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April 2005

back home

Back home for training. Up early due to time difference so I thought I'd up date my blog.  It was a race to the last minute to get everything done I needed before I left.  My yearly evaluation still had the ink drying on the signatures as I was getting on the plane.  But it's done and I can enjoy the time off now.  I got off the plane in Dulles to a rainy day in Virginia.  It felt great.  The temps were in the 50's and the sun was overcast by rain clouds most of the time. Stayed with a friend in Old Town all weekend and enjoyed a day in Occoquan, Va.  Now I'm starting some classes Monday and looking forward to a few weeks of good food and drink on my evening agenda.

Finally saw "Hotel Rwanda". Don Cheadle who played Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager was great, as were the rest of the cast.  Although, I'm always a bit thrown when I see Nick Nolte in a film.  There was one line in the film when Don as Paul said, "We will shame the world into sending help". That line sums up the whole feeling of the movie for me.  All the media and non residents were evacuated from Kigali, as the Tutsis stayed behind to face the Hutus violent killing of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutu people.

Before I left Khartoum, I received the eagerly awaited shipment of Embassy merchandise that the recreation association had ordered.  Just in time to bring home some nice Logo polo shirts for folks that had requested them.  It's one of those things that helps folks feel like we're one step closer to running as a full service Embassy. 

tacos and trips

I took the time last night to invite a few folks from work over for tacos.  I should of known even waiting 12 hours before inviting some friends, that it would turn out to be basically, "Dan's fixing tacos for everyone!"  As the taco fest turn from 4 people into 5, 8, 10 people, I turned to others for reinforcements in the shell and tostilla department.  Jason was able to join us also, which was nice.  Since I won't get a chance to partake in the Nile boat trip later in the week, I wanted to make sure everyone would be able to get in contact with all parties involved.  Occasionally, I find myself in error with regards to days and times.  I was corrected by a few friends in regards to a flight date/time I had gotten wrong.  Fortunately, I still have a few days to pull everything together before the flight, but it put the kibosh on joining in on the fun with the Nile boat trip.  Well I'm sure everyone will have fun without me and my 2 hour lecture on Steam boat history and how it relates to the changes in the American Industral revolution. 

I'm heading back to the States this week for some training and R&R.  My time here in Sudan is wrapping up and I'll only have a couple months left when I return.  Several of the local staff have told me they are not too excited about my leaving.  I'll be coming back to Africa on a tour in the near future if I have my way.  And I'm sure they run into that every year as Americans come and go.  Being my first tour Khartoum will always be a city that reminds me of the cross section of African cultures.  I was here during the official signing of the peace agreement between the North and South.  I hope I'm around to see progress in Darfur and peace that needs to come to the entire country.

press have a field day

I still think about it but I'm holding firm on not lighting up.  It's been tough the last couple days, especially with a lot of pressure from a visit by the Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.  But it kept me busy so I wasn't thinking about it.

My job was to setup a Press Corp room at the Khartoum Airport for journalists to file their stories after coming back from Al Fasher and Darfur. the Deputy Seccretary invited a group of reporters to follow him on his trip to Oslo, Norway and to Sudan. In Sudan he stopped in Khartoum, Rumbek and western camps in Darfur.  On the return from Darfur the journalists had a very brief period of time to get off the plane and file their stories.  My job was to make sure they had broadband internet access and a quiet room to themselves. 

This involved about 2 days of prep work.  The existing phone lines literally fell short of  the VIP lounge the airport reserved for us.  As you can see from the previous post that was what I had to work through. What should of been a day at the most, involved a more as I had to convince every airport worker I was from "Safara Amerikia".  The work was finally complete and as I sat there waiting for the journalists to arrive, I noticed the public was still coming and going into the lounge.

I voiced my concern to the man in charge and was lead to a second lounge.  Here they told me I could greet the journalists.  "Ma Fi Telephones" I said, indicating the other lounge was where the phones were already setup and that's why I've been here the last two days.   I was passed on to each person until finally the Director of Aviation saw me.  He assured me it would be alright to move the phones if I wanted.  With 2 hours before the journalist were set to arrive this was clearly not an option.

I explained this was all arranged 2 days ago with a meeting of all parties.  But it appeared, despite that planning, we wouldn't have the room to ourselves.  On that note I called in Mohamed, our Airport expeditor and fixer of all things involving flight.  He arrived and made the compromise that I was trying to make earlier.  They agreed and said we could have the room when the reporters landed and keep it for 45min.  Enough time for them to get their stories transmitted and back on the plane.

When the reporters arrived, my network admin and I quickly made sure each of their laptops was able to hook up to the network switch and gain broadband internet access.  No major problems occurred and their stories went out.  The Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters, Associated Press and Financial Times were there along with ABC news. They left in the same flurry they had arrived.  48 hours of work for 45 minutes of use.  We tore down everything and called it a day as the plane went wheels up.

can ewe here me-ow?

It's a 110 degrees and I'm standing over a mess of telephone wires, thinking life is great in the FS.  I've got a liter of boiled Gatorade next to me. I imagine the harmful effects of drinking it that everyone else knows about but me.  Visions of doctors telling me, "oh yeah, Gatorade that hot can kill ya.  You didn't know that?" I finally finish the wiring with the aid of my senior phone tech Emmanuel.  I'm more worried about him than me, since he's got a few years on me.  So I make sure he's doing most of the inside work while I stand out in the sun from hell.  The regular sun couldn't make it so we called up this one and it said "Sure I'm not doing anything till the weekend. I'll come over".

So we learn that 2 out of the 11 phone lines we asked for are bad.  I probably won't even ask for credit on those lines from the local provider since that will cause 2 weeks of formal paperwork and 2 witnesses stating to the effect.  Last year, I was handed a bill for several phone lines needed during a Sec of State visit.  When I asked why are they still billing us for this, that visit was over months ago, I learned they had only received a verbal request to cancel all the phone lines.  They never got a written letter stating we wished to have them disconnected.  At that point they refused to disconnect, even with a letter, until we paid for the 3 months we had the lines and weren't even aware we could use them.  So I spent a week convincing them if we could pay them the amount originally owed plus a couple weeks by tomorrow, would they shut them off.  They did and I got them their cash.  Lesson learned, now everytime I deal with them I ask, do you need that in writing also?  I think they're getting tired of the question but it never ceases to entertain me.

Ok, so back to my wiring.  I still have to do the interior of a VIP lounge and find out I'll have to work around people using the room. I figure I can handle it once everyones gone.  But I find out people come in as often as others leave.  So I end up working around everyone until midnight anyway.  Two things I learned about working outside.  Airports snack bars around the world charge 3 times the price and hot Gatorade tastes so vile, you'll gladly pay the former for anything else.

Day 3 in my war against drugs

This time, it's personal..(booming movie trailer announcer's voice)

So I've decided to quit smoking for good.  Again.  It's day 3 and I'm starting to smell things. My breathing has come back a bit. I'm sleeping lighter than I regularly was.  But still it's a good sleep.  Figured I'd keep track on my blog of the progress I was making.  More for my own cathartic reasons than anything else.

I realized tonight there's a lot of people that smoke in Khartoum.  I took Jason (visiting Aussie from Sydney) to get a bite to eat and shoot a few games of pool.  During most of the night, I could smell all the smoke that I normally don't notice.  We had a nice evening and it was good to get out of the townhouses for a change.  Several of the folks I work with fall into the habit of just socializing with each other.  I've always hated the idea of working with someone all day and then having to spend all your free time with them too.  So it's been great having a new visitor come through town to break the routine.  Thanks Sue for getting in touch with me.  Jason's been a great sport.  The weeks are flying by and he'll be heading back soon.  I'll be heading back to the States for some training shortly before he leaves.  It's the only break I get before doing a direct transfer to Sydney around August. Gotta run