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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Those of you who've been following along at home (and by that I mean: people I've called) know that tomorrow evening, I was slated to go to Karachi to hold down the fort in the wake of large absenteeism by the American staff there.

As of today, 2 pm ish: Karachi has been cancelled. This is killing me for a variety of reasons -- 1. No trip to Karachi, and 2. another week and a half of processing immigrant visas, to be followed by several more months of processing immigrant visas.

Killing me.

Posted by Dakota on 6:42 AM link |

Monday, February 27, 2006

There are again some visitors afoot in the Embassy. Each visitor is invariably assigned a Control Officer -- something of a misnomer, since really, they control us rather than the opposite. A good friend of mine has been tagged as a control officer for this visit. Last night I received a phone call from her, and the following conversation took place:

SHE, in a very professional sounding phone voice and calling from an Embassy extension: Hello? Could I speak to Dakota please?
DAKOTA, unenthusiastically, knowing that something was up: Yes, Hrub? What can I help you with?
SHE: ...
SHE: Uh... what size shoes do you wear?
DAKOTA: Thirteen.

It seems that one of the people she's acting as control for had a suitcase full of clothing, shoes included, that's currently not so much in Sunny Islamabad as still in Chicago. This morning he had some high-level meetings for which tennis shoes would've been less than appropriate, and she went on a hunt for something in his size.

And here we are. I, in my office, wearing hiking boots that only sort of match the cream-colored pants I've got on, and a stranger tramping around Islamabad in my shoes. They say you can't know someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes, so without me ever having met this gentleman, we're still on some level getting acquainted.

In A-100, they mentioned that one never really knows what this job is going to ask of one. Despite this caveat, I can't say I was expecting, at any point in the course of my career, to have to pony up my shoes as part of the deal. (The Foreign Service: Be the Face of America Abroad. And hand over your footwear, fatboy).

Not that I mind, of course -- I fully plan to milk this one for all it's worth, and the Thai restaurant doesn't know what's about to hit it once I and said control officer and said control officer's credit card get there.

To add insult to injury, she followed up her shoe-demand with the following question: So... when was the last time those shoes were shined? And do they still (AHEM) need new laces?

Fortunately, at the time I happened to be in the market, perusing the foreign language section of our surprisingly excellent Kramerbooks-esque local bookstore, the Saeed Bookbank. The same market containing said bookstore is overrun with shoeshine guys who, conveniently, will also sell you new laces.

So first I wandered over to the DVD store to see if I wanted anything (I didn't, but I ran into a Pakistani rockstar-in-progress, a friend of friends/coworkers from the embassy; she's good people, just in from Karachi where she spent a month in a recording studio. Pakistan, much like so much of the rest of Asia, has a cutlture which is quite anti-foot, and I think she was pretty horrified that I was handing over my shoes for the greater good).

And then I went outside, where three shoeshine guys were chatting with each other in Dari -- apparantly they're all Afghans. The one in the middle was the first one to ask if I needed a shine, so I figured I'd give him my business.

I wandered over to him and leaned down to untie the shoe, but he was already on it. He pulled the shoe off; I slid my foot into the disgusting and grungy plastic sandal he had waiting for me ("Taking one for the team," I believe they call that; OH do you owe me for this one), and then leaned down and untied the other shoe.

I slipped it off, and it was simultaneously grabbed by the two remaining shoeshine guys, one at the heel, the other at the toes, and each was pulling with all of his collective might. I was thinking -- you know, guys, you're both yanking on one of the two dress shoes I own, and at this point in time there are not one but TWO people in Islamabad counting on having them for tomorrow.

They still had the shoe in the center of their polishing tug-of-war, when the gentleman on the right leaned over, curled his hand into a fist, and cold-cocked the other guy across the face. Fisticuffsmanship! Over shining my shoes! Never have I felt so uncomfortable. Honestly. I ended up giving all three 100 rupees each -- an exhoribitant amount of money (5 dollars! This is PAKISTAN! A shoe shine should be a tenth a that!) out of guilt. And then I sprinted for the car and spent the rest of the night trying to pretend the whole thing didn't happen, and also pondering ways to shorten the ridiculously long shoelaces that are now in my dress shoes.

In unrelated news, post shoeshine I watched two hours and twenty five minutes of an excellent but ridiculously long Chinese film (Farewell My Concubine), and with a solid 30 minutes of film left to go, the DVD malfunctioned. Tears: nearly shed. Apparantly if you pay 2 bucks for a film, you only get the first four fifths. Chances I rebuy it to watch the ending: eighteen percent, at most.

Posted by Dakota on 6:50 AM link |

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

News from the homefront: I've just received my assignment notification cable*. It seems like instead of two and a half months of Chinese in Beijing, I'll be getting almost 6 months of Chinese in Beijing. This is possibly the best news I've ever gotten, ever**. 6 months! Of intensive Chinese! Hellooooooo, fluency! In related news, last week Amazon brought me more or less every book on Chinese characters known to man, and the literacy blitzkrieg is officially on.

*The fact that all official communication within the Department comes via telegram has been lampooned and ridiculed in enough places that I don't feel the need to continue doing so here. Suffice it to say that I find it to be adorable; it's so World War II era! It's so stay at-home-mom getting bad news from the front! Adorable.

**Ok, it's probably not the best news EVER. That said, off the top of my head I can't think of what the best news I've ever gotten, ever, was. Passing the foreign service exam? Getting into college? The unveiling of Amazon Prime? The news that a Chipotle had opened in Georgetown? The annual unveiling of Free Cone Day at Ben and Jerry's? It's hard to say.

Posted by Dakota on 10:23 PM link |

Monday, February 20, 2006

Team -- tapping into the news this morning, I see that the attack on US Embassy Jakarta tops the lead, and sniffing through the world page on GoogleNews brings no mention of the protests in Islamabad yesterday.

So then, this was intended to be a standard "am fine, fear not" post, but since it seems the international community doesn't deem the protests in Islamabad worth mentioning, you probably were unaware of the need for such a post.

Note to the International News Media: Come on, people! The police ran out of teargas!! If that's not the sort of thing that makes for a great news story, I don't know what does!

Posted by Dakota on 1:05 AM link |

Friday, February 17, 2006

The embassy is invariably quite secretive about big visits that take place, and that isn't entirely unexpected -- security in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is of course quite tight, and is priority number one. (Security staff, secret service and whatnot tend to come across a little bit like a middle school woodshop teacher, waving a mangled stump of a left hand and shouting "Safety first!").

Today, then, provided US Embassy Islamabad with a Big Visit, and came with the standard general air of secrecy. Said Big Visitor was delayed in his arrival to the embassy by extended meetings with the president, and the embassy, in true secretive fashion, kept making announcements over the loudspeaker -- "Attention in the Embassy, attention on compound. Attention in the Embassy, attention on compound. The... er, visitor... has been delayed. Anyone wishing to hear... the visitor's remarks will need to be in their seats by 11:40."

I assumed that the Visitor was thus flying low and under the radar, and that I shouldn't be mentioning his name out loud, Voldemort-style. "Hey, are you going to hear... um, him speak today?"

But then, after the speech, I noticed that the arrival of the visitor wasn't actually so secret after all, since it was published on the front page of one of the local newspapers: Bill Clinton to Arrive in Pakistan Today.

So then, he spoke (in the lovely memorial garden in the middle of the Embassy), and Dakota was of course there, front and center (and by front I mean about 12 rows back), snapping pictures like a madman, none of which came out. And then came the meet and greet part, in which loving admirers were allowed to line up and shake the hand of The Visitor, during which time the following conversation took place (The italicized parts may or may not have happened exclusively in my mind):

Bill Clinton: Hello, hey, hello, nice to meet you, thanks for the work that you do, hello, hey.

Dakota: Sir, it's an honor.

Dakota: I appreciate the handshake, sir, but I'm wondering if you have a moment to give me a hug.

Bill Clinton: Hey man, everyone needs hugs.

Dakota: I knew you'd understand. Listen, after this hug (which I think we can both agree, will undoubtedly be lingering, and will most likely be the most fulfilling 4 to 8 seconds of human contact I have during my time in Pakistan) do you want to ditch Secret Service and perhaps come have a glass of gin with me? Because gin is delicious.

Bill Clinton: My god I love gin. But let's bring the Secret Service. It really enhances the drinking experience to be surrounded by broad-shouldered men with narrow waists and automatic rifles.

Dakota: If you think that's best, let's get started, sir.

Bill Clinton: There's no need to call me sir. Bill is fine. Or, if you've had some gin, you can go with B-diddy.

Dakota, to coworker Josh: Did you take the picture?

Josh: Yes.

Picture coming shortly. Needless to say, this one picture could SIGNIFICANTLY improve my internet dating life.

Posted by Dakota on 7:08 AM link |

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

If you have to evacuate Saigon-style, make sure you look good -- because those videos will be shown in High School classrooms for years to come.
--The glorious insight of Walnut.

So then, there's not too much I can say here. Yes, that's frustrating. Let's start with this: I am, of course, fine.

Yesterday was certainly an interesting day, and the fun isn't over by any stretch of the imagination. I had forgotten that it was Protest Day, so at midmorning or so when the announcement came over the loudspeaker that around four thousand students were marching towards the diplomatic enclave, it was certainly a bit unsettling.

The diplomatic enclave, in related news, is a slightly off-set part of Islamabad that contains the majority of the embassies. We're in it. (The Danes aren't, apparantly, but that's a point that can be easily overlooked). The Enclave is accessible by one of three gates, all of which are guarded and none of which can be entered unescorted unless you've got a diplomatic ID or dip plates on your car. (For ordinary citizens trying to get in to, say, visit the consular section of an embassy, it involves a lengthy pat-down and shuttle bus system. This is a regulation imposed by the Government of Pakistan, despite the fact that the US, from time to time, gets blasted in the editorial pages for it).

So then, the announcement comes that there are several thousand protesters in front of parliament, somewhere near a kilometer away from the diplomatic enclave. We turn on the TV, and the rumors, fueled by Geo (the Pakistani news station) start flying. It's hard to tell if the media is/was correct -- I certainly wasn't out there to verify anything and neither was anyone else I know.

That said, the rumors from the TV are that the students moved south from Parliament and showed up at the gate of the Dip Enclave; determined to get to the Danish and Norwegian embassies, they then stormed the gates. The police (who were out in full riot gear, shields and all, and still were when I left the embassy much later in the evening, long after everything had died down) then ostensibly tear gassed the lot and eventually got them to dispurse and move on. I have no idea how much truth there is in that statement.

All I can say for certain is that no one made it to the US Embassy, although some of my colleagues reported hearing chanting and what sounded like gunshots off in the distance.

It's worth noting also that the focus of these protests is not the US. It's the Danes and the Norwegians. That said, anything that gets in the way of a group of protesters is going to meet its untimely end, as evidenced by a torched car from the Indian High Commission, and the burned out shells of two McDonalds and the Punjab provincial government hall in Lahore.

I've got several friends who have the unlucky misfortune to come from a country whose name sounds tragically like "Danish" -- the Dutch get confused with the Danes even in the Western press, and everyone I know from the Dutch embassy is tall and blond and generally Nordic looking. I ran into one last night, who said that their embassy (off the Enclave, incidentally) has been surrounded by riot-gear police as well, and that every time they see them shift positions, they get nervous -- this is it, they're coming over the wall.

It's worth noting how many police there are in the city. It feels like the Pakistani police force has quadrupled in the last two days; the GoP, it seems, isn't looking for a repeat of 1979, and has taken elaborate steps to ensure the safety of the international community. And so far, so good.

More protests are planned (next in Islamabad on 19 Feb, this coming Sunday -- no, I won't be leaving my house), with the Grandiose Finale (caps intential) being scheduled for Friday, 3 March. They ("they" here, being various and sundry political parties, primarily the MMA) have called for a nation-wide general strike, and gigantic protests throughout the nation are probably going to occur.

The concept of the nation-wide strike is quite odd to me. Who exactly are you hurting with a nation-wide strike? It seems like all you're doing is slowing down your own economy. An aside, entirely hearsay: a friend of mine was at the Afghan Bakery (some refugees from Afghanistan opened a bakery which, surprisingly, produces European-quality baked goods better than pretty much anything we've got in the States; who knew that the Afghans had the know-how to make perfect baguettes?), and asked the gentleman there if he planned to strike. He told her that if he was going to protest anything, it would be poverty in Pakistan, and that closing his shop wouldn't help anything. But under duress from the protesters, he closed his shop for the day in sort of forced "solidarity." A day's lost profits, it seems, is better than having your storefront smashed out from under you.

So the point of all this is -- as of now, I'm safe and not to worry. And should anything change, I'll let you know. Until then, pretty much what you're hearing on the news is as much information as I've got; your ol' pal Dakota, despite any adventuresome streak he might have, will NOT be wandering the streets in search of a good story.

Posted by Dakota on 10:17 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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