Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Evacuation? Ordered Departure? Take my Advice…

As things turned out, all non-essential personnel have been evacuated from Lahore, Pakistan to Islamabad, including me.  I’ve been this route before and thought I had learned my lesson.  Not quite.  So I thought I would share some tips just in case any of my Foreign Service readers ever fall victim to an evacuation of any kind.

Pack wisely.  That means the biggest suitcase you own.  You don’t need to fill it but you’ll have room for purchases just in case you are displaced to some location with good retail opportunities.  That would be shopping!  If you need to, take a second one and split the contents between the 2. Even though I was sent to Islamabad, Pakistan, there are stilll lots to see and buy here.

Prepare for Longer Stay Than You Think.  Even though you might be told this is a ‘temporary situation’ and things will be ‘evaluated on a daily basis,’ it could turn into weeks. We all agree that everyone wants us back in our regular jobs quickly, but some things take time.  Prepare for it with enough clothes, meds, toiletries, undies, snacks, etc. that you think you’ll need for a longer time.  Believe me, after 4 weeks wearing the same 3 outfits, you’ll be ready to burn them!

Boredom will set in.  Depending on where you are relocated to, there may not be much to do.  You might end up staying in something like the ipods here in Islamabad.  They are actually repurposed containers like what things are transported in on freighters.  They look nice inside but after a while, you will feel closed in.  Bring books, games, crafts, knitting…anything to help combat boredom in the evenings.

Power Up!  For whatever power toys you bring, don’t forget your power cords!  I know this sounds silly, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends comment that they forgot the cord for their camera or their iPad.  Use the bed in an extra bedroom to ‘stage’ your packing.  Don’t put anything in the suitcase until the last minute so you can see just what you have.  Put all power cords in a zip lock or attach them to the item they support…whatever manner that will insure you don’t forget them. Make sure everything is fully charged before you leave in case you want to surf the net on your smart phone or in case you miss flights or a vehicle breaks down.

Pepto Up!  Don’t forget your meds.  If you think you’ll be gone a week, take the entire bottle with you.  You may end up somewhere where the food doesn’t agree with you so take something for stomach problems.  Make sure you have plenty of any meds you take on a regular basis.  Best case, you could be back home in a week.  Worst case, you might never return to your post.  Don’t get caught trying to get more meds in an unfamiliar place.

E.T., Phone Home.  It’s so important to keep family and friends back home informed on how you are, where you are and how things are.  If you have a blog, keep updating it. If you can call them, do it as often as you can.  Send emails daily.  You may know you’re just fine but those at home will worry about you, the reason you were evacuated and why the heck you aren’t back yet.  A quick update on whatever social media you use is also a good idea. 

I Owe, I Owe, It’s Off on Ordered Departure I Go!  Try to log on and check your credit cards before you leave.  You never know how good (or secure) the connection will be when you arrive at your point of evacuation.  There are always computers for us DOS people, but you could be so busy that paying that MasterCard bill may slip your mind.  And make sure you have a check or debit card.  Most Embassies can cash a check for you and/or have an ATM machine around.  Some countries only accept Visa, some only MasterCard and some both.  Be prepared…nothing worse than ending up with no cash.

Rain Keeps Falling On My Head.  Take an umbrella or rain suit.  In areas where there are rainy seasons, it could be sunny one minute and a downpour the next.  Be prepared for a change in weather.

I hope these tips help you if you ever find yourself being whisked off to the airport in the middle of the night.  Being prepared for anything will help make this kind of disruption in your life a little easier to endure.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

I Need a Crystal Ball...

Serving at a location listed as a ‘hardship’ post can sometimes be a pleasant surprise.  That’s how Lahore, Pakistan has turned out for me.  I’m now 14 months into my 2 year tour and have really enjoyed life here.

Sure, there are the expected hardships that you won’t encounter living in the U.S.  The load shedding is at the top of the list.  The power company shuts off all power to the city for everyone on a daily basis.  In some areas, there is only about 6 hours of power in every 24 hours, and in already unbearable heat, no air conditioning or water (water is delivered by pumps) makes life very hard.  The lack of green leafy vegetables for most of the year is another hardship for someone like me who loves salads.  The list goes on but currently, something else has jumped to the forefront of this list.  That would be the fear that your workplace is targeted by terrorists.

For the past few days, there has been a very serious threat of terrorism and it is being taken very seriously.  The Consulate here is normally closed on Sundays, so the mass closing of Embassies and Consulate in this region didn't affect us.  We did have a 2 hour delay in pickups by the shuttle that brings us from our homes to the Consulate and some additional security measures put in place.  We aren't sure of what the days ahead will bring.  Anything could be possible.   

Last September, as a result of the anti-Muslim film and the protests that followed, we were evacuated to Dubai and spent 10 days there.  It wasn't bad but I would have rather been home in my own bed.  We had a taste of what it was like to be whisked away, out of the path of danger.

This is transfer season and most of those assigned here have left for their next assignment.  Those of us who are still here and remember being flown to Dubai in the middle of the night already have our ‘go bag’ packed and ready to grab.  Just in case.  It’s not all that bad to be evacuated…you just hope it’s for a short period of time.  You aren't allowed to return to post until the people in Washington D.C. say you can return.  And after Benghazi, no one is in a hurry to put any of us back in harm’s way.   

So here we are, wondering just what will happen with this latest threat.  We’re off Thursday and Friday, which brings Ramadan to a close. Many are out of town and the few of us left here are hoping that we don’t need to ‘defend the Alamo’ or prepare for a quick ordered departure!  I’m sure we’ll be fine, but thinking about it makes us more mentally prepared to handle whatever might come our way.

Lahore…the final chapter of my short 6 year career in the Foreign Service.   Six years ago, if anyone had told me I would spend 2 years in Pakistan at my age (a very young 64 years old), I would have cracked up!  No way would I have dreamed that I would be here, during these turbulent times, and would have found it even more unbelievable that I would say I enjoyed it!

Pakistani kids signal for Peace...