UN Civil Affairs, Region Bihac
HAPPY HOUR (1)
Yesterday I drove to the office minding my own business and nursing a slight hangover (the morning-after of a BarBQ party that started on Sunday afternoon and ended in the wee hours of Monday). As I was getting out of my car whom do I see waiting for me but my old friend Brendan. Now, Brendan is a jolly good fellow but under normal circumstances I have difficulty understanding more than 10% of what he is saying in his heavy Ukrainian accent. With a slight hangover (his or mine) that percentage drops to zero. So I may be forgiven for assuming that he was inviting me for a drink at 15:30 hrs in the conference room (why at that time and location was beyond my comprehension, but from past experience I’ve learnt never to question an Irishman’s drinking habits). So I walked into the conference room at the anointed time, expecting to assuage my dry tongue with an ice cold Guinness, only to discover that a meeting of the R&W was about to start. Now my understanding of abbreviations is at best lousy so I listened and nodded my approval to everything being said (my usual practice when the proceedings are over my head – a bad habit I’ve picked from my student days). Janet apparently understood what was going on for she, foolishly in my view, volunteered IPTF organization of a Happy Hour (whatever that means) on Friday. I could not help thinking “there but for the grace of God goes our RIP”. I failed to warn IPTF not to count on Civil Affairs advice on the political implications of this Happy Hour (it’s not in the mandate, see?); but then neither did I commit Civil Affairs support for it.
Immediately after the meeting, I went to see John at JCAU to enlighten me on the meaning of R&W. The indefatigable John immediately called Azira and Azra into conference and all huddled together going over DPA, BPA, the BiH constitution, the MUP Book of Rules, HDZ HNS ‘self-rule’ manifesto, and whatever lawyers read before they say the obvious. Hours later John, bless his soul, came smiling to my office. “Bingo, we found it!” he says, “it is a new rap group called ‘Rock and Wriggle’. But we’re not sure whether it’s Austrian, Irish or Pakistani”. That was good enough for me. From now on, I declare myself R&W biggest fan this side of IPTF Operations room. To prove it I’ve decided to start this weekly column as part of Civil Affairs contribution to Rock and Wriggle. Indeed, this column will be called Happy Hour (although John is still researching the exact meaning of that). So here go with this week contribution in which Civil Affairs make fun of themselves. (Diabolical isn’t it? so when we go after the others, particularly our friends in IPTF, no one will have reason to complain. So all ya members of the R&W fan club BE WARNED!
Elvira’s Car Accident
Many of you may not realize this but for the last two weeks Civil Affairs has not held a single official meeting or sent any report (official or otherwise) or done any of the tasks enshrined in our job descriptions. The telephones go on ringing unanswered, mobiles are screaming to nobody, the fax machine is churning out heaps and heaps of unread messages, and no one even notices whether the e-mail and VSAT are down or not. All of you were in blissful ignorance of what has befallen us. You see us coming to the offices as usual every morning and leaving as usual every evening. How could you have known that every moment of our lives these last two weeks has been consumed with only one thought: Elvira had a car accident, or more accurately Elvira’s car had an accident! Yes, Elvira was driving it at the time but that’s another story.
How did it happen? I really don’t have a clue or rather I heard so many versions of what happened that I really don’t have a clue. That’s why we’re all awaiting those NASA satellite photos to determine what exactly took place at that precise moment in time when Elvira’s car had the unfortunate encounter of the fifth kind with a car driven (can you believe this?) by a student driver. (Apparently Elvira doesn’t: she keeps screaming: “the bloody student is so old, almost sixty years old, what did she want to learn driving for?” She has a point, you know. That’s why I’ve been hitching rides with IPTF ever since. But that’s another story). Poor Elvira! She really can’t quite make up her mind whether the offending car (you need an offending car to have a two-car accident, right?) came from the left, the right, the front, the back, from up or down. You see theoretically the point of impact changes depending on the angle from which you view the accident. We decide to resolve the issue by having a look at Elvira’s badly mauled car.
The car is really in a sorry state. From the looks of it, the offending car could have come from right, left, front, back, up or down. Or there could have been multiple accidents all rolled in one simultaneously with Elvira’s car the epicenter of impact. Amira, after a thoughtful eyeing and circling of what has once been a car, makes the insightful remark that it is quite conceivable that Elvira’s car managed to make the accident all by itself. “You really don’t need an offending car for that kind of damage, you simply have to drive into a brick wall, reverse into another, and then roll over twice”, Amira observes philosophically. Whereupon Elvira bursts out crying mumbling rather incoherently that she knew her car very well since she was a baby (that’s Elvira and not the car) and it never exhibited any suicidal tendencies! Elise and Carol hug her and start crying too. Aida accuses Amira, quite justifiably in my view, of being insensitive because she has a brand new car. Amira smiles mischievously. I light my pipe pondering the intricacies of Bosnian car accidents. But that’s another story.
We troop back to the office to discuss other aspects of the car’s tragic demise. Elvira solicits opinion on how much she should expect from the insurance company. A deadly silence falls over the room. As I’m the only one who had not the privilege of seeing the car when it was healthily driving on four wheels, I break the silence by suggesting 500. Whereupon Elvira again bursts out crying (“my car is worth much more than that”, she screams) Elise and Carol joining her in a crescendo of orchestrated wails (French splendidly mingling with English). I’ve to beat a hasty retreat, lamely (and untruthfully) explaining that I was speaking of ‘dollars’, upon which Elvira sobbing (and the accompanying Anglo-Franco chorus) hit an even higher pitch. I’m frantically trying to recall a currency of a higher value (the Sudanese pound and the Iraqi dinar flash in mind), when the thoughtless Aida comes up with an outrageous idea, asking Elvira whether she has considered paying the insurance company instead. To my utter surprise, Elvira seems intrigued by the suggestion and asks if that can bring her car out of comatose. Amira, enigmatic smile in place, spends the next four hours expounding on the virtues of that idea. I finally join the heads nodding in approval.
I inadvertently pick one of the ringing telephones. Jaque Grinberg is on the line.
“What the hell is going on in Region Bihac, we haven’t heard from you for two weeks?”
“Elvira’s car had an accident,” I reply, truthfully.
“Is she hurt?”
“No, but the car is, badly.”
“What about insurance?”
“Funny you mention that, Mr. Grinberg, but we’ve just been discussing it. As the value of the car is about123 KM we figure that if we pay the insurance company $345,000,000 as compensation for insuring it, they’ll not sue us”.
A long pause; hushed voices in the background: (Grinberg consulting with Gravelle? The suspense is beginning to tell on me).
“Look Mohamed, I’ll have to go over this with Jacques and Souren, possibly also with NY. Will get back to you,” Grinberg says at last.
Hours pass. The others watch me as I nervously pace up and down the office. Elvira has long stopped crying looking expectedly at the phone. Carol and Elise are working on some figures on a calculator. Aida’s eyes are darting between her watch and the phone (you never know with Aida whether she’s waiting for the call or for going home). Amira is smiling mischievously to herself.
As we’re preparing to call it a day and leave, the telephone rings. It’s NYHQ switch-board! I pick up the receiver with a trembling hand. A gentle voice, African but with an unmistakable British accent, asks softly, “now Mr. Hamid, how much did you say that insurance company is asking for?”.