Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hello from Freetown!

I am copying an email I sent to my fellow OMS friends. They are being assigned around the world, or are still in Washington DC for language training and we are somehow managing to keep in touch. Frankly, I'm too tired to write a new email! But there are LOTS of juicy details in the following email about my first week on the job. Enjoy!

Becky


Dearest Laura and Gang,
Get ready for the adventure of your life if you're being posted to West Africa, or probably anywhere in Africa for that matter. Debi, your post sounds like a luxury compared to mine. Let me explain....

Today is Sunday, June 1st and I've been here a week already. This is the first time my computer has been hooked up in my apartment. No one has spare time to help me get the access code. I have no time at work to even check personal email.

I arrived to work on Tuesday after Memorial day. The TDY OMS was really nice; she's a 35 year FS veteran and knows everything about everything. Everyone at Post loves her and wishes she would stay. She gave me as much training as she could, but Post is so busy (they have been short 1 OMS for almost 3 months now) that we were mostly reacting as fast as things came up. I walked the first day as I got briefed by all the different sections (and because I was new and didn't know my way around the building) but by the second day I was running everywhere. I think I had lunch two of the four days, and I worked overtime every day I was there. Yes, already. I really REALLY cannot believe I have only been there 4 days. It seems like a month! Here is something for the record books...the very first time I picked up my desk phone, the person on the other line was the Ambassador!! She was pleasant enough and since I had not learned how to transfer a call yet, I just put her on hold and told her OMS she was on the line. Thank god I have had a LOT of phone training in the past. No one has time to train me on how the phones work. Days two and three were a blur.

On Friday, things started out a little rocky in the morning. When I went to meet the fellow embassy workers who have a car and drive us, they looked at my shoes in horror and told me that "open towed shoes" are not allowed in the Front Office! Of course, I ran back and changed into the first flats I could find that had toes. At the office, we had a going away cake for the departing OMS who had been training me. I was in "secret" with the Ambassador to get the cake, the knife, the napkins, and gather all the people together at the specified time. Now, I hardly know who anyone is and I have to round them up to get them to the party! Totally, the hostess, I actually pulled this off. Then we had a crisis with the computers in that they were all being "spamed" and everyone was calling the Front office to get answers. On top of that, my ClassNet computer did not work and so I could not pull cables for the DCM. Oh, the DCM had two "visitors" who had to be checked in and escorted to the Front office. In between all that, I had to supervise the Char force (the cleaning people) as they dumped garbage and cleaned the Front office because they are FSN's and cannot be left alone for security reasons. AND ALL THAT HAPPENED BY 10:30 IN THE MORINING!! After the TDY OMS left at 10:45, I officially became the OMS for the AMB and the DCM. The AMB then had visitors who had to be escorted. While she was in a closed door meeting, I actually had my first 30 minutes of quiet time since I started this job. What a nice change! I skipped lunch to try and organize my desk. That was my second big mistake after the shoe incident. I incorrectly thought that since the Embassy officially closes at 1pm on Fridays, that they would not serve lunch. Oh no, Here, you better eat every chance you get! At 2pm, the ARSO called me and asked if I could do my security training and make my new badge. I thought he was joking, but no. Remember, the Embassy officially closes at 1pm on Fridays, but I think if you're still in the building, you're "fair game." He really wanted to get it done, so after that crazy morning and NO lunch, I had to try and be alert as he gave me instructions for the combinations for three different doors, the procedure for the alarm system, and then we took my official Badge photo. I look like hell, as you might imagine. He thought it looked fine, but then he's a guy! Then at 3pm, DCM (remember she had visitors?) called me and invited me to see the Tacugama Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Camp with her visitor.
http://www.tacugama.com/ So because the DCM is really nice and I really wanted to see this place, I threw my papers in my bag, ran downstairs to meet them and got in the car not knowing how far we were going or anything. Thank god I managed to go to the bathroom before we left!

Ok....roads in Sierra Leone are BAD. Chris, I know well the people who jump out in front of your car while you are driving. How about the stray dogs, and chickens that wander the roads? And I had to laugh when Debi said no one pays attention to the stop lights. ARE YOU KIDDING? We don't have any stop lights here in Freetown. Not a one, I have only seen two roads that even have lines on them! The main roads in town are not too bad, as long as you can live with the road dropping off on the shoulder to nothingness, and the crazy people who cut in front of you in their rickey car only because they know you will not risk getting your nice American car smashed. Oh, and what about the so-called local taxi's who stop right in front of you to pick up and drop off passengers? Or the abandoned, broken down cars that just sit by the side of the road or in the road until someone drags them away some time in the future? Thank god most of the cars are in such poor condition that no one can drive very quickly. Not many people can afford a car, so everyone walks. Everyone...old people, toddlers walking alone, mothers with infants strapped to their backs carrying huge platters of something on their heads, children carrying bundles of sticks on their heads, everyone; rain or shine.

Back to the drive to the Chimp Camp. The road here was unbelievable. Remote. As you approach the camp, the sign says, ENGAGE 4-WHEEL DRIVE and I can understand why. I looked ahead and the road looked like a dirt path going straight up a mountain. And I mean straight UP through the jungle! I thought we were going to go up like a ride at the fair until our car would go over backwards when the elevation became too steep. You should have seen the nervous look on the face of the DCM's visitor, sheer panic! I was so hungry and so used to the bad roads that it didn't phase me much. I knew we would either make it, or not. We did. Got to the camp. Boy, was I glad I had run back to get those closed-toe flats from the morning fiasco! We walked on dirt paths to see the Chimps and learn about the camp. Thank god I chose to wear capri pants that morning....a dress or a suit would have been a nuisance. It's very hot and humid here. We walked about 2 miles in the jungle to see the different Chimp enclosures. Our guide, Willy, has been at the camp since it opened 12 years ago. He knows all 80 chimps by name...yes they all have names. He can "Chimp" talk to them, or call them by their English names and they all answer him. It was fascinating. I will definitely go back. It's a great project, so be sure and go to the link and find out more. On the drive back, I had a smashed piece of that going-away cake and I proceeded to munch on that as we drove home. It was the most delicious tasting rum cake I had ever eaten. Food is a good thing! Got home around 6pm. My "house boy" had dinner waiting for me (more about that later) and I ate that and promptly fell asleep at 7:30! So much for my Friday half day! Exciting but fulfilling. I know I will have to pace myself and get some rest now and then, or I'll burn out.

Saturday morning there was a soccer match (of course they call it "football" here) between the two Embassy teams. It's an annual FSN match. Since the AMB had asked me what she should wear to such an event, (and I was honored to be asked) I thought it best that I attend. Then I had to decide what I should wear! Remember it's really HOT and humid here and the thought of sitting out in the sun for hours was not all that appealing. My sunscreen is still in my HHE, of course! Here is the cool part.....when we got there, the AMB had these special AMB chairs brought in for her to sit on. An AMB does not just sit in a folding chair, you know! These were like living room wing back chairs. They set up three chairs. She sat in the middle and she asked ME and another woman to sit next to her! So in my very first week on the job, I find myself sitting right next to the Ambassador of Sierra Leone, giving play-by-play soccer instructions and discussing our children. Unbelievable. I have a feeling this might be a 7-day a week job, because she also gave me updates on the Monday schedule; a meeting that MUST be scheduled that wasn't planned, a cancellation of the meeting with Parliament, and workers scheduled to be doing maintenance at her residence. And I'm supposed to remember all this in my head at a soccer match! Nothing like hitting the ground running.

Ok, enough about me. Laura, throw away all open-toed shoes, Debi, be glad you have stop lights, Chris, come visit me on the World Food plane, Diane, be glad you will be in civilized Paris, Cheryl, there are no cats here; only stray dogs and lots of them and them all look like they came from the same mother. Joy, be glad you have your husband with you as it gets lonely here in Africa, and the rest of you;...write!

Love,
Becky

1 comment:

Drewkungfu said...

Love your Blog! I miss you terribly... And i've already checked to see how much it would cost to pay a visit. I might not be able to come over tomorrow. but we have the lovely internet to keep posted. Stay safe. I think of you dearly.

cheers!
Andrew