March 8: Lying in Kuwait

I think I’ve reached a lull in things going wrong. As of Thursday, I at last have a vehicle which is registered to drive on the Army base. They fought me to the bitter end to make the process as obnoxious as possible—although really, I wouldn’t have it any other way at this point. If I’d been able to just walk in and get it registered, I would have been quite surprised and probably a bit disappointed. It would have been anticlimactic.

Fortunately, the Army didn’t let me down. When I brought them the paperwork on March fourth, I was told that as of March first, I now needed an additional piece of paper proving that I really had rented the car from a rental agency, and not merely stolen it off of their lot. Without this, they weren’t willing to register my car—which was just as well since, as my co-worker pointed out, I had left the car at home, which was going to make it awfully hard for them to apply the barcode sticker to the windshield.

A couple of days later, I’d gotten my hands on the appropriate paperwork. I made copies, I drove the correct car to work, I went to the back gate where the parking lot outside of the base is. The guards on duty told me I’d have to go in through the front gate, so I circled back around to the front gate, where they diverted me down a side path to a spot immediately past the back gate. I parked my car, waited in line for over an hour, and got to the window where they issue temporary vehicle passes. The man on duty there told me that my photocopies were not good enough, and demanded originals of all of the documents. Fortunately, I’d expected this gambit and had brought the originals along as well. In fact, I’d brought nearly every piece of paper in my house, up to and including a roll of paper towels I found in the kitchen. I didn’t think they’d need my inoculation record, but I didn’t want to get turned back because they suddenly decided they wanted to see it.

The man quizzed me for a while on information already on the paperwork, as if to catch me in a lie:

“So this vehicle—is it yours?”
“No, the company leased it, like it says there.”
“Mmhm. So you own it, then?”

In the end, he was forced to reluctantly issue me a temporary vehicle pass so that I could drive onto base and get my permanent pass. This took about a half an hour, after which time I was once again turned away from the back gate simply because they wanted to see how many times they could make me circle the base before allowing me inside.

After passing through the front gate a second time, I stood around for a while while they performed the daily inspection of the cars to make sure no one was smuggling dangerous weapons onto a military base. At some point during this, I heard a brief honk, as of a car being locked by remote, but I didn’t immediately connect this to the fact that I’d just knocked my arm against the pocket of my jeans. Indeed, it wasn’t several minutes later, when a car alarm started going off, that I put the two events together and hit some buttons on my keymote, just in case. The car alarm stopped, and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed that I was the idiot who’d just set off my car alarm in the inspection line. Fortunately, I appeared to be in the clear, although the guard grinned at me when I got into the car, so obviously he at least knew.

I then made my way to the access office where I waited in another line for twenty minutes or so, after which I was presented with a placard—to which they had affixed the bar code. Apparently, among the rules changed on March first was the one where you had to actually have the car there to receive the base access sticker. So that entire two hour process, gate changes, recitation of the paperwork and all, was entirely unnecessary. Once I had finished shaking my fist at the sky and screaming out my anguish, I was forced to admit that it was a fitting conclusion to the process.

So, as I say, I’m currently at a place where things seem to be ticking along without complications. This puts me a bit on edge. It’s so out of step with the way things have been going that I have to assume that there’s something I’m missing lying in wait for me. There’s the upcoming trip to Bahrain, of course, in which my company intends to have me travel alone to a strange new country, in order to be able to continue to dodge the work laws for the country in which I currently reside. I’m looking forward to that with a sort of anticipatory horror, but it’s not for a month or so yet. Possibly everything will continue smoothly for that time, but I am suspicious.

And with impeccable timing, I’ve just received an email from my company, informing me that they “need to talk with me about this week’s timesheet.” Apparently, they don’t like the fact that over the last two weeks, I worked 140 hours, with no days off. Frankly, I wasn’t a huge fan of it, either. I intend to present them with the novel suggestion that if they don’t want me working that many hours, they should perhaps not tell me to work from 6 AM to 4 PM, seven days a week. If they assign me insane hours, they can’t then also complain that I’m working them. That’s my prerogative, and I don’t take kindly to having it usurped.

I’m not sure why they care, anyway. I’m salaried, which I’m pretty sure means that they can tell me to work up to 168 hours a week, and I can do it or quit. I’m okay with this arrangement or I wouldn’t’ve signed the contract in the first place. If they’re feeling guilty, they’re welcome to give me a bonus. Personally, I just intend to use the massive number of extra hours I’ve worked as a bargaining chip in my salary renegotiation when I head back to the States.

I’m not even going to bother putting in a segue here; I’m just moving on to a pair of driving stories. The speed limit on the freeway leading to work is 120 km/hr, or just under 75 mph. There are several big signs proclaiming the presence of speed cameras. The speed cameras themselves, however, are completely lacking, and everyone knows it. If I drove only 120 kph on the way to work, I’d be mowed down by the rest of the traffic. I’ve been driving about 180 kph, a bit over 100 mph, and I still get blown past fairly regularly. The roads are straight and largely empty, so it’s easy to let the speed creep up.

There was a clever trap set for me this morning, though. I saw a car sitting on the right side of the road, its left front side smashed in. The car had clearly spun over there from the force of the impact.

“I wonder what it hit?” I thought, and then saw the broken block of concrete, about three feet high and roughly cubic, sitting in my lane just a bit before the damaged car. I performed a deft maneuver which the previous driver had clearly failed to premimic, and successfully avoided joining him on the side of the road with an identical piece smashed out of my vehicle. It was a highway version of the Sirens’ trap. The shiny, injured car drew my eye away from the jagged rock in front of me so that I would dash myself upon it. I’m not sure what the trapsetter would have gotten out of this, but then, I don’t precisely recall what the Sirens got out of their trap, either. Did they eat the sailors, or what? Maybe they just really hated ships. Maybe they only sang for sailors who they thought were sailing too fast. Perhaps they were the sea’s traffic cops.

If that was the point of the block, then I’ve been told to slow down twice today. After getting on base this morning, I was pulled over by an MP while driving down the main road. The base had one of those signs up that announces your speed. According to it, I was doing 41 kph. The blue lights in my rearview told me that this was not acceptable, so I pulled over. Officer Trimble introduced himself to me, and asked me if I knew what the speed limit was.

“I thought it was 40,” I said.

“It is,” he said.

“How fast was I going?” I asked, thinking that perhaps the sign had been wrong.

“More than 40,” he said.

As he was undeniably correct on this point, I made no argument, and he let me off with a warning. It seems that the base commander has grown tired of people speeding, and has threatened to drop the speed limit to 10 kph if everyone doesn’t knock it off. The MPs, therefore, get to spend the next few days pulling over everyone who’s speeding at all and informing them of this. My extra kilometer per hour was enough of an infraction to land me in this group, although not enough to earn me a ticket.

Speed warnings aside, everyone’s been very enthusiastic about me being here. Morla, who was holding down the job by herself before Atreyu and I arrived, expressed a hope that we’d be here for some time to come, and I get daily compliments from the folks I help out. They’re like morning affirmations, only they go on all day, and other people do them for me. I highly recommend it! It’s a good technique, if you can manage it.

My Arabic is still lousy, but at least I can read the alphabet and request things in a restaurant without just pointing to them, so it could be worse. My work is fun, and I enjoy what time I have outside of work, so I’m hard-pressed to complain, which is really the only problem. If it weren’t for everything going right, I’d be completely satisfied.

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