Saturday, August 2, 2014

Two Years in India, Week 5: First VIP Scare

Well, it was quite the exciting week. My entire post was in a frenzy because a VIP scheduled a last minute visit with 7 days notice... Oh yeah and it's 350km away in Bengaluru (Bangalore). I've been told you normally get somewhere between 2 weeks and 3 months notice for this kind of thing, so we had our work cut out for us. As the only IMS currently assigned to Chennai, I had the dubious honor of going to Bengaluru to support the visit. Saturday found nearly as many of us at the Consulate as on a standard workday. Everyone was scrambling to get things done, in my case, to prepare the computers, phones, and printers that would be accompanying us. Sunday, the motor pool convoy left with all our equipment.

Having never been to Bengaluru, my family decided to come and hang out at the hotel. We were staying at a five star hotel with a very nice garden (one of the perks of supporting a VIP visit in the State Department is the fancy digs).

Monday morning, we headed to the airport for our very first domestic Indian flight. Flying in India is a little different than in the US. First off, my wife and son's (one way) flight to Bengaluru was ~$55 for both seats, booked within 24 hours of takeoff. Second, you have to show your tickets or itinerary to even enter the airport. Then we went through a line to scan our baggage. After scanning, they placed a zip tie (or sticker!) around the zippers to stop it you from adding things before taking it to the check in counter. Our next surprise was the separate security lines for men and women (10 men's lines vs the 1 women's). The flight took around 45 minutes and our luggage was waiting at the carousel when we got there. However, Bengaluru is known for it's bad traffic and our hotel (The Leela Palace) was on the far side of town. It ended up costing more and taking longer to get from the airport to the hotel, than from airport to airport.

Once we arrived, one of my LES and I began setting up what would be the control room for the visit. Honestly, this is what I'd expected most of my job to be when I got hired. Hooking up laptops, printers, and phones was no problem. We also had to organize rental vendors and help all the FS officers with their remote-access "Go Tokens." Although I wouldn't say we were very busy, we were busy enough that I did not regret having two of us present. Monday ended looking like everything was on track for the visit...

I awoke Tuesday to news that the visit had been cancelled. The rest of the morning consisted of a decent amount of breakdown and packing of our equipment, followed by salvaging what was left of our holiday (Ramazan). It was too late to get flights back on Tuesday evening, so we ended up getting a mini-vacation at the hotel. (Shucks!)

Between returning to Chennai and taking my cats to their quarantine inspection, I missed work on Wednesday. I spent Thursday and Friday resolving all the problems that had been ignored for the last week due to the potential VIP visit. Nothing really major, but I do want to brag a tiny bit:

This week I got my first real "victory" at work! I've been feeling a little strange being put in charge of people that have been doing their jobs (in some cases) for longer than I've been alive. I often feel like I'm not really adding any value to the consulate's operations (excepting in the functions of my job that LES can not do). However, this week (late Friday afternoon, none-the-less) I was able to resolve a problem the mail room had been having with funding approval for one of our courier services. This had been an on going problem for weeks and the manager of the mail room was unable to get it resolved.  In the end it wasn't the biggest deal in the world, and I doubt I'll be winning any Nobel prizes for it, but I was glad to finally feel like I was able to help my staff, rather than just taking credit for all their hard work!

Next week I'm in for a new adventure: I will be acting Information Programs Officer (IPO). The IPO we had been borrowing from Delhi is headed home. I've been handling almost everything anyway, under his guidance... but it's still a scary thought! He did give me a pretty strong vote of confidence with the Management Officer and it's not like he (and all the rest of the IM team) aren't just a phone call away in Delhi. Anyway, next week I'm in charge of all the Information Systems for the consulate... if we fall off the map you'll know who to blame!

PS: I didn't name the VIP because the visit was never officially announced.

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