Sunday, May 10, 2009

Letter from Adam

I got up early this morning to go to the gym when it opened so I could get my workout done before leaving today. I need to shower and pack and then head to the airport for my 1 pm flight to Miami. I got a long email from A today describing some of the things he's experienced and I thought I'd share it. Enjoy!

Well, I'm over a week into this deployment ... and it has definitely been different than anything else I've done. I've taken a few unclassified notes to share.
Living Quarters:
No living in tents and walking 200 yards in the cold to the shower trailer on this deployment. I live in an old, but nice 3-bedroom apartment on the third floor terrace of a building leased to the U. S. Embassy. It is very safe: 10-foot perimeter fence, 2 checkpoints gates, and 24/7 roving guards. Despite the fortress precautions, it's feels very residential here. Lots of tropical trees, bushes, flowers ... there are even creeks and small ponds in the large courtyard. I share the apartment with another guy from work.
I do all my work in a windowless room at the U. S. Embassy, a building that looks like a prison and has more security than most buildings in Washington, D. C. I work every day, but the hours vary. It's a good job, and I've gotten to meet some very interesting people.
The City:
I live and work in a large, over-crowded city in a third-world country. There is obvious poverty in the streets; however, there are also many well-to-do neighborhoods. I have two local drivers (Robert & Junior) who take me wherever I want to go. They are on call 24/7. It's a good thing I have them ... because driving around in this city can be a nightmare. The roads are very rough; traffic laws are not enforced; there are no road markings; there's bad traffic; and it's very easy to get lost and find yourself in a bad neighborhood. Robert & Junior know all the best driving routes and places to stop along the way. Even though this is a third-world country, the city is very international and you can eat at whatever kind of restaurant you want, although I usually go to the grocery store to save money. Robert & Junior are native to the city, so they make sure no one is trying to take advantage of me, the "white guy with a lot of money" (this is what most locals think of Americans).
Taxi Service:
If I didn't have my own transportation, I'd be forced to use the local taxi system. It's more like a fleet of 18-seat minibuses. Even though there are only 18 seats, the minibuses are usually transporting no less than 25 people at a time. People sit on top of each other or hang out the sliding door. Every minibus is different. You know you've got a good one if it's painted multiple colors, has huge tires on the back and small ones on the front, and is blaring heavy bass music over the stereo. Here's how the service works: You stand at a designated stop (or close by) – the money collector will stick his hand out as the minibus quickly approaches, and you stick your hand out to let him know you want to get on. The minibus slows down JUST ENOUGH so you can get a running start and hop on. There is an aisle, but its only wide enough to fit a small child, so you sit in the money collector's seat while he hangs outside the minibus, and then once you’ve settled, you have to find an empty seat, and squeeze your way through ... if you have a bag with you, you will be a nuisance. When you’re ready to get off the minibus, if the money collector likes you, you can get off anywhere, but if he’s not so crazy about you, you have to wait till the next stop. When its time to stop, money collector hits the roof with a coin, signaling the driver to pull over. The minibus slows down JUST ENOUGH so you can jump off.
It is very pleasant here. The city is over 5000 feet above sea level, so it stays relatively cool, despite the constant sun. Temperatures never go outside the 60-90 range. The locals put on heavy overcoats when the temp hits 65 ... then they'll complain it's much too hot when the temp goes above 85. Needless to say, there is no heating or air-conditioning anywhere outside the U. S. Embassy.
Let's just say a zebra ran in front of the car as we were driving home from the airport on my very first day in this country. Junior was driving at the time. He was disappointed we didn't hit it, as zebra meat is apparently very good ... and it's illegal to deliberately kill them. On the same car ride, I saw huge flying objects which resembled pterodactyls, but Junior told me they were giant birds. Another day, Robert was driving me outside the city and we saw a local beating a donkey with a stick because it stubbornly refused to keep walking. One of the passengers in the car said, "I know that donkey couldn't have done anything bad enough to deserve that kind of a beating!" Robert stoically replied, "If you don't beat the donkey, it will die." We had to ask him what that meant. Apparently, if you don't beat the donkey and give it a reason to move, it stops working and eventually loses the will to live. Similarly, Robert said, "If you put a donkey in the back of a truck, it will die." Apparently, when the locals buy a donkey, they have to pick it up and bring it home ... so they drive to the donkey's location to pay for it, but one person has to stay behind and walk the donkey all the way to its new home. You see, if you put the donkey in the back of the truck, it will realize it doesn't have to walk everywhere and, again, will stop working and lose the will to live. My co-workers and I laughed for hours.
There is a large Catholic church next to my apartment. The church bells ring about 8 times every day (which makes it hard to sleep when I'm on a night schedule ... but it's still nice to hear a Christian sound on deployment when, during most of my previous deployments, I was listening to the Muslim call-to-prayer five times a day). The Church itself is very nice--stone walls and stained glass. It is run by Italian missionaries and is co-located with an orphanage and school for disadvantaged children. Going to Mass there is much like going to Mass in the U. S. ... although the locals really get into the service and they sing *very* local songs. Everyone is extremely polite and nice. Even if they don't have much of anything in the way of possessions, they still wear their "Sunday best," sing loudly, and shake hands with the priest after Mass.
That's all I've got for now. Hope everyone is doing well back home.

1 comment:

Black Daffodil Films said... maybe I'm a little like a donkey (except the whole "will to live" bit)--give me too much of a break and I'm OUT. That's too funny!

Thanks for posting that..its nice to get a tiny little peak into his world.

Enjoy Miami...good luck with the diet, you'll do great!