Sunday, March 30, 2014

Don't Worry, We're Professionals

Notes and vignettes of life in NATO.  

At least once a week, my office hosts an update briefing for the senior leadership.  Our responsibility is primarily administrative:  we organize everyone's contributions into a single presentation, and we set up the computers and the broadcast to geographically separated participants.  It should be a routine task, but we experience new and different technical problems every session.  We often have a technician on hand to help us, so there are two or three of us clustered around one computer while the briefers address the Generals.  One time, one guy was typing a message to an out-station, and another guy grabbed the mouse and clicked elsewhere on the computer...

This week, we had a mysterious hot-mic in our room - but every microphone was turned off.  Turns out a camera in the room had a microphone that had never been activated before this week.  We don't know how that microphone was activated; we didn't even know there was a microphone on the camera...

When I go to work each morning, a team of middle aged men is cleaning the compound.  I don't know whether they're contractors, conscripts, or convicts.  Each morning, the same guys are sweeping the very same spots.  What with cats and birds and trees, there's always something to be swept up, but I just can't imagine sweeping the same spot, the same path every single day.  I feel sorry for them.  But then, how different is it from sitting at the same computer every day, checking my email?  At least they're outside in the sunlight and fresh air....and then I feel sorry for myself.

These are my experiences, and my truths.  They will not be true of everyone, nor of every situation.

A German Lt Colonel, whose ordinary conversation is sprinkled with swear words, paused, and told me, "You know, we don't swear like this when we are speaking in German.  It's unprofessional, and rarely happens in the workplace.  We pick this up in NATO, working with the British."

I'm no longer Major Tomlinson or Major T, I'm Sacha.  Major Sacha, if I'm very lucky.  Pretty much everyone calls pretty much everyone else by the first name, except the most senior of Colonels, and of course the Generals.  I hate it.

There is no order, task, or assignment so important that it cannot be discussed in NATO until it just goes away and doesn't matter any more.

NATO:  Nothing After Three O'clock.
A typical day for some of our co-workers:
(Duty day starts at 0800)
0815:  Show up, change clothes, start computer
0830 - 0900:  Coffee break
0900 - 1030:  Work
1030 - 1100:  Coffee break
1100 - 1130:  Work
1130 - 1230:  Tennis
1230 - 1330:  Lunch
1330 - 1430:  Work
1430 - 1500:  Coffee Break
1500 - 1645:  Work
1645:  Shut down computer, change clothes and leave
(Duty day ends at 1700)

A French officer I work with is actually in a civilian billet. So he's in the French Army, but is coded as a civilian and works in a suit and tie.  He says there are many benefits, but it becomes a problem when he goes into war zones and is not permitted to handle a weapon because he is a civilian, but simultaneously required to handle weapons because he's a military officer; a bizarre French Catch-22. Anyhoo, this French officer has an outrageous, Python-esque accent; I love listening to him talk.  He's incredibly strict and treats his contractors like dirt: "Faysal! Click on the f*#king link, or I will cut off your bloody fingers!"  

Some nationalities will spend 20 minutes explaining why they will not do a 5 minute task.  This explanation usual comes right after they agree to do the task.  "Of course, Major Sacha, it would give me great pleasure to do that!"

I've mentioned before how impressed I am with all of these people going about their jobs in a foreign language - I could never do it.  On the other hand, I find some days terribly taxing, working with people for whom English is a second language.  Trying to explain concepts when people don't understand the words I'm using; reviewing emails and explaining that something should be written one way and not another; them explaining that when I use a word or phrase it sounds to them that I mean something completely different - mostly because they deal in the purest definitions of words, and we Americans and Brits don't use our own words properly.  Some of them think Americans are very rude because we don't pepper our conversation and email with polite nothing words (would you be so very kind as to...?  Thank you very much indeed!) It all makes my head hurt, it makes their heads hurt, and we all go home with headaches and not much done.

But sometimes very funny things come from the language differences:  One dour Croatian published a Rooster for all of us to update with our vacation days.  (So I drew a chicken on the board...) Another guy was telling us about the Army Corpse.  (So I drew a dead body on the board...)  A German was describing something he saw in the Angel of his Eye.  Took me a long time to understand that wasn't a German expression, but merely a mispronunciation.

When Czechs have multiple responsibilities, they "sit on two chairs"

The Polish have a saying that I've adopted as my personal motto; I use it as often as possible, and you wouldn't believe how much of my workday it applies to:  Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Between the Russians and the Riots...

....I haven't had a lot of personal time for the last few weeks.  I'd love to tell you more, but I don't want to be impolitic, nor do I wish to upset or offend my host nation friends.  I saw a friend's daughter's schedule for spring break, and I thought perhaps you'd like to here my plans for spring break - well, this weekend, at least.  Times are approximations - I'm not as organized or disciplined as some kids.  I'd love to hear how you spend the weekend, too!

1000-1200  Wake up, get a Starbucks mocha frappuccino and a Leibniz pick-up! cookie from the fridge, and back to bed to play on my tablet for an hour or two (check Facebook - look for new photos of my kids!, Scramble with Friends, Words with Friends, Juice Cubes, Candy Crush, email, watch a couple of YouTube videos.  Read ALL about a horror movie the Bloggess watched but I will never watch because I don't like much of that sort of thing, but think it sounds really interesting, so maybe Mike should watch it and tell me about it.)

1200-1400  Decide I really like the spring break schedule I saw on Facebook and will blog one of my own.  Determine I'll do a couple of chores before I treat myself to a shower, then a cup of tea and a book.  Crawl out of bed, grab some laundry to hand wash, head into the kitchen where I realize I'll have to wash dishes before I can wash the laundry.  

Wash the dishes, realize my kitchen floor is filthy again, then (do my hand washing, scrub the floor Cinderella-style using the left-over hand wash water, empty the fridge and freezer of old food, wash those dishes, lift weights, re-wind some yarn, do some ab work, and gather up all the trash and recycling in the house.  Wonder whether, if I put my big bottle of water out with my trash and recycling, my kapici will arrange to have my water replaced.).  

I do the things in brackets not consecutively, but rather in little bites depending on where I am in the apartment.  For example, as I move my kitchen weights (5-lb and 10-lb) to the hallway so I can clean the floor, I do some bicep curls and triceps work.  When I go to get the trash from the bathroom, I also switch out the soap and soap dishes and stop in my workout room for some ab work and more weight-lifting.  When I take the hand-wash to the laundry room to lay out to dry, I realize I'm never going to finish the project on top of my yarn stash, so I unravel it and wind the yarn back into the ball.  
This makes me want to crochet a bear for the Mother Bear Project, so I head into the living room to find the pattern; wonder whether the colours matter to the African children, and whether they'll like my bear, which won't have anything fancy about it.  

I can't find the pattern, but when I move my books around, I notice some professional reading I've neglected and a Christmas card I never sent and lament my lack of discipline.  I feel so badly about myself, I need chocolate to cheer up, and that's when I realize the fridge needs emptying.  And the chocolate didn't help, so maybe a little glass of vodka tonight.  Ooh!  The vodka bottle looks pretty in the sunlight!  I'll photograph it!  

1400-1600  A nice long shower with St Yves apricot face scrub and their body wash.  Contemplate the article I read last night about microbeads trashing the environment and poisoning critters, because the beads leach toxins from the water - which is good for the water, but bad for the critters that eat the beads.  Think it would be a really cool project for high school or college kids to work on, and wonder whether there are creative kids out there right now working on a solution, and whether our current bureaucratic and politic environment will let their solution work.  And wonder why it will take until 2017 for businesses to stop using microbeads - why can't they stop right now?

I finally get to have my special loose-leaf vanilla tea and cookie, and the tea pot stand needs polishing, so I polish my duck, too, and my dining table, and I decide the teapot looks so pretty, I'll photograph it.  I read a bit of Nicci French's Blue Monday, recommended by my Scottish boss, but then I need a tea refill, and I think maybe I'll get started blogging.  While my computer boots up, I prepare to boil a couple of eggs, so I have to find my cookbook (yes, I can't boil eggs without a recipe.  Don't laugh, it's my problem, not yours.) and I realize I still have Martha Stewart and Real Simple magazines from Christmas, so I stand at the dining table and flip thru them, tearing out everything interesting and putting the pages into a folder to be ignored for a few months.

1600-?  When I get back to my computer, I realize the Turkish-viral-crap I inadvertently downloaded to my computer last night - but I thought I had fixed - is still on there, so I swear very loudly and profusely, ordering my computer to do things it just wasn't designed to do and only William S. Burroughs could imagine, except I saw Naked Lunch and wish I hadn't...

And then I blog for a bit, and wonder whether you'll like this...  

Tonight I'll watch some Downton Abbey while I knit and drink my vodka.  I expect I'll do this all again tomorrow, without the blogging, and it will be my living room floor I mop and the sheets I'll wash.