Friday, May 15, 2015

Journal Entry for February 18, 2004: Deep Inside Normal Khartoum "Diplomacy:

Ended the day at the British ambassador's residence, meeting with him, the Dutch Charge and the UN Special Representative (a Norwegian). I was sipping some fine scotch as we compared notes and talked about serious Sudan stuff. It was approaching six and, as usual, we had all probably had almost nothing to eat since breakfast. Often don't have time to eat. We therefore made quick work of the cashews and chips that had been provided with the drinks. The Ambassador's wife offered her husband to refill the bowls. He, understanding we'd make a meal of any choice snack foods he set out in front of us, sensibly, if quietly, declined his wife's offer. We kept drinking and talking but eventually I gave in and thought I'd try one of the wrapped things in the bowl in the center of the small table in front of us. Unwrapped it and since it looked soft, popped it into my mouth. I immediately realized that it was not soft but, in fact, hard as steel. It may never have been soft but clearly had also been in that bowl for some time. Because it is what diplomats do, I soldiered on as best I could. It was too big to discreetly get rid of anywhere. I thought of letting it slip into my drink but realized that could not pass unnoticed. I had no napkin. So I downed some more scotch in the hope of dissolving it and eventually ground it down to swallowing size. Needless to say, I did not contribute much to the conversation during this period.

The Ambassador noted my situation. An attentive host, he made a mental note to get rid of the wrapped stuff at first opportunity. However, the UN Special Representative did not notice. After my ordeal was finally over and I could speak again, he reached for a wrapped thing. The Ambassador, torn by a sense of responsibility and also embarrassment, mumbled a warning about it being "hard candy" but took no further action. The Norwegian popped it into his mouth just as his phone rang. He got up and wandered into the hall to talk. A few moments latter, I got up to leave. Said goodbyes and went into the hall where I stuck out my hand to the Norwegian. By the rules of diplomacy, he had no choice. He had to shake my hand too. One of his hands was holding his phone so he stuck out the other. In the middle of his palm was his discarded hard candy thing. It was there in the middle as our hands clasped. Fortunately, he was re-wrapped by this time. It's these moments that make this all bearable.

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