down on my roof was no longer soothing.

On Thursday morning I didn't give a damn. I got up in time for my 4:00am pick-up and began the busiest day on the schedule. Phone still dead, heaters gone, hot water (shamed into solidarity) now back on strike and, when I climbed into my waiting vehicle all the lights in the house went out as the electricity died again. Senator Lieberman left on an early morning flight and the rides to and from the airport were uneventful. Congressman Mitchell was due back into Islamabad from a side trip to Afghanistan in the early afternoon so at about noon we saddled up and headed back out to Chaklala.

They say it was the worst storm in Islamabad in five years. I was sitting on a highway in Pakistan in a blizzard not moving an inch. The drivers in our motorcade were very excited and I was happy for them, but we were not going to be on time to meet our VIPs so I wasn't quite as happy for me. We position expediters at the airport to assist us so I just called our man on the scene and asked him to meet the delegation, put them in the lounge and explain that we were on the way. His response was, "Sir, they are already here, they are in the lounge and they are fine".

We arrived at Chaklala thirty minutes later to learn that they were not in the lounge, they were not at Chaklala, in fact, they were not in Pakistan at all. They were still on the ground in Afghanistan. Language nuances, communication mix-ups, cultural misunderstandings, gross indifference, who knows? For the next three hours we received a continual stream of incredibly bad information. At one point we were informed that the Afghan controllers had handed them off to Pakistan but that the Pakistani controllers could not make contact with them. During the half hour that we lost contact, in truly nasty weather, with a small aircraft containing three U.S. Congressmen for whom we were responsible I instructed anyone who would listen to refer to my colleague Alex as "Second Secretary Whittington, the man in charge of this congressional visit" and to refer to me as "a low level embassy functionary" without using my name. Of course, as soon as it was determined that they were safe I became, "Larry, the guy who got the motorcade to the airport on time in the worst storm of the decade". I got home very late, I couldn't care less what was or wasn't working and I went to sleep. It had rained and/or snowed all day and my mood matched the weather.

On Friday Congressman Mitchell and his group left. I got up at 3:00am to see them off and watched the sun come up over Islamabad as we headed back from the airport. By midday my phone/internet was working, the hot water heater had been replaced, my generator had been fixed and all my heating units were up and running. My Vonage phone seems to have died, but I'll deal with that in good time. I had three hundred unanswered work related emails on my queue and most of the afternoon free to read through them.

From Monday to Friday I logged over 75 hours covering two very successful congressional delegations and a third, also successful, VIP visit. The guys who work for me took care of business and I ended the week in a position to catch up by putting in just a couple of hours in my office over the weekend. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining on the Margalla Hills across the street from my house. Best of all, the car rental company has promised me that my "car will definitely be delivered tonight, sir", so I have that to look forward to.

Sunny downtown Islamabad!

This is a link to a video I made about the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery. The video is grainy and small because the file was huge and I had to reduce it substantially to upload it to Yahoo Videos.

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