Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Kabul: Sometimes It's the Little Things... (part 7)

When the invitation for a high-level Embassy birthday party appeared in my inbox, I assumed the guest list must have been fairly inclusive.  I checked with Eitan to see if he had been invited as well, and once I had confirmation, we formally accepted.  We received our invitations probably three weeks before the big day, as did several other people, but the list wasn't as inclusive as I had expected.

A handful of people was invited on the first round, and word quickly spread around the Embassy.  Although everyone tried to play it cool, some people were cleared miffed at being overlooked.

As time passed, more invitations trickled out.  The staggered approach, however, didn't go unnoticed by any means.

I overhead several variations of this conversation around campus:

"I got my invitation today," a colleague would remark.

"Oh," came the reply, "I got mine a week ago."

While pleased to have made the cut, people were keenly aware if they had been relegated to second-, third-, or fourth-string.  Those who fared better were good about reminding the later picks.

The hurt feelings continued to grow as the party date drew closer.  Some only received invitations the day before, in which case, it's hard not to feel like an after-thought.

When all was said and done, most of the American community had gotten tapped, but not all.  In my office, eight out of nine of us made the cut, leaving one officer out in the cold.

"Come along anyway," we encouraged him.  "Your invitation probably got misdirected."

Compelled by pride and uncertainty, however, he was unwilling to try his luck (for what if he showed up and his exclusion had been intentional?).

"I'm pretty tired," he told us, "and I was planning to watch some Netflix tonight."

The party was fun in the end, but the invitation delivery scheme caused some major drama.  No one likes to be picked last for kickball, not even seasoned diplomats with decades of experience.


While I don't have that many contacts of my own, as the admin assistant in my office, I know a lot of the guests who come to meet with my colleagues.

One afternoon, I went to retrieve one of our frequent visitors at the guard booth.

A gray-haired older man, he was sitting outside the security screening zone waiting for me.

As I normally do, I approached him for the customary handshake.

He stood up, slightly fumbling with his things, and extended his hand toward mine.  Something was amiss, however.  There was something else in that shake besides our ten fingers.

While I could tell that my visitor was palming something, I didn't take the mysterious object from him.

As I disengaged from the handshake, a pendant - a small lapis heart - fell to the ground.

"I got that for you," he sheepishly told me.  "I know you can't get out of the compound, and we have things like this in town."

Although we do in fact have access to such trinkets in the shops on the compound, I thanked the man for the gift and led him to his meeting.

Twenty minutes later, I was telling the tale to my colleagues.

"That's creepy, man," one of the guys told me.  "He was totally hitting on you."

I wasn't convinced this was the case, however, as it seemed more like something out of the grandfather's playbook.  Maybe next time he'll pull a quarter out of my ear.


When I first arrived to Kabul, there were pallets of bottled water everywhere on the Embassy compound, and people were clearly accustomed to it.  Six months later, however, the bottled water began to dry up.  The powers-that-be decided it was too expensive to continue stocking bottled water for general use when the tap water was deemed to be perfectly potable.  The shipments of bottled water were slashed dramatically and were now reserved primarily for emergency stocks.

To socialize the change, the Embassy's management section as well as the Green Team sent out e-mails and posted flyers about the awesomeness of drinking tap water.  Not only was it cheap, healthy, and better for the environment, it also tasted delicious.  Most people grumbled a bit at first, as people are wont to do, but soon enough, everyone who was anyone was drinking from the tap.

There were a few hold-outs, however, who were unwilling to drink the Kool-Aid (or in this case, the water).

One of my colleagues was convinced that the well water wasn't as healthy as had been claimed, so he ordered a water-testing kit from the EPA.

When the kit arrived, he began testing the water with wild abandon, and he'd kindly give us daily reports on his findings.

"This morning the tap is showing 480; the water fountain, 349; the water kettle, 434; and the Brita pitcher, 240," he'd announce.

When the concept was still novel, people would feign interest.

"Four-eighty what?" a colleague might ask.

"Parts per million!" he'd reply.

"Parts per million of what?" the colleague would continue.

And at that point, the conversation would die.  My water-testing colleague only knew that the tap water contained 480 parts per million of something, but with no further granularity, such testing was useless.

The daily reports never did stop, but they soon began to fall like trees in a forest with nobody there to listen.