Friday, June 13, 2008

Mule Thief!

There are only a couple of things that annoy me about Islamabad, which really isn't too bad because this is, potentially, a pretty annoying place. Because the government can't produce enough power to meet demand, they shut power off to different parts of the city at different times of the day. This is known as 'load shedding' and no matter where you live or work, you share in the regularly scheduled power outages. These outages, set up to last for about an hour at a time, would be very annoying if we didn't have generators at our homes.

Fortunately, we do have generators so when the city turns off the power in our neighborhoods, our generators kick on and the lights, appliances and (most importantly) air conditioners turn back on. So load shedding itself doesn't particularly annoy me. I recognize how fortunate I am to have a generator and I know that life is pretty miserable for people who do not have them.

No, the annoying thing about load shedding is that my dvd player shuts down when the power goes off and forgets where it is in the movie. It seems to be impossible to time it so that I can watch a movie in between power outages, so any movie I try to watch quits twice and I have to search for the spot I was watching when the power died. Trivial, I know, but annoying none the less.

The other annoying thing, to me at least, are the bombs. I confess, even if it's culturally inappropriate, that I don't like people who set off bombs around innocent civilians. I find it especially irksome when they target diplomats. The most recent bomb was detonated in front of the Danish Embassy to express displeasure with some political cartoons that ran in Danish newspapers several years ago. No Danes were injured in the attack but many local people on the street including a young boy were killed or badly injured. The brave souls at Al Qaeda, who immediately took credit for this latest bombing of an unarmed unsuspecting populace, were fairly dribbling spittle into their beards in excitement over their 'great victory'. I was at the Embassy at the time of the blast and learned about it through the grapevine at work. The Danish Embassy is not located with us on the secure diplomatic enclave. Many nations have established their embassies, missions and representatives in the spacious and elegant housing found throughout Islamabad. The Danes are in a very nice residential neighborhood about fifteen minutes from the enclave. To be specific, they are in my neighborhood. In fact, they are one street behind me.

I got home that night to find that my back door, the one facing the street with the Danish Embassy, had been blown in off its hinges by the pressure wave from the blast. The wave then went through my house and blew every single window outwards. Not a single other thing was damaged and, much more importantly, none of my guards were injured. The guards said that the blast was quite loud but not so bad that it hurt their ears. In all, we had eight houses damaged to more or less the same extent and our maintenance people worked all night to get them boarded up and secured. Glass and doors can be replaced and we're fortunate that none of our folks were hurt.

So, for the week it took to replace the glass and door it was a bit like camping out. The mosquitos certainly believed that was the case. Replacing the glass was a more complex task than measuring, cutting and plugging-in because of the security grills covering every single window opening. All the grills had to be cut off then re-welded into place after the glass was installed. However, all the work's been completed, all the mosquitos have been evicted and we're operating under heightened security rules...again. Ironically, this bombing came on the heels of the current Government of Pakistan's insistence that negotiating with the terrorists was effectively bringing peace to the country. If you can't trust the word of people who use suicide bombers to kill children, you could begin to lose your faith in diplomacy altogether.

This is how all my windows looked immediately after the blast.

When all your windows are boarded up, it's a little like living in a cave.

I stole a mule today. In an incredible lapse of good judgement I purloined the DCM's mule. All I can say in my defense is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Before I'm hanged as a mule thief, a word or two of explanation is in order. 'Mules' are Kawasaki all terrain vehicles that are used on the compound like golf carts. GSO (my section) has one mule for sure and another who's ownership is debated. We feel it's ours and the DCM insists that it's his. For those of you unfamiliar with the hierarchy of an Embassy, the DCM is the Deputy Chief of Mission, second in command only to the Ambassador herself. So, our 'debate' has, up until today, consisted of us muttering under our breath and never in his presence, "it's really our mule" and him stating emphatically, out loud and directly to us, "keep your damn hands off my mule!". He took both the keys to the mule called Paco (all the mules have names) and that would have been that if we didn't have the ability to make duplicate keys. Reasoning that sometimes he's away and we might need Paco, we had a set of keys made just as a precaution.

Today, Saturday, the temperature and the humidity were climbing and Chuck and I needed to go from Post 2 down to the commissary. It's a long walk on a hot day and Luci, our undisputed GSO mule, was being used so we looked for Paco and couldn't find him. Chuck is our Housing Coordinator, an ex-marine and a fellow about my age so he and I hiked down to the commissary grumbling every step of the way. On the way we passed the Facilities Maintenance building and spotted Paco parked neatly by the barber shop. One of us suggested that since we had the spare key with us we should just take 'our' mule back especially since it was unlikely that the DCM was on the compound anyway. Chuck agreed. Just to be safe, we peeked into the barber shop and determined that DCM Bodde wasn't there. We hopped onto Paco and drove to the commissary.

As we exited the commissary loaded down with groceries we ran smack dab into the DCM looking exactly like a man who's mule has been stolen on a very hot day. He saw us and said very quietly and with great purpose, "who stole my mule?". Chuck and I immediately pointed to each other. The commissary is right next to the Maintenance building (where the DCM had been in a meeting...who knew?) and the fact that we hadn't actually left yet for Post 2 probably explains why I am still a Foreign Service Officer. He confiscated our spare keys and left us to walk back to Post 2.

Lita asked me to wear a shalwar qamees to her "Outta Here" party.

Cricket and baseball have some similarities, apparently this batting stance is not one of them!

This is a Punjabi grain chest. The farmers in the Punjab used these chests to store their winter grain. This one is about eighty years old and has been refinished and converted into a wine cabinet.

Chuck and I have agreed that the next time we steal Paco we'll have a spare license plate along to switch its identity.