Face The Sun: Let There Be Light!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are exclusively those of its author, and are not in any way meant to reflect the opinions or policies of the US Government.

Past Travelogues.

Finland, Estonia, Petersburg

Kirovograd, Ukraine


Tirana, Albania

Macedonia & Romania

Budapest to Bucharest

Balkans and Poland.

Christiania, Copenhagen.

Northern Norway

Northern Finland


Kashgar, briefly

More to come, Inshallah, as I go through old paper travel journals.

The DC experience, archived.

July '05
June '05
December '05
October '04
More to come should interesting things happen to me. Ever.

Blatent Plagiarism

The nation's largest chain bookstore has indicated that, due to lack of consumer interest, it has stopped selling books.
--Frederick Raphael, The Glittering Prizes

I feel this is the equivalent of a surgeon, skipping through a radiology department singing, 'I don't have cancer, I don't have cancer!'
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

Mum is crying with her faced turned away from me, gulping and honking like an injured seal. And I'm rolled up in the back seat wishing the old man would stop the car and make her walk. That or buy her a fish.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

I love it when well-educated women sweaar -- the words regain their original power and meaning when delivered unexpectedly with so much poise.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

She lived with her mother, who looked like an old labrador, and an old labrador.
--Will Self, Great Apes

When I was small and would leaf through the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Dore, I saw the Lord God sitting on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious.
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Quality is merely the distribution aspect of Quantity.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

...In the frank brilliance of the bright sun, which, as we all know, is the friend of heroes.
--Jose Saramago, All the Names

He stuttered so badly that you could go out and buy yourself a chocolate bar while he was wrestling with an initial p or b; he would never try to bypass the obstacle by switching to a synonym, and when the explosion finally did occur, it convulsed his whole frame and sprayed the interlocutor with triumphant saliva.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

To Stand on Jericho's Walls and Face the Sun.

Friday, September 30, 2005

I've submitted my bid list. It was nerve-wracking to put it together and I'm TERRIFIED to find out where I'm going but it's in and that's that. It's below as was submitted, which means I'm not bothering to go through and make it not all caps. The thing after city name is the job I'd be doing in each of those place. The divisions between the three paragraphs are the divisons sent in for high interest, medium interest, and low interest.

I find out where I'm going in exactly two weeks. I am: terrified.




Posted by Dakota on 6:51 AM link |

Monday, September 26, 2005

Another tidbit from the land of NQR:

We've got a high-level senior policy maker visit in the works. This ain't anything out of the ordinary: high profile people are constantly zipping by Pakistan. This one, however, is tinged with hilarity, in that he asked us to come in over the weekend and work overtime, to draft thank-you letters that he could drop his electronic signature into and hand back to us. There's nothing I enjoy more than spending my weekend working to thank myself for all the hard work that I'm doing.

Posted by Dakota on 9:25 PM link |

Thursday, September 22, 2005

As undoubtedly the world was hanging on the edge of their chair, waiting and wondering, I can go ahead and let you off the hook: have ye no fear. The good people at Motorpool (specifically, Mr. John) were able to repair my tire. (It's worth noting that in Urdu, formal address for someone is Firstname Sahab, and this translates often into the same in English. I am thus Mr. Dakota. This concept will appear again on the blog, no doubt).

Anyhow, how did Mr. John do this? I have no idea. What did it cost me? $3. They wanted to charge me a buck fifty, but I insisted. Big spender, I am.

That said, tire aside, this has in general been a week of things breaking. Specifically, I woke up on Tuesday to hear my chokidaar (Shaukat, of gardening fame) jiggling the hot water heater like a madman. As I too am a gigantic fan of the fix-by-shaking method, I assumed that the hot water heater was broken. I was correct.

It's Thursday. It hasn't been fixed. Formerly I was a capital-F fan of the cold shower. Lived in Indonesia, nothing but cold water in a basin and a scoop to pour it over myself with. The mandi, it's called -- the scoop itself is technically the mandi, but that now translates as the whole bathing experience.

In Indonesia, have you had a bath? is a politeness question, implying that the host is generous, bathe all you want, we've got water! The people in my house would ask me -- have you had your bath? And I'd say yes! Yes I have! Thank you! And then they'd lean in and ask -- your afternoon bath? And I'd feel like a filthy disgusting creature because I would usually only bathe twice a day, until I eventually got into it and couldn't handle anything less than 3 a day.

Anyhow, the point of all that was: I used to thrive on the cold shower. These days, your ol' pal Dakota has gotten a little soft.

I'm still showering daily -- but really only once a day, and even that is a difficult pill to swallow. Last night I showered at the gym -- the water pressure is unlike anything else I've ever experienced, more or less shoved to the floor and stomped on (great, great shower), and I'd certainly be willing to make a habit of it except that the good people at the gym didn't feel the need to spring for stalls. Mind you, I'm as in favor of communal showers as the next guy on tiim-saya (hey... namsilat!) but it actually makes me kinda uncomfortable that the ambassador could walk in on me, stark naked and pinned to the floor by a fire-hose like shower.

So my shower: broken.

On top of this, on Saturday I told my domestic help (Shakeel, his name is -- most people here use the term servant (including Shakeel himself), but it makes me unbelievably uncomfortable, so we'll stick with domestic help, there is nothing long with a euphemism from time to time, thank you) that I thought there was a mouse in my house. In Urdu it only rhymes a little bit, so it didn't sound quite so comically Dr-Seussian as "there's a mouse in my house!"

I was able to surmise this when: 1. I saw a mouse in my house, and 2. I went to get an oreo and discovered that SOMEONE had eaten off the top cookie and all of the filling from one. I thought to myself: I, too, Mr. Mouse, enjoy eating the filling out of the cookie and leaving the chocolate part behind.

Shakeel told me: give me some money and I'll take care of it. I gave him a fistful of cash (technically it was just one bill, a thousand rupee note ($16.67), but that's still a fistful of money here). I also immediately forgot that I had a mouse and that I had given Shakeel a fistful of cash to take care of the problem.

Shakeel works 3 days a week: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. (For this, I so completely overpay him it borders on ridiculous). Tuesday night I worked late late late -- some 7:30/8ish, left work after over 12 hours there, doing mindless paperwork. And I stumbled in to my apartment, excited to microwave some leftover rice (Pakistanis do amazing things with rice) and lentils (Pakistanis do amazing things with lentils, too -- this was Tarka Daal, and who doesn't love a good Tarka daal?).

I waltzed into my kitchen and damn near crapped in my pants when I realized that Mr. Mouse had nibbled his last of milk's favorite cookie and expired with a broken neck in a trap that Shakeel had, for some inexplicable reason, seen fit to put right smack in the middle of the kitchen counter, devastatingly close to the coffeepot.

I was horrified by this. I don't think I can communicate the degree to which I was horrified. Let's just say that I was horrified enough to play a fun game called "that mouse is not there, if I ignore that mouse for long enough (until Thursday, let's say) then Shakeel will take care of that mouse, the mouse does not exist, I'm going to have some lentils now." It was a great little game, except that it didn't work and generally made me a little bit gaggy while eating said lentils (which are delicious except when you're hiding in the dining room because even though you normally eat in the kitchen you've been pushed out by the newewst tenent of the kitchen who is, quite frankyly, unbearable). I decided to put off facing the mouse (demousing, if you will) by going to the gym, but I was sort of haunted by it even while pounding on the treadmill, because even though it was disgusting (and god knows that mice carry CRAZY diseases and virii like hanta and lhasa and whatnot), it was, if you ignored it's disgusting tail, kinda cute, in a dead mouse kind of way by the coffeepot kind of way.

I debated briefly asking Shaukat, my gardener and chokidaar extraordinaire to take care of it (come ON, dude, you're a PATHAN, ethnic Afghan with a fiery streak, you were Frontier Constabulary, that's like DELTA FORCE in Pakistan and on top of that you made the friggin' COMMANDO CORPS, you've showed me your pictures before, you were fierce, FIERCE! SURELY you can take care of a little mouse for me! Because I'm an American and, by extension, a gigantic pussy who's both a little bit nauseated and a little bit scared (nay, terrified!) of that thing that's hanging out WAY TOO GOD DAMN CLOSE TO MY COFFEE POT!).

I decided this option was untenable.

Finally I just dealt with it -- wedged the trap open with the blunt end of a spoon (don't think about it too much, the spoon was washed 600 times with a heavy duty scouring powder before being mixed back in with the other spoons so that I can never know which one it was and have prejudice against it forever) and let the thing fall into the trashcan with a tragic thump, thereby freeing up my coffeepot for use the following morning.

My coworkers asked -- that's disgusting, why the hell didn't you just throw the mousetrap away and have Shakeel by you a new one, or, if he's so keen on reusing it, have him fish it out of the trash?

But that struck me as western decadence and I couldn't bring myself to do it. (The mousetrap was 30 rups. That's an even 50 cents, and let me tell you: 30 rups's don't just grow on trees! 30 rups will get you a plate of rice with daal, and toss in another 10 and you've got roti to go with it! 50 cents will go DAMN FAR in this nation!).

But now I'm having all these issues thinking that maybe Shakeel (who left me a note in Urdu, but handwritten Urdu is, let's be perfectly honest here, impossible) had intended for me to throw the thing away and is now thinking -- are you honestly so friggin' cheap that you won't spring another 30 rupees for a mousetrap? What in god's name is wrong with you?

So it's all giving me a complex.

On that note, it's late at night now, (tonight was my first ever official diplomatic reception) and it's raining and I still need to go to the gym, so I'm gonna sign off, but more from me as time permits.

Enjoy your day.

Posted by Dakota on 10:55 AM link |

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The much needed update: yes, I SUCK at softball. Is that what you wanted from me?

Dakota played the part of the outfield where the balls don't go. I don't know if that's right field or left field (if you're at the plate looking out, it's right field. If you're in the field looking at the plate, it's left field. This sport is idiotic), but that's certainly where I was.

Number of balls that came to Dakota: two. Number that he caught: one. Of the balls that he caught, number that were slowed down when they hit the second baseman's glove and bounced off: one. Of the balls he didn't catch, number of times that the intimidatingly physically fit namsilat (hey... namsilat!) at first base shouted "Miss it!": one. Impact that had on Dakota's ability to catch a rapidly falling softball: none.

Baseball gloves are idiotic. If you're not raised with one, grow up playing stupid games like catch and whatnot, then all the do is impede your ability to use your left hand. And who the hell catches anything with their laft hand anyways? Ridiculous.

Number of beers Dakota had in the field: 3. Corona just tastes BETTER when you're outside.

Batting history:
1. Fly out.
2. Fly out, but shazaam! That's the definition of an RBI!
3. Hit! HIT!! First base, baby, FIRST!
4. HIT! Dakota's on first and FLYING around the corner and then there's second and the Colonel's screaming STAY AT SECOND but Dakota's not listening and then BAM! we're at third and we've beaten the throw and OH! was that unexpected! Bam! BAM! And then the next batter hits and Dakota's flying towards home and SCORE! SCORE! SCORE!

Good times.

In related news, my ENTIRE BODY is sore. So out of shape it hurts. Literally.

Posted by Dakota on 10:19 PM link |

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Saturday, 17 September 2005; 1500 to 1700
Frisbee with the Marines

So -- frisbee with the marines (and a few others from around the embassy -- maybe 60 percent military) is a damn good way to pass an afternoon. That said, let's get this out of the way: these people are intimidatingly physically fit. Like, pick a sport (any sport) and they'd of course be excelling at it. Couple that with the fact that a lot of these people ran seven miles up a mountain this morning and you'll see that I (pork chop) emphatically do not fit in.

But no seemed to give a shit at all. It was really just an opportunity to be in the sun and run around like you're eight years old, even if you're old enough to have already made Colonel.

Hilariously, everyone uses titles on the field. "Colonel, I'm open!" "Gunny! Down field!" Good times.

The marines addressed me as sir. I of course told them to knock that off, but I think we all know exactly what I'm thinking here: (Hey... namsilat!)

Tomorrow: softball. Did GERMS vs. Corp softball prepare me for this? I say: perhaps.

Posted by Dakota on 6:55 AM link |
It's Saturday, which here in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is Saturday. And I'm at the office. I'm here by choice -- volunteered to come in and open the office so that a maintainance crew could do some work in the waiting room. The reason I volunteered was to avoid running up a mountain with the ambassador, an activity that often makes the Marines throw up all over themselves. I'm pretty much in favor of a good chuck-run from time to time, but decided I needed more time to prepare myself.

Next time, sir. Next time.

Sadly, this whole treadmill thing is just not working out for me. At all. What IS working out for me is the Pakistani cafeteria on the compound. If you eat your food on the spot they give you a plate (a luxurious plate), but if you get your food as takeaway it comes in little baggies with no plate or fork to save on production costs (they pass the savings on to you, the customer). My boss (slash partner in food-crime) and I now have pie-pans* in our respective offices so we can get takeout Pakistani on a daily basis and not have to worry about securing a platform from which to consume it. A baggy of food will run you from 15 to 50 rupees depending on what you're eating (ie whether there's meat involved or not). Which is to say, somewhere between 25 and 80 cents will net you a heaping plate of rice and something obscenely delicious (deep fried vegetables, chicken, lamb) floating in sauce.

I would currently describe my body as muffin-shaped. My boss/food-crime-partner likewise describes herself as walrus-like. (She's not actually walrus-like and (unlike me) has an impressive dedication to the treadmill. That said, excerpt from one of her emails: I'm tired, I want to eat even though I've eaten too much today, I don't feel like gyming even though I am walrus-like. I think this is a DEFCON-5 type situation.). But there's something about running in stasis in a six million degree room with nothing to entertain you but a TV that only appears to play news pertaining to NASCAR, and an iPod that, once you hit mile 2 or so and the boredom is CRUSHING you, insists on playing only slow Johnny Cash songs and soft classical, all of which make you lose focus and fall off the treadmill, an action previously described as a social disaster.

When I woke up this morning (blinding hangover -- more from not-much-sleep than from too-much-drink) I stepped out side to hurry to work to begin my escorting duties, when one of my guards ('guard' in Urdu is chokidaar (it rhymes with pokey car), a word which I find very mellifluous and will be using in place of guard from now on in this blog) informed me that I had a flat tire. I had a spare, so no problem on getting to work, but it was the first time I've had the thought: shit. I'm in Pakistan, and have no idea how to fix this problem. I know where to buy tires in the States. But in Islamabad?

Problem has yet to be solved. I'm at work and can't leave. Problem will inshallah be solved today.

The chokidaar who informed me that my tire was flat more or less wouldn't let me change it. "You'll get your clothes dirty," he said, and took the jack out of my hands. I insisted on helping some, but he did the majority of the work. I thanked him profusely and gave him a bottle of cold water afterwards. He claimed there was no need for thanks -- "you're a guest, in Pakistan," he said.

His name is named Shaukat, and he was the primary cause of a minor tiff which occured between him and another one of my guards. The other chokidaar (Khan) claimed that Shaukat was doing too much around the house, because he was not only doing the gardening but also washing my car. Khan wants to wash my car every day and leave the gardening exclusively to Shaukat. I agreed to this proposition.

Having my car washed daily costs me a thousand rupees (rups ("roops"), we tend to shorten it as) a month. Which is, $16.67 a month. I could get away with paying the gardener the same amount, but I pay him twice that because he's always outside watering things and planting things and trimming things and whatnot. The only other domestic help I've opted for at this point is a Dhobi, whose primary function is to keep my clothing clean and pressed.

My clothing has never been so clean or fresh, and it's GREAT to wake up and never have to scrap for something to wear or (worse) have to iron before work. He also cleans the house and does the dishes. He's offered to cook if I have a party, but he doesn't cook for me on a regular basis. For these services, I WAY overpay him, at 9000 rups a month -- $150 US. But his wife is pregnant and I feel partially responsible for her well being, so 150 a month it is.

I opted against a driver (can't imagine having someone at my beck and call all the time -- that would be horrifically awkward), but I'm thinking about getting a cook, largely just because I CAN. 3 times a week or so, having food appear in my fridge -- I think that would be survivable.

My Dhobi is extremely obsequious, which I detest, but there's no easy way to tell him to be less simpering. I think his last employers pretty much expected him to kiss the ground they walked on. He's been unemployed for a while and is pretty desperate to keep this job, so he keeps up the obsequiousness -- referring to me constantly in the third person as Sahab (sir, but with self-denigrating sort of spin), bowing all the time, that sort of thing -- not realizing that I'd be a damn lot happier if he'd knock it off. But he used to work for some of the Marines once upon a time (at least, according to his job letters) and he's retained their obsessive-compulsive tendencies vis-a-vis clothing, so my shirts and pants are impeccable at all times.

I've got plenty more to say on the topic of house and home and life and whatnot here in I'bad, but I've got a mountain of paper that ain't going anywhere, so it's time to chop-chop get to work on that. More from me as events unfold.

*Pie-pans are GREAT to use as plates. Comes highly recommended. Not as much as I would recommend those huge stainless steel bowls I found at Target that SOME people were too fastidious to eat out of JUST because they were intended to be used by dogs, but still, highly recommended.

Posted by Dakota on 12:08 AM link |

Sunday, September 11, 2005

This morning I was driving to work, varying my route as normal, and so I was on the big road at the top of the city right where the city hits the mountains -- and the radio station (we only have one -- 89.0, City 89 FM, the Best of the West -- a surprisingly good radio station, and thank god because as mentioned, it's the only one we've got) was playing Uptown Girl by Billy Joel (so I knew in advance that today was going to be a good day), when at the next intersection, I passed by A CAMEL grazing on the side of the road, and I thought to myself - what kind of alternate universe am I living in that I pass by camels on the way to work?

And then Uptown Girl was followed by These Boots Were Made For Walking, and it's like all my Christmases came at once.

Posted by Dakota on 9:49 PM link |

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pakistan. British colony means cars on the left, steering wheel on the right, opposite of the US and everything that's innately familiar about driving as we know it.

What they don't tell you about right-hand drive is that everything is mirrored. Everything. So while I do occasionally find myself driving on the wrong side of the road (this morning leaps to mind), what's more of a problem is that every time I want to signal an upcoming turn, I actually flip on the windshield wipers. When I want the rear-view mirror, I look up and to the right, and all I see is the car door. The mirror's to the left. It seems simple, but this is physical memory and there's NOTHING you can do to overcome it.

It gets worse, though. Driving on the left means that in social situations, you walk on the left as well, which means that my very worst accidents thus far have been mid-sidewalk collisions with other people. At the embassy they seem to understand that if an American is barreling towards you on the wrong side of the sidewalk, it's best to just step off and let them pass because they have no idea which side etiquette dictates they walk on.

That said, let me tell you: the 1996 Toyota Sprinter is a sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeet ride. Disappointingly, she's an automatic, but I actually think that if I'd have been thrown into this sort of driving (similar to dodgeball, but more like dodgecow and dodgemuslim) with a stick (to be operated with my left hand, with first gear on the far right and 5th on the far left), I'd have long since been killed.

Posted by Dakota on 9:15 PM link |

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

There's a long post coming, a this-is-life-in-Pakistan sort of post, but every time I sit down to write it I think no-not-now, and it's quickly becoming one of those things where I'm thinking it might never get written, but it will, inshallah, but rather than waiting for the time that's RIGHT to write it (no-not-now) I figure that I should maybe sketch out some of the vignettes that are sort of floating through my mind. You know? Ultimately, any one of these little paragraphitas could become part of a larger email home, but for now, it's just a sort of now-or-never sprint to record Pakistan as I see her, before I stop seeing her because of familiarity.

Vignettes to follow.

Posted by Dakota on 9:47 PM link |
Current Location:
The People's Republic of China.

Stop by any time: everyone's welcome.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem to Be Born

Comments and requests for dates should be directed to email.

And here I am.

And for all you random folks out there whom I don't know, for the love of god, email me. I'm abroad, know no one, and look forward to hearing from you. I'm especially looking at YOU, whomever YOU are who's Facing The Sun all the way from Kenya. And Sweden. And Canada. And whatnot.

Books Tackled, 2006:

1. Jarhead, Anthony Swofford
2. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Dennis Covington
3. A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
4. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, Anonymous
5. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism, Dawn Prince-Hughes

This year's movies, in chronological order:

1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. A Wrinkle in Time
3. Pi: Faith in Chaos
4. My Big Fat Independent Movie
5. The Winter Guest
6. Voices in Wartime
7. What Dreams May Come
8. Farewell My Concubine
9. The Ring
10. Like Water for Chocolate
11. Sahara

Foreign Service Officers by day, Bloggers by day as well.

The Diplodocus
(Islamabad, Pakistan).

The Permanent Mission of Joshie
(Zagreb; Libyaward).

Prince Roy
(Chennai; Taiwanward).

Sue and not You
(Tbilisi, Georgia).

Life on the Mekong
(Vientiane, Laos).

FSO Globe Trotter
(Lahore, Pakistan).

Vice Consul: Diplomatically Transformed
(New Delhi, India).

Adventures in Good Countries

Our Man in Tirana
(Tirana, Albania).

Anne's Blog
(Kazakhstan; Greeceward).

(Bogota, Colombia).

Furnish Worldwide

Tasman's World
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

(Lome, Togo).

World Adventurers
(Seoul, Korea).

Aaron Martz

A for Adventure
(Chennai, India).

The Excellent Adventures of Nickie P
(Paris, France).

Permanently Disco
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Consul At Arms
(Kingston, Jamaica).

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