A legend has passed.
Ruth Siems, creator of Stove-Top Stuffing, I mourn thee.
Posted by Dakota on 10:08 AM link |
Those of you who've had your eyes glued to the television, searching for all things Pakistan related in the news, might've noticed a blurb recently about a Donor's Conference which took place here in sunny Islamabad. Pakistani leadership coupled with the UN leapt on the opportunity to collectively thump the world on the head for the lack of generosity in donations for earthquake relief. Participants in this particular conference included Kofi Annan, Pervez Musharraf, and your ol' pal Dakota.
Specifically, I was tagged to be the Site Officer, a catch-all term at the State Department which means "individual who fixes problems, or at least presents the appearance of having fixed them so that VIPs don't know that there was a crisis to begin with." My only specific goals for the day were: 1. to enter the big meeting room early on and plunk down "reserved" signs on 8 seats next to or near the delegation head's chair, and 2. to open the American delegation meeting room and "hold down the fort."
So then: I arrived at 7:15 a.m., armed with a solid grasp of the Urdu language and fistful of "reserved" signs which I had made (expertly, I must say -- courtesy of the department of education, my xeroxing prowess is unmatched) the evening before. I was frisked on arrival (this is nothing uncommon -- one must pass through metal detectors and undergo various types of patdowns almost everywhere in Islamabad, including the bank, the Marriott and other hotels. The lingering hands of the sometimes overzealous off-duty military guards are really as close to any action as I get here in Pakistan).
The convention center in Islamabad, a drab three story neo-Soviet-bloc affair with shades of the 1970s for good measure, is circular; the majority of the bottom floor (the center of the donut, if you will) is the primary meeting space. I charge for the door, ready to plunk down reservation signs. A throng of military gentlemen with very large guns and an unfriendly demeanor block my way.
There are two types of cajoling that a person like me, playing the role of diplomat, can undertake in Pakistan. I went with my preferred sort of cajoling, broad smile, big handshake, Urdu greetings, we're all friends so let's be reasonable, sir, I've got a job to do and so do you, but my job is to get inside of that room and put down these reserved signs, so let's get on with it.
Few approaches to armed guards, in the long and storied history of armed guards, have failed so miserably as this particular attempt to get inside the meeting space.
I decide to try another door. The conference center, as previously mentioned, is a big donut, so I head upstairs, trudge around the building, and plunk myself back on the other side. I try the other cajoling approach to getting past armed guards, an approach I detest but which occasionally will work here in the extremely classist Islamic Republic of Pakistan: Sir, *I* am with the UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT, and am here on orders from VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE and MUST get into that room RIGHT NOW to put down these reserved signs or HEADS WILL ROLL, both yours and mine, you don't seem to understand WHO I AM, and furthermore do you have any concept of how much money these people are about to give to the poor earthquake victims, let me inside.
Ironically, at that point we also had no idea how much money we were giving to the earthquake victims -- we were waiting on word from Washington for the final total amount (in the end, $510 million).
Crash. Burn. Apparantly keeping the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan (both of whom survive assassination attempts on a regular basis) alive and well was of consdierably higher priority than letting some bratty kid ("Dakota") into the central meeting space. With no luck in plunking down the signs, I pass them off on the newly arrived High-Level Visit Coordinator, and head upstairs to secure the American Delegation Meeting Room.
The American Delegation Meeting Room is locked! I again spring into action. In a veritable flurry of activity, I start asking guards everywhere -- Where can I find the key to room 106? I need to get inside NOW!! One finally takes me aside and says: you'll need to go to the control room. I ask where this is, he sighs, stands, and takes me there.
Now, mind you, he and I haven't been speaking English. In fact, despite the fact that this is an almost-ridiculously high level meeting, the majority of the guards speak very little English, and he and I thus far had been communicating exclusively in Urdu. So, I was rather surprised when he waltzed into the control a few paces ahead of me and announced to everyone present, in Urdu and with a wave in my direction, "I've got fucking Whitey here, and I don't know what the hell he wants."
Fucking Whitey wanted to respond -- "Fucking Whitey understood that!" -- but decided that in the name of key retrieval, I could swallow what little dignity I have and just roll with the fucking whitey punches.
Two minutes later, F.W. headed back upstairs to hold down the American Delegation Meeting Room. Keys arrived shortly thereafter. Mission: accomplished.
It was shortly after 8 a.m. The Meeting Room, stocked with bottled water and granola bars, filled with State diplomats, USAID observers and press staff and dignitaries and whatnot, Diplomatic Security Agents, and etc. By 8:30, they headed out to the bleachers on the third floor, to witness the proceedings going on below.
I am left alone for the next 7 hours. This is my contribution to the Donor's Conference: I ate the majority of the granola bars, and drank approximately 4 liters of Nestle Pure Life bottled water.
Finally, at 3:30, they break for lunch. I am not invited to lunch. I do not have the appropriate color badge to get lunch. I have consumed my body weight in Granola Bars, all three varieties including the somewhat nasty cinnamon kind, and wild horses couldn't stop me from getting lunch. I wait until lunch is halfway over, assuming correctly that the ticket takers and badge checkers will have gotten bored by that point, and assuming a look of hurried righteousness, breeze through the doors into the land of biryani and Sikh kebab.
God bless biryani. And all things that aren't granola.
Lunch ends. Everyone who isn't me leaves, to hold press conferences, to accompany VIPS to the airport, to type notes on the important proceedings which I didn't get to see. I am asked to stay behind for the working groups, because someone is going to need to write a cable about these things, and no one else wanted to do it. They promise that motorpool will be waiting for me at 6:30.
I sit through a stunning hour and a half working group. The next day, a sunday, I trudge to the office and hammer out the most stunning three paragraphs the world has ever seen, entitled: Livelihood Creation and Rehablition Working Group, Pakistan Donor's Conference 2005. Read it again. Let the goosebumps settle in. Chills.
I depart the building at 6:30. Motorpool: nowhere to be seen. Someone generously loans me their cell phone, I call the embassy, a car arrives, and I wash my hands of the affair.
So then, that's been my life in a nutshell. Those of you who've been wondering why I haven't written in a while can reference the above paragraphs and note that there's been not too much noteworthy going on.
The best of days!
Posted by Dakota on 6:22 AM link |
It is Friday, the 18th of November. It is my 80th day in Pakistan.
And as of today, Friday, the 18th of November 2005, I am, for the first time since apporximately my freshman year in college, I am officially free of debt. Amount I owe to visa: Zero dollars.
Some would say that I am not debt free, in that I still owe a damn fortune in student loans, but to those people I say: bah.
It is Friday, the 18th of November, and I am FREE.
Posted by Dakota on 6:47 AM link |
Update on the KFC: It was the BLA. The Balochistan Liberation Army is sort of like a minority's minorty, the smallest of the small. It's basically a group of rich landlords, complete with slave-like serfs underneath then, who fear that encroachment by the Pakistani government will lead to the destruction of their "tribal culture and lifestyle," i.e. the domination of the poor by their rich and often cruel, power-drunk overlords.
Exactly why they went for the KFC is as yet to be determined.
(In all fairness, they're claiming that the KFC was an incidental loss, and that they were going for government offices above the KFC. I maintain that it's an intrinsic dislike of KFC, an establishment already solidly confirmed as wonderful).
This morning on the drive to work, as I rounded the corner turning off of my street, the sunlight hit the back of my neck in such a manner that my whole body was warm and tingly, and I was overwhelmed with one of those sappy it's-good-to-be-alive, it's-going-to-be-a-great-day sorts of feelings.
It's now 9 a.m. Normally by this time I've cleared the cases left from the day before who had some internal system function pending overnight, and have started or am about to start my first of 30 to 40 interviews for the day.
But today for inexplicable reasons the computer system is not responding to anyone, and the Pakistanis whom I work with have entered an understandable panic, because there are 68 people in the waiting room who've come from as far as Karachi to see us, and there's nothing we can do without the computer. And on top of this, the Ambassador is bringing down a fleet of people for a tour of the section at 10 a.m., mandatory for anyone who does visa referrals (which, incidentally, is not my side of the house, but nonetheless, it's certainly adding to the morning).
As as update, it's now 4:45, and despite the sunlight dappled neck of the morning, it's been a hell of a day.
The ambassador did come down to the consulate, but I didn't notice him, as I was too busy yelping in Urdu at one of my applicants to even see him there. But supposedly the man loves to see people putting their language skills into use, so perhaps that won me some brownie points.
Doubtful, but perhaps.
I would kill for a brownie right now. More from me soon, inshallah.
Posted by Dakota on 10:56 PM link |
They always go for the KFC. I don't know why. This is bomb number three in a Pakistani KFC in 2005. Which is a rather impressive track record, all things considered.
Kentucky Fried Chicken in Pakistan packages it's buckets and wings and whatnot in bags that feature the smiling mug of the Colonel and the words "Proudly owned and operated by PAKISTANIS." As far as anti-bombing campaigns go, it has been less than effective.
We are still allowed to go to the KFC in Islamabad, despite this. Number of times I've been: two.
Number of times it made me throw up: one.
Anyhow, this blog post is a brief shoutout to the fact that I am fine, post bombing, and to remind you all that Karachi is 1000 kilometers from Islamabad. No need to worry about me.
Transcript of the conversation with daddy concerning the bombing:
"Dakota? Are you all right?"
"Yes, dad, I'm fine. I'm 1000 miles from Karachi." (An exaggeration, but I figured that this was not the time for the metric system).
"Ok, good, good. So... is Karachi in Pakistan?"
So that's really what we're dealing with on the home front. More from me soon (particularly regarding a little place called "Bangkok").
Posted by Dakota on 8:01 AM link |
We all know that Dakota is pretty much synonymous with passive-aggressive, sure. And we've all got our little quirks, yes, that goes without saying. But my current passive-aggressive war isn't going at all as one would hope it would. And by that I mean: US Embassy Islamabad goes through a damn lot of toilet paper. The gentleman in charge of keeping the bathroom clean is also in charge of replacing the toilet paper, and despite the fact that I change it EVERY TIME HE PUTS IN A NEW ROLL, he continues to 1. not notice, and 2. still have the roll in the holster in such a way that the toilet paper falls down the back instead of the cascading over the front as god intended HAYSUS do I HATE that STOP DOING THAT.
Posted by Dakota on 6:33 AM link |
He named her Leila. For the love.
Posted by Dakota on 6:30 AM link |