February 5: The Kuwaiting Game

A salaam aleikom!

I’m potentially going to my first day of work today. You may be wondering what I’ve been up to for the last week and a half, since I left Georgia on the twenty-fifth of January. Mainly, I’ve been wandering around Kuwait and playing on my computer. I’ve learned a bit of Arabic, seen quite a lot of the local area, and set a few new high scores on Timeshock, so it’s been productive on all fronts.

Perhaps you think it is strange that my company flew me out to Kuwait well before it was time for work to start. This is, naturally, not precisely what’s transpired. Rather, they simply failed to do any of the preparatory paperwork before sending me over here. My coworker Atreyu and I arrived here at about 1:30 in the morning on Sunday the twenty-seventh, then stood around the desert waiting until just past 5 AM for our contact to pick us up, as no one had told him we were coming in. Having begun to learn how things work, I had at least thought to get his number before flying out here, so fortunately we were able to call him and inform him of our arrival.

We tried to get onto base the next day, but were turned back at the gate. Before we could get on base, we’d have to get passes made up. The pass-making shop was, of course, on base. This was not as insurmountable an obstacle as it first appears, fortunately. All we needed to do was be escorted on by a government worker. Unfortunately, the only one we knew by name, Morla, wasn’t answering her phone, so we left her a message and headed home.

A few days went by and various emails and phone calls were exchanged. Documents were photocopied, and exciting new revelations were made. For instance, it was let slip that not only were we going to be working six days a week—something I’d been told a while ago, but well after I’d agreed to the job and salary—but that we’d also be doing ten-hour days. Now, presumably lunch is somewhere in there, which knocks it down to a nine-hour day, but combined with the bonus workday that’s fourteen more hours a week for the same pay. In other words, it’s essentially a 25% hourly wage reduction. I’ve mentioned my displeasure to my company, but I suspect I’m stuck with this one.

They’d also like me to work starting at 6 AM, which is fine except that they want Atreyu to start at 9 AM, and they’ve only allowed for one car in the contract. That’s currently being fixed, which means we should have the other car by, oh let’s say 2010. The year, not the hour, in case you thought I’d switched to military time. In the meantime, we’ll both be working 9 to 7. It was suggested that perhaps we could both come in at 6 AM and leave at 7 PM, you know, just as a temporary situation until the car thing was resolved, but I flat-out refused that. I’m pretty clear on how temporary situations like that work, and I’m not volunteering to sit around the base for an extra three hours on top of everything else they’ve already tacked on. If they want to pay me for thirteen hours a day, then we can talk. Otherwise, that’s a no-go.

Camp Silver City is currently on Force Protection Condition Charlie, which is one down from the maximum alert level. This means, among other things, that every single vehicle going into the base gets a complete search. In the mornings, I’m told it takes an average of an hour and a half to get onto the base. According to the antiterrorism training we received, FPCon Charlie was not designed as a sustainable condition. It’s only for when there is a specific but not quite local threat, as it causes too much hardship in daily life otherwise. That’s why Silver City’s only been at Charlie since the beginning of the Iraq war. They wouldn’t want to keep it there for a long time, you know—geologically speaking.

Anyway, that was all a tangent. On Saturday, we tried to get onto the base again, this time accompanied by Morla, our contact who works there. We were diverted from the gate to the temporary badge office, who then told Morla that although she had escort privileges, she had to submit the paperwork requesting temporary passes forty-eight hours in advance. This was news to us, and to Morla as well, but it was apparently the rule of the day. She called her boss to ask him to sign memos allowing us on, but he was off that day—which seems to me to be the problem with staggering the weekends; you’re essentially guaranteed that on any given day, at least some of the people you want won’t be there—so we gave up and headed home.

We took another crack at it this morning. We went to the second gate, where the guards told us to go to the first gate. At the first gate, we were diverted over to the parking lot by the second gate, where we’d been going in the first place. We made it back to the same temporary badge office as before, passing through the FPCon Charlie security checkpoint—which consisted of them being so focused on the fact that Atreyu had an MP3 player in his pockets that they didn’t notice that the metal detector beeped when he went through, and therefore let us on without so much as wanding him—and discovered that although there was now no 48-hour notice required, the badge office didn’t open until 1 PM. Morla looked about ready to chew through the chain-link fence and just walk us in, guards or no guards, so I pointed to some graffiti scrawled on the wall.

“Don’t be moody,” I read. “Good advice, Morla.”

Morla laughed. “I’m not moody. That involves changing moods. I’m pissy all the time.”

“Fair enough,” I said.

Morla made a valiant effort at getting through to the guards using logic and reason, but to no avail. The most they did was complain that our paperwork was out of order—not as in “not completed,” just as in “this paper should be on top of the other one”—which they were kind enough to staple in the correct order for us. Of course, they were also kind enough to staple Atreyu’s passport to my paperwork, so now my passport photo looks even less like me, but so it goes.

We’re going to head back at noon or so and try again. Assuming that the rules haven’t changed too much with the shifts, I think we’ll actually make it on today. Of course, according to the schedule they’ve relayed to us, tomorrow’s my day off, but I think that perhaps I won’t press that point until we actually get all of the paperwork done. I won’t be working my actual shift until we get the second car, anyway, so I assume I’ll just have Friday off with Atreyu until that gets sorted out.

That said, Kuwait’s quite nice. I’ve been quite enjoying this vacation, and I haven’t even had to consider whether I’m getting enough entertainment out of the days to justify the time off, since I haven’t had to take any time off for it. I know some people say that they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they had all day off, but it turns out that I’m just fine with getting money for nothing. The trick is to plan to do things, then not do them. That way, you always have a plan, so you’re not just sitting around because you’ve got nothing to do. You’re sitting around because you want to! It makes even the idleness purposeful. And, of course, when you get tired of being idle, there’s a plan all ready to go. I’m still looking forward to actually starting this job, too, but it’s nice to be able to appreciate the time without it, as well.

I’ve attached a mildly edited Dilbert comic from Sunday, which I think does a fine job of summing up the way the process has been going. I’m still upbeat about the whole thing, but then, I find amusement in odd places sometimes.

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