Alright, I'm not going to lie to you. This is pretty grim. Check out the view from my kitchen window:
"Gosh, two sets of bars," you say. "Three if you count the elongated metal spikes on top of the seven foot concrete wall," I correct helpfully. Is it too soon for UBL jokes? Because I think my landlord might have hired his exterior decorator. The consulate itself is awash in razor wire and the sort of fences you normally only see when living within hitting range of a baseball stadium. Every day I ride in an armored vehicle there and back, following a continually changing route and schedule -- any other movements have to be pre-approved by the RSO. There is a world outside of the walls and the armored cars, but I can only just catch glances of it through cracks in fences and darkened windows that don't roll down...
The view from the kitchen is occasionally punctuated by a flash of one of the 'guards' walking past the window. I put 'guards' in quotes to indicate that only two or three of the lot of them are actually wearing a proper guard uniform at any given time*; the rest are there for some purpose unspecified by their outfits. They live off of ice, which it is my job as the 'monied land owner' (again, note the quotation marks) to bestow: once in the morning and once at night. Communication is mostly through hand gestures -- it took the intervention of a third party to make them understand that I wanted to know their names. Still, one week in, and I already find myself thinking in the evening, "I really need to get home; the guards' water has probably gotten warm." Other people on the shuttle complain bitterly about the restrictions, the scheduling, the time spent on logistics... Many of them remember when this wasn't the case.
My immediate reaction to this new reality was one of recoil. It is telling that I have yet to unpack my suitcase. The boxes sent from Amman sit unopened on a table. I started to make a tally for my office wall (one week down, only 51 to go!), but it's too miserable an outlook -- and a horrible disservice to the FSNs who are trying so hard to put a happy face on things as well. MS isn't good for much, but at the very least it's taught me the futility of raging against the cage you're in. I spent a lot of time contemplating what my motto for this tour should be. I think I've settled on "Engage" -- which definitely includes "Unpack." Something I'll do this weekend.
*Indeed, glances out the window tell me that they are often shirtless, though they are always very careful to be fully dressed during our ice exchanges.