First Day on the Job

Apartment building where MC offices are located

Originally uploaded by The Toze

I was woken up briefly at some ungodly hour in the morning by the Adhan or call to prayer. I just briefly acknowledged it and then rolled over and went back to bed. My alarm rang at 6:00 a.m., but my wristwatch said 5:00 a.m. After debating which time was correct, I didn’t want to be late to work my first day I opted for the time on my wristwatch. I had set it the night before when I was fairly coherent. I reset my alarm and went back to bed for an hour.

Stumbling into the kitchen around 7:00 a.m. I made myself some instant Nescafe with cream and sugar and ate a slice of poundcake. I climbed into the shower, my head was only about 4 inches from the ceiling and the bathroom was incredibly hot with a lovely sewage smell coming from some unidentifiable source.

There is no counter space in the bathroom, which is probably karma from hogging the bathroom from my brother as a teenager and other incidents of poor bathroom sharing, so I set up my junk on the vanity which I believe was designed for a midget. I looked in vain for an electrical outlet in the bathroom or the bedroom — the only electrical outlets appear to be in the living room, the minimalist or unwanted guest bedroom and the kitchen.

Lacking other choices I moved to dry my hair in the living room using the TV as a mirror. I plugged in the blow dryer forgetting that I needed a converter as well as an adapter. Blue sparks flew accompanied by a loud pop!

“Oh shit,” I thought what an impression I’ll make coming into my first day of work with my hair all askew because I couldn’t blow dry it. Luckily my blow dryer was still working and once I attached the converter I was able to use it albeit with some power surges and scary moments. Hair appliances have always been the bane of existence in overseas travel. I singed my bangs off right before closing ceremonies in Barcelona, 1992, so I had to attend the ceremonies with the eaux de brunt feathers clinging to me. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but everyone kept asking “What’s that smell?” and Margaret, my teammate kept telling them.

My second bang loss occurred at the 1994 Gold Cup Games in Aylesbury, England when I was tyring to make myself presentable for something or other. Once again I smelled like burnt feathers. So priority number one buy a hair dryer.

8:15 .am. – I arrived at the office and greeted Rafid, it was nice to see a familiar face, I was one of the first people there. As I was sitting at my new desk, my assistant Feryal (pronounced Fair e elle) came in. I struggled with her name for awhile and then she said “Can you say Fufu? That is my short name.”

I don’t think I can call her Fufu, because she is a sassy woman. She is Palastinian, born in Kuwait. Approximately 5′5, she was wearing jeans, a black blouse with 3/4 length sleeves and a head covering. Her eyes were accentuated by heavy make-up. She is married with 5 children and one of her sons has Downs Syndrome. Upon first meeting and after spending a day with her, she is a competent, strong no nonsense woman a little Bette Ruedaish like for those of you who work at The Standard. I’m going to like working with her.

After she sat down the office manager (I’m not sure what her exact position is or how to spell her name) Sen nigh came in and asked if we would like coffee. Wow! I of course said yes and she brought both Feryal and me Turkish coffee. It woke me right up.

Karen Saba the woman who previously had my position came in around nine. She is 36, petite with glasses. She has cerebral palsy which affects her motor skills and speech. She looks frail, but I think she has a steel core. Karen introduced me to the rest off the office. The Iraq operation is divided into four parts by area and all four of the head of offices in Iraq are stationed in Kuwait. There is also a finance area, procurement area, reporting area and office management.

Karen gave me some information to read and I kept trying to get set up. Feryal kept telling me to relax, she was having computer issues. By noon I still didn’t have a computer or an MC e-mail, but I had met with Yassin, my boss and Karen about the basics. MC will pay for my housing and food for one week and then it’s on my own. He also gave me the security protocols for Kuwait:

  • Importation and consumption of alcohol and pork are forbidden; If you are caught bringing them into the country, the products will be confiscated and you may face deportation. (Please do not send me a pig or alcohol.)
  • Be aware that Kuwaitis have deported expatriates arrested by the police for public drunkenness.
  • Driving while intoxicate is punishable by imprisonment in Kuwait (minimum 10 years) (I like this country.)
  • When driving an MC vehicle, you must be very careful. Kuwaities drive very fast and if you are involved in a traffic accident where you injure or kill a Kuwaiti, the consequences can be severe. (Not sure I’m going to get my international driver’s license . . .)
  • All travel from Kuwait to Iraq must be approved by the Regional Direcor and the Country Director.
  • If traveling outside of Kuwait City or Kuwait (e.g. over the week end) you must notify the Iraq Country Director or his/her delegate.
  • Use of illegal drugs is strictly forbidden. (I definately like this country.)
  • Relations with Kuwaiti women are forbidden. (It’s a good thing my assistant is from Palestine.)

As of noon I didn’t have a computer or an MC e-mail address so Karen took Feryal and me to lunch at Diva, which has American food and prides itself on being the meeting place of Divas. Elvis Preseley and Marilyn Monroe grace the outside of the building. I ordered a chef’s salad, Karen had quesadillas and Feryal had a chicken Ceasar. My salad was o.k., but the tomatoes were bland and if I remember correctly most of the veggies in the Middle East are bland unless purchased at a farmer’s market. I also had a second cup of coffee.

After lunch we met with Ahmed, another man in procurement about a public service announcement that is being filmed about inclusion of people with disabilities (PWDs) and will be aired in Iraq. The script was in Arabic so I was a big help. The rallying cry for my people in Iraq is “IRAQ FOR ALL!” The discussion centered around the final message. Because of the nuances Arabic does not translate well, so the tagline sounded odd to me. Which underscorces the fact that I need to learn Arabic or I will be coming up with taglines such as “Wheeled people are the sidewalks of Iraq.” or “The Sheep is Between the Ramp and Screen.” But Karen speaks Arabic and was happy with it. Java one of the Heads of Office for Iraq is from Azerbijan and he has been learning Arabic. He said he would help me get enrolled in a class. After five weeks he is writing and reading it. Of course, I can’t even pronounce Feryal’s name correctly.

I was truly struggling with fatigue by the afternoon and had a third cup of coffee. Feryal remarked that she was glad it was Thrusday and the weekend. I looked at her funny and insisted it was Wednesday. She insisted it was Thursday and after double-checking my calendar I discovered she was right and apologized for doubting her. We had a laugh over my jetlag. I was misinformed about the work week, it is a five-day work week and the weekend is on Friday and Saturday. So, after one day of work I was headed for a weekend.

My final meeting that afteroon was with Karen and Feryal about my position, the reporting structure and an overview of the projects we are working on. In each of the four offices there is a person with a dotted line to me for both the gender program and the PWD program. I work with them to implement projects that preferably come from the Community Action Groups (CAGs) that have been mobilized in Iraq. The funding comes from the CAPII Program and is a collaborative effort between four international organizations. It’s primary focus is to help facilitate community action which includes:

  • establishing mechanisms for citizen input in local governemnt decision-making.
  • to involve local CAG members in government -intitial formal mechanisms for citizen input.
  • to support CAG’s local activities, and
  • to help the community programs create short and long-term jobs.

In effect we are helping Iraqis learn how to become advocates for themselves, their communties and the issues that are important to them.
That was my first day, other than another bologna sandwich for dinner and spending my evening struggling to learn how to post photos,which I’m still having some difficulty with please be patient. I should have been working on this instead of playing Wii.

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One Response to First Day on the Job

  1. Crazy Knitter says:

    Believe it or not, I’m envying you- are you sure you couldn’t use Bette Rueda over there?! Thanks for sharing all the details that are so much fun to read. Glad to hear the work week really is 5 days, so you will have plenty of time to keep the postings coming.

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