Saturday, December 31, 2005

After only 6 months, an actual post

Edited 31 Dec to keep myself out of trouble. And to add that the post probably makes more sense if I include the information that I'm working as a civilian contractor for the US Army as part of Army Support Group - Kuwait. My job is the mission-critical operational task of providing library services to the soldiers and unblocking the library toilets as necessary (American men seem to have a singular ability to block toilets, don't get me started).

I was quite happy to ignore this blog until I noticed Maria von Trapp had added it to her blogroll, and the thought occurred that it would be embarrassing to have people actually follow the link and see the big pile of nothing that was at the end of it. So, Maria is either to thank or to blame, depending on whether you enjoy or hate the entry which I threw together below. I decided that seeing as I've been bombarding people back in NZ with Kuwait stories by email for more than 2 years now, it should be easy enough to turn them into blog entries - here's one from December:

There are a million stories in sunny Kuwait, and this is 6 of 'em.

1. Excised to prevent me getting in trouble with the military.

2. Our company finally got new vehicles delivered from the local Toyota agent – Fortuners, which seem to be an SUV based on the HiLux truck. I’m not entitled to a company car because I’m not in company accommodation, but with the usual local standards of efficiency, my boss M was issued with the new vehicles without anyone asking for the old ones to be turned in. The upshot of this is that he has a spare 2-year-old Landcruiser Prado, which is now booked out to me. It’s mine until someone wakes up to the fact that we still have it, which could be tomorrow, or shortly before the heat death of the universe, who can tell. It’s just the base model, so half the switches are blanked off and it only has a cassette player, but this being Kuwait even the base model has climate control air conditioning with individual driver/front passenger temperature controls and separate rear cooling unit. So obviously I’m in no hurry for anyone to notice I’ve got it.

Interesting conversation number one:

I had to check the Prado for damage when I took it over from a female colleague, R, who was getting a nice new Fortuner.

R: “It’s pretty good except for a whole lot of tears and scratches on the front passenger upholstery and centre console.”

M: “Oh right, that used to be B’s car, didn’t it." (B was M’s manager earlier this year, an ex-Navy diver from American Samoa. He quit ahead of getting fired for being a general loose unit).

R: “Yeah, he always carried his sword in it. He and his sword are in Iraq now.”

Milt (deadpan): “Well sure, who hasn’t had their sword scratch up the upholstery?”

Sure enough, the front passenger side is a mess of scratched plastic and torn vinyl. So he didn’t just carry a sword in there, he carried a naked sword in there. I wouldn’t have fucked with him even if he was unarmed…

3. Excised as far too defamatory even to publish anonymously. It’s not like my company couldn’t figure out who I am in a matter of seconds on reading this anyway.

4. Today I checked with our warehouse manager L (an ex-Sergeant Major from Hawaii who witnessed the Highway of Death shootup from a helicopter back in 1991 – I promise I’m not making this up!), whether or not I can throw a broken paperback stand away.

I’ve learned that you can’t throw anything away, because everything the army issues goes on someone’s Hand Receipt, and you will be held personally accountable for everything that’s on your Hand Receipt. I have 15 computers, 3 printers, a magazine rack and a counter on mine. My biggest fear is that the entire set of library furniture will be transferred to me, but L has been arguing with Property Management about the paperwork for a year now, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Anyway, people get transferred around so much they eventually lose track of what-all is on their various Hand Receipts, so you don’t throw anything out just in case you’ll be landing someone in trouble. So I have this broken paperback stand being used as a coatrack in our workroom (it’s only 20-25 degrees right now, so the Indians and Bangladeshis are wearing their full winter kit).

Well, I did eventually learn not to throw things out, but there’s also the period before I learned that to consider. Interesting conversation number 2:

L: “Nah, you can throw that shit out. I kept those things off the books. No-one knows you got that.”

Milt: “That’s great, thanks a lot.”

L: “That globe though, where’s that globe?”

Milt (suddenly nervous): “Globe?”

L: “You know, that globe. Real big heavy globe on a metal stand about 3 feet high, inlaid shell and stuff to show the countries – you couldn’t miss it.”

Milt: “Er, you know, that globe was broken – the legs of the stand were wrecked and the South Pole was at the top and no-one could fix it.”

L: “Please tell me you didn’t throw that globe in the trash. You can’t just throw stuff in the trash!”

Milt: “L, we threw the globe in the trash - last December.”

L: "Shit! That was a $900 item!"

Milt: “I’m real sorry, we weren’t thinking straight.”

L: “Don’t sweat it buddy. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I managed to keep that one off the books too.”

L, like most Sergeant Majors, is a guy whose good books you most definitely want to be in. He seems to like me, for which I can think of no good reason, but for which I'm constantly grateful – like today for instance, seeing as he just saved me US $900.

5. A couple of weeks back L came in with a brand new laptop, still in the box. None of us picked him as a gadget freak, so we commented on it. It seems the company had issued him with a cheque for US $3000. He wanted cash. Finance would not cash the cheque. Army Finance would not cash the cheque. L’s bank would not cash the cheque (Arab banks have all kinds of peculiarities, so that didn’t surprise us). Eventually L cut a deal with the boss at the PX – they would cash his cheque if he bought a $1000 laptop. So L has a lovely new IBM Thinkpad, and what made him most grumpy of all, the PX paid him out $2000 change in $10 bills. He figured he should have bought a briefcase as well as the computer, then he’d have something to put his money in.

6. Our housekeeper A has been keeping us well supplied with her own ongoing horror story this year. Her husband JB, a good ole boy from Arkansas, also works for my company, and was transferred to Camp Navistar up by the Iraqi border at the start of this year. He was annoyed about that - for one thing there tends to be an unreasonable amount of dodgy geezers and unexplained gunfire close to the Iraqi border, and for another it’s an hour and a half from his house.

On the plus side though, the roads up there are way too bad for his new Chev Lumina (basically a Holden Commodore), so the company gave him a truck. This meant JB could sell his Lumina, and one of the Indian residents of his building expressed interest in taking over the payments.

This guy H is a real smooth charmer and shameless cadger, enough to ring alarm bells with anyone not as full of Christian charity as A and JB. They told H he could drive the car while they were on vacation in the States for a month, and take over the payments when they came back. Well of course, they came back from the States and H had any number of excellent reasons why he couldn’t come with them to take over the payments on the car, and why he couldn’t give them the keys back and so on. It took them several more months to finally tell the guy he could hand over the keys or talk to the cops.

You can probably see where this is going. JB and A take the car, which is still well under a year old but now has 50,000 km(!) on it, to the dealer to sell it. The dealer gets one of his tradesmen to come out and show them how both ends of the car have been replaced, dents in most of the panels have been repaired, and the nice Michelin tyres replaced with cheapo retreads. It was now worth a fraction of what they still owed on it. As it turns out, H had been quite a hit with the ladies in his shiny American auto, and one of these ladies in particular proved to be very inept at manoeuvring the car around the underground carpark, leaving bits of it against every concrete pillar. And H had of course done a fair bit of damage himself. The tyres remained a mystery, until one of H’s friends told Ann that he’d got into a road rage incident with a Kuwaiti on the Expressway, tried to overtake him at 180k down the breakdown lane next to the median barrier and had to do an emergency stop, which meant he went over the speed troughs at high speed with the brakes on and blew out 3 tyres. H has no money of course, just debts with a number of people foolish enough to lend him money. But he is irrepressible – the fact that he owed A & JB about NZ $10,000 for their car’s lost value didn’t prevent him trying to borrow money from them after they’d established that he couldn’t pay them back. A guy with that kind of brass neck is hard to apply leverage to. Unfortunately for him though, he’s also an illegal immigrant, so JB had an excellent piece of leverage to apply to H’s employer, who’d stand to get done for hiring illegal immigrants if the police became involved. The employer eventually fronted up the cash, and one can only wish to have been a fly on the wall in the conversations about this money that he undoubtedly had with H.

So everyone lived happily ever after – or rather, until last week, when the company arranged a heavy traffic license for Milton and he went down to the police station to pick it up. Far from giving him his new license, they handed him an order preventing him from leaving the country until his ca NZ $2300 in traffic fines was cleared up. It’s a lucky thing for JB that the company arranged that H/T license for him, otherwise he would have been standing at the checkin counter at the airport on the 19th to fly home for Christmas and been told then that he couldn’t leave the country. So, he gets A for his interpreter, they both take a day off work and schlep themselves down to the traffic dept (a day off because they have to plunge themselves into the shudderingly horrendous Kuwaiti bureaucracy), pay the fines, pay extra to be given the photos from the speed cameras, and you guessed it, here’s picture after picture of H running red lights and speeding in their car. On the bright side, the police have expressed an interest in meeting the hyperactive chap in the photos, so H will much rather cadge the money off someone and pay them back rather than have the Kuwaiti police banging on his door. Perhaps everyone will live happily ever after yet.

One day, when I've figured out how to work this site, I'll even throw in some illustrations, but in the meantime I recommend a trip to my Flickr site, especially the Crashed Cars of Kuwait set and the Lifestyles of the Broke and Unknown set. And thanks for visiting.