Holy crap, a post from Nick!
Well, I am a month into my tour and the circus is falling down and the big top is crumbling. Most of you read the news, blogs, tweets, facebook or whatever, so you all know the situation here in Egypt. So I will spare you the details. But let's just say my days in the office remind me of my time in Kabul. The situation is similar: political turmoil, a country and region with a long history of problems, corruption, anti-American sentiments, scrutiny and micromanagement from outside, and general distrust. In addition, we have Queen of Hearts and no one really knows how deep the rabbit hole goes. So, as the Madhatter, I am have returned to the same tea-party: the guests may be different, but the situation is not. All in all I am happy - I am busy and work/live in the middle of U.S. foreign policy central (at least for the time being). As such, I am not going to dedicate this post to the situation, but give you a recap of my first month living in Cairo.
Departure and Transit
As you read in the previous blog I left on a jet plane on January 14th, bound for Frankfurt and then Cairo. The flight was uneventful...other than the sh*&!y economy class. Hey United Airlines! Six-inch LCD screens are like $50 each. Seriously, it's time to upgrade. The layover in Frankfurt consisted of the consumption of a variety of sausages, a few pints, and a hunt for the NFL playoff scores from the night before.
The next leg was short (about 4 hours). I landed in Cairo about 1500, hooked up with the expediter before immigration, picked up my luggage and met my sponsor (a real nice guy). Two hours later I was in my new home. The traffic really really sucks in Cairo: does anyone in the developing world use a blinker?
My First Night
I arrived to the 'compound' around 1900 with hopes of watching the Giants vs. Green Bay game, but I was out of luck because I did not have a satellite dish for AFN and nor internet. So I decided to unpack (yes Liz, I unpacked and put things away properly...there was nothing else to do, so I guess boredom is my motivation for doing chores). After unpacking, I went to bed in a big empty room, wondering how I am going to sleep alone for the next 15 months.
For the last 10 years I have been living in apartments in the 600-800 sq feet range. So when I arrived to my 4 bedroom and 3 bath, 1800 sq feet Cairo apartment, I was overwhelmed. I have been here a month and I still live in two rooms and rarely go into the guest bedrooms. I am sure when my HHE arrives I will start to use more of the space (i.e. an office/bike repair shop and a gym...I am also thinking about building a bar and getting a pool table, since my living room is so fracking big). All in all, the place is nice and I am adjusting slowly.
My First Week and the Late Night Call No One in the FS Wants to Get
My first week was uneventful -- I went to the office, started the check-in process, and got settled into an actual office. Woo-hoo no more cubical!
The only sad part of my first week was the unexpected passing my dear Thea. It was about 0230 in the morning on a Saturday (a Friday night state side) and I got a call from Liz saying that Thea D died. My first reaction was "what?" Liz repeated the comment and my next reaction was what..."what are you talking about?" and then it sunk in. A woman that I had loved for 32 years just died and there was nothing I could do.
This, however, was not my first experience with late night news. About a month into my tour in Kabul my Uncle D died unexpectedly. I just sat there at my computer, reading the note from my mother and tearing up because I knew there was nothing I could do. There was no one I could grieve with, there was no one I could hold or hug. This time was no different. There was nothing, I had nothing...just my memories, my loneliness, and the pains of loss. It was/is hard facing loss alone...a song, a picture, a smell, or a simple memory can set off a whirlwind of emotion. I would sit looking around for comfort only to find no one...even now I am looking for comfort, but all I have are the lonely clicks of the keys on my laptop.
The life in the FS often seems like a great adventure, but the reality is that you have left behind everyone you love, and are truly at the mercy of fate and your memories.
Integration and Parties
I am a very outgoing person, so my event calendar has been busy (except this weekend...I was sick, I had workmen coming to fix my AFN, which they could not fix, and had my UAB delivered). Everyone is very surprised to see me at various parties with people who have been at post for several months or years or did not work with the USG. There was even one night I blindly followed a new friend through the mad streets of Cairo, cerca de la manifestación, a las 0230 in the search for a cab. I am integrating well...
I will finish off this post with my Superbowl Monday. In many Middle Eastern countries the work week is Sunday to Thursday. Time difference between Cairo and the East Coast is 7 hours. As such, Superbowl Sunday in Cairo was actually Monday morning at 0130. I took a nap before the game in preparation for the event. My alarm was set for 1230 so I could be out the door at 0100. I woke up, shook off the dust of sleep, and put my Chicago Bears T-Shirt on in protest. I got to the Maadi House (i.e. American Club) a few minutes before kickoff. My first priority was beer and chicken wings, because a Superbowl is not complete without these two staples.
Now, the best part of watching the Superbowl on AFN in a foreign country are the commercials. Not because they are awesome, but because they are produced by the military and are really, really terrible. But they make for some really good jokes. In general, AFN commercial teach five basic lessons: depression is the silent killer, don't abuse your spouse physically or mentally, don't sexually harass others (especially colleagues in chevrons), don't mix your ammo, and if you need to take a vacation the Eidelweiss resort is the answer. This year's commercials did not disappoint and the crowd in the bar had a gay ole time adding our own commentary. After a few hours and several beers and plates of wings (Liz editorial comment: AND A BIG FAT WIN FOR THE GIANTS!) later the game was over. It was 0500 and I had to be on the shuttle for the office at 0700.
Blurry eyed and sleepy I rolled into the office.