Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mail Run

Another sign that Embassy Baghdad is not like normal embassies is that the mail run between the Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requires bullet-proof gear and a 3-car convoy. Today it was my turn to do the mail run.

I donned my flak jacket and helmet, got my instructions from the security agent in charge, and got into an armored suburban. Rule number one when travelling with a PSD (personal security detail) – never open or close a door, the PSD does that. This is a good thing because those doors are heavy!

It is a short drive to the check point and we barely drove into the red zone before we arrived at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All three vehicles parked in front of the building and, remembering rule number one, I waited. A team of armed men got out of the other two vehicles, surrounded the vehicle I was in and did a quick survey of the environment before opening my door. Then they surrounded me as we walked into the building.

Once inside I took off my flak jacket and found my contact with whom I exchanged the mail (we have diplomatic notes for them, and they have diplomatic notes for us). While I was waiting, the Iraqi official started off by congratulating us on our new president and then going on a rant about President Bush. I have a feeling he was just testing me to see if he could get a reaction from me, but I kept my mouth shut.

This is the good part. After we exchanged the letters, he asked how someone would go about finding a marriageable American woman. I thought perhaps I didn’t hear him correctly, but then he said very plainly that he wanted an American wife. I said something vague like, “that’s not an easy thing to do,” disliking the turn the conversation had taken. Sure enough, he asked me for my business card. I didn’t have one with me. "Next time," he said. Sure.

I don't know if the PSD agents are trained in extracting unmarried female diplomats from unwanted marriage proposals.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lunch at the Freedom Cafe

There is a market/cafe just down the street from the new Embassy compound (NEC) called "Freedom." A few of us walked there for lunch. I had been there a couple times before, hoping to buy some items, like butter, that we can't get at the PX. There weren't many people there; others have told me that the customers were usually American Embassy officers desperate for a non-NEC meal.

This time was different. The lunchtime crowd was mostly Iraqis and nearly all the tables were full. We walked to a table in the back, getting the stares that a black man, two white guys, and two red-headed women could expect from a cafe full of working class Iraqi men (I did spot a woman at one table later on). We had a wonderful meal of lamb and several side dishes of potatoes, beans, and eggplant.

The market/cafe is owned by Christian Iraqis. I know this because 1) the first time I visited, my colleagues introduced the owner; and 2) on the back wall is a large picture of Jesus and his disciples at the last supper, the framed print accessorized with a shiny tinsel boa. While Christians may suffer harassment in other parts of Iraq, at least here they seem to be doing good business.