Friday, May 30, 2008

Duty Calls

Yes, our life in the diplomatic corps is glamorous and unexpected and lively, but it is not all fun all the time. One of the requirements of Kenny's job is that every once in awhile - so far on 2 3-day weekends, lucky us - he must act as the Embassy Duty Officer. This means that on Wednesday afternoon before he leaves the office he is given a very large, black bag full of reference materials and phone numbers and a cell phone that he must carry on his person at all times until the following Wednesday when he passes the baton to the next victim. The purpose of the duty officer is to make sure the US Embassy in Lima (actually every Embassy in the world) has 24 hour 7 day a week coverage so that Joe Citizen can speak to someone live in the event of a catastrophe (i.e. lost passport, detention by foreign government, accident, arrest etc.). Translation: if the planets align just so, the duty officer and family will likely find themselves embroiled in a fare amount of insanity and interruption over the course of the week, and especially the weekend. Kenny was duty officer over Memorial Day weekend and, sadly for us the cosmos was feeling vengeful and directed its' ire at us.

The week went something like this (warning lots of text and few pictures ahead):

Thursday: No calls. The Embassy was open and people probably assumed that unless you call during business hours you're out of luck. Not so, but let's let them believe what they want.

Friday: Day, no calls, again, Embassy was open. Friday night, just as we were finishing dinner on the town sans children the phone rings. It is Paul (name changed) calling from Somewhere, USA to say some woman from Peru called 2 hours earlier to say his father, let's call him Jeremy, was dead - or so he thinks since he didn't talk to her and she didn't speak much English - and could the Embassy/Kenny help him? Paul doesn't know who called, nor does he have a phone number or anything resembling contact information, nor is he certain his father has passed away, due to the language barrier. Also, Paul isn't sure of his father's age and gives the impression their relationship is strained, at best. Paul says father has been in Peru for 2 years or so and that he was in another city when this happened, but doesn't know where in that city. Paul is unhelpful. We go back to the car and find the big black bag with all the resource materials. Kenny makes a couple of phone calls and determines there is next to nothing he/we (the government) can do without additional information. He calls Paul back tells him to sit tight, wait until he knows more and then call back.

Caleb hiding from the incessantly ringing phone

Then, we head off to see the latest Indiana Jones movie. On our way, phone rings again. It is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force calling from a base stateside. His crew and the multi-million dollar jet that were in Peru earlier in the day and supposed to be on their way back to their home unit when he called were missing. Back to the car and the black bag - its a big bag, not practical for hauling around. Kenny then calls the Defense Attache (DA) assigned to Lima. The nice thing about the military is they take care of their own. The DA tells Kenny not to worry he'll handle the situation and call him when he has located the plane and crew. He does. Kenny then calls the Lt. Colonel and notifies him of the crew's whereabouts. Lt. Colonel guy is none too pleased with his crew and tells Kenny as much, but thanks him for his help.

Now we are in the theater, sitting in seats we found only after making several people move and crawling over them to sit in, previews rolling. Phone rings again, it's Paul again. Kenny leaves the theatre, dispenses with Paul's call quickly and returns shortly thereafter to resume watching Indiana Jones (having missed the first 5 and fairly crucial minutes). 20 minutes later, phone rings again, Kenny leaves and does not return for another 45 minutes at which point I leave the movie as well and we head downstairs to ask for a raincheck. That call was from a friend of now-confirmed deceased Jeremy who lives in Lima.

On the way home, because our night is shot, Paul calls again. He is coming to Lima, he will arrive on Monday. The friend is on her way to Chiclayo (city where Jeremy died from an apparent heart attack) to make arrangements to bring the body back to Lima. Paul says he will keep us posted. Great.

Saturday: We are at the zoo: Gina calls to say she lost her passport and is supposed to fly out on Sunday - she's out of luck. Temporary passports require 2 business days and since Monday is a holiday she can't leave until Wednesday COB.

We are in the car on the way home from the zoo: Paul calls - the magistrates in Chiclayo won't release the body to the friend but they will to the Embassy - can Kenny call the magistrates and get the body? No, Kenny cannot. The US Government doesn't do that. Paul must deal with them when he arrives.

We are at dinner with 2 very tired and uncooperative children: Eliza calls from Spain to say that her ex-husband, who does not have custody of their 8 year old daughter, has been arrested while traveling in Peru with the daughter and now the child is somewhere in Peru in custody of the authorities. This turns out to be the tip of the iceberg of a very complicated story, some of which was true, much of which was sketchy and patently untrue. It took most of the weekend to unravel.

Isaac trying to sleep through the nightmare

We are buying some last minute items for dinner on Sunday: Paul, again. Kenny tells him he must talk to the magistrates directly and do as they direct. They have told him to call the funeral home.

Sunday: Paul again. He says the magistrates are being difficult. Kenny says, have you called the funeral home? Paul says no, because the magistrates say the US Embassy can intervene and Paul doesn't understand why they (read Kenny) won't. Kenny says, our laws (privacy in particular) apply to our citizens even beyond our borders. Only family can be responsible for a person's remains without a notarized affidavit.

Monday: Paul again. He's in Peru and calling from the airport wanting to know when and where he can meet up with Kenny. Kenny says this is not going to happen and to call the funeral home.

Gina again. Does she really have to wait 2 business days? Yes, says Kenny. Gina says, but can't they expedite the process, I really need to get home. Kenny refrains from saying many things he is thinking and says instead, he can't say one way or the other, today is a holiday and the people who can expedite the process are unavailable.

Eliza again. More sketchiness, more thickening of the plot.

Paul again and again and again. The answer each time? Sorry, but no, the US Government cannot and does not do that.

Tuesday: Embassy is open, the calls stop and we managed to see the rest of Indiana Jones - hurrah!

Wednesday: The final day of duty arrived none too soon and Kenny said "tag you're it" to some other poor soul, happily handing off the black bag and ubiquitous cell phone.

So many crazy problems and people in such a short time. We were so ready to be done by the end of the week and for once very happy to be far away from most of our fellow Americans. Makes you want to join the foreign service doesn't it? Not as glamorous as you thought huh?


Jake said...

That WAS interesting. I guess it really does take a diplomat to work with all these situations!!

Digger said...

I HATED being duty officer. Ineviatbly the phone would ring at 2 am ("Hello, this is Ops. Can you tell us if Sharon is dead?" "No I can't. Call the Embassy...the consulate does not deal with the government of Israel. Better yet, turn on CNN, because we are all asleep and they likely have a reporter at the hospital."

And of course, since it was Jerusalem, I also got those with Jerusalem syndrome. Got to talk to Jesus and a "spy" in one weekend. Such fun.

Kimberly said...

I love this post! I'm sorry that you had to talk to Paul 2,361 times as part of the drama. I want more about Eliza and the 8 year old. Can you write a book about working in the foreign service?

robin marie said...

so crazy! i love how lapses in judgement/planning mean an emergency on someone else's (read: kenny) part! good grief. and yes, i'd read that book!

dana said...

And you also had time to deal with our LAN flight debacle?! MUCHAS gracias. Um, sounds like an exciting week with the telephone! Craaaazy job you got there Kenny.

alisa and sometimes brandon said...

Totally wacky!

Great read though. People are strange, strange individuals who think the government can just do anything they want whenever they want. You are patient, patient people. :)

calibosmom said...

WOW! My head is spinning...thanks for visiting my blog! Tell your husband that the grass at Fenway is beautiful!

Kristy said...

This pretty much makes my head hurt. Yikes. How's the organizing for the move going? We just finished, packed up the truck yesterday and are currently in the middle of Ohio somewhere...headed for the middle of Iowa.

Lauren in GA said...

I had NO idea!!! Reading this has taught me where the saying, "Try to be diplomatic" must come from!!The more I blog the more I realize I take a lot of things for granted.

I loved the pictures of your boys!

Annie said...

Can I have the magic phone number so Kenny can solve all of my problems too? He sounds like a good, go-to person.

Like being the bishop of all of Peru :)

When my husband was a JAG in the AirForce, he would get The Pager for a weekend every month and have to deal with all the craziness. But that was just for one base--not a whole country!

Adrianne said...

Seriously, interesting and I'm glad you posted about it. Never knew I could demand so much of my embassy, will have to start making use of them!!!

Did you ever find out if it's true that any place with at least 10 US citizens/residents of foreign place can demand some kind of post?? I would like to work at it, just for the mail benefits.

lis said...

So sad for all the drama you guys had. But, so glad we don't have to monitor that phone!!! It's one nice thing about being contracted to State!!!

Jessica said...

You guys are such good buds with Paul...are you going to the funeral??

(Thanks for the inside info on Embassy work!)

Ilene said...

Crazy Americans.

Grayson Family said...

I had this dream once where I was so angry at my phone that I threw it down on the ground in frustration. It broke of course and this made me happy. So I started to jump and stomp on it until it looked very little like the phone I first dreamed of. I have to say, I felt good when I woke up.

Maybe Kenny could try that? Might make him feel better. You too. Caleb too although I would take the trash can off his head first.

the wrath of khandrea said...

and i thought life in the military was rough...

Christie said...

Wow, I had no idea the embassy even TOOK calls on a 24-hour basis. Lucky you?

Heather said...

Amazing and captivating entry! Serioulsy, I was totally hooked, like a novel I can't put down. Plus laughing my head off! I'm sure you guys can laugh now, but probably weren't laughing much in the middle of it!

How was Indiana Jones?? We haven't been yet. I wonder if it's here yet? Should be. We JUST got a live-in maid, got rid of the 5-day-a-week one and decided we (Ryan and I) needed a social life again. Plus, small factor, I've been called as Stake RS Pres. No, that was not a typo. Not sure what the people up here are drinking!!! But it's true, so can't really survive anymore without a live-in. She starts on Monday. We've had one week sans maid, and it's diastrous (not by choice nor plans, of course)! I keep telling myself that I've saved $125 USD, but that isn't helping myself feel sane with meters and meters of wood floor left uncleaned, loads of laundry, the kids' last week of school, parties, one emergency dentist visit where the children both came and didn't cooperate, and many, many other things!


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