Monday, December 17, 2007

The Bunker

The invasion came without warning, and I had been left alone to defend the bunker. One of my comrades, an extremely agreeable chap named Paul, was already home on well-deserved leave with his sweetheart and four tykes. My other mate, Peter, had been dispatched to complete some mission, the details of which remained undisclosed to me. Damn them for leaving me behind! As for me, I was lulled into a mid-afternoon stupor by the heat of the day and the rations sitting heavy in my belly. With only my imagination to keep me company, I easily slipped into a daydream of Starbucks frappucinnos and the saucy baristas who make them. I was shaken out of my venti reverie by a noise outside the bunker door. I cursed my carelessness in leaving the door open a crack, seduced by the hope of capturing a wayward breeze. As the sound drew nearer, I slowly lifted my feet off my desk and swung them silently to the floor. Reaching for the only weapon within range, I grabbed my half-eaten shortcake biscuit and prepared to launch it with deadly force. Too late! The intruder breached the doorway as I pitched my sweet missile. It blasted to bits on the doorframe, inches above her head as she rushed for the opposite wall of the bunker. I had failed. The chicken was in.

OK, enough of my poor imitation of Graham Greene. This gripping tale actually did happen last week while I was at work. “The Bunker” is my affectionate nickname for my workspace, a 12’ by 12’ concrete building which I share with two coworkers. Two windows have been hollowed out of the wall behind me and are covered with metal shutters. The significance of the shutters’ composition is that when they are closed, the outside world ceases to exist. No natural light enters the tomb. One could just as easily be waiting out a nuclear winter as working on a funding proposal. An air conditioner planted near the doorway offers cool relief but a cruel choice. Turning it on obviously requires shutting the hatches to avoid an enormous waste of energy. So, does the Bunker trio forsake all others for the sake of beating the heat?

My vote is with humanity. I’ve never been much of a claustrophobe, but this has proven to be quite a test, and I find myself flinging the shutters open whenever possible. Actually, flinging is an overly generous description of what I do. Because the shutters tend to stick, I find I have to repeatedly hammer them with my fists to get them to budge. The desperate metallic banging that results is not unlike a lost miner trying to establish contact with the outside world. And like the miner, I am sometimes successful in drawing attention to myself. Unlike him, this was definitely not my goal.

Working in such close proximity with two co-workers has its share of challenges. I’ve noticed that Peter likes to listen to music while he works, which is not such a bad thing, except that his preferred medium is the speaker on his laptop. I could handle this, as he does keep it at a relatively discreet volume, but he seems to have a fondness for the syrupy noodling of saxophonist Kenny G.. I haven’t checked the Nigerian Criminal Code, but I’m pretty sure I could make a case for justifiable homicide if it continues. I’ve tried to counter the elevator music by listening to boneheaded hard rock through my headphones, but the resulting mash-up of “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” with Kenny’s rendition of “Wind Beneath my Wings” is an aural nightmare, though “Dirty Deeds Beneath My Wings” is a title with some promise.

Aside from the ongoing musical warfare and the threat of our supplies running out before the fallout clears, the Bunker is actually a pleasant place to work. With three of us resident in the space, we attract our share of visitors, both on business and otherwise. As the newest member of the group, I’ve had a number of people come in to introduce themselves and ask how I’m surviving. One fellow has made it a point to repeatedly tell me that I shouldn’t be afraid, which would be reassuring, except he doesn’t fill in the minor detail of what it is that I shouldn’t be afraid of. Scorpions? Darkness? A Majority Government for Stephen Harper? What? Tell me!!!!! Another of my coworkers came in for a visit and gave me an impromptu Hausa lesson for an hour, which was an unexpected highlight of that day. I now greet him as my tutor, although my pathetic attempts at communication may make him disown me fairly soon.

And of course, there are the animals, which brings me back to the chicken. She wasn’t my first barnyard visitor and certainly won’t be the last. But she may win the prize for most persistent. After dodging the shortcake cookie, she proceeded to run behind the filing cabinet and then paid a visit to the centre of the room, where she left the only calling card available to a chicken. Successfully banishing her from the Bunker, I received not one but three return visits before I finally reached my breaking point. I chased her out of the building and then continued to pursue her halfway across the compound courtyard to ensure she didn’t return for a fourth time. Unfortunately, most of the classrooms for the Fantsuam Foundation are situated next to the courtyard, so the afternoon training sessions on Cisco networking received a momentary recess to watch the Foundation’s new Monitoring and Evaluation expert chase a chicken. I’m worth every penny I’m being paid as a volunteer, I tell you.

I returned to my desk and had a momentary lapse into helpless laughter as I recognized what I had just done. Thankfully, my bunker mates were nowhere to be found, as I’m sure they would have put in for an immediate transfer. Or maybe a strait-jacket.


Anonymous said...

hi Glenn!
I'm a co-worker and friend of Valeda's, and I can't tell you how much I've been enjoying your writing regarding your many interesting experiences. Keep it up! It's great! Hope to meet you when you return to Canada.

sugarda said...

Just got your note to FON. Love your writing style. Although I was in the Benin area in 62-64, your experiences and reactions to bring back memories. A word of ????
Learn to respect the people and their approach to and love of life. Don't concentrate on the differences and deficiencies that assault you as you learn to appreciate. (Waste management)

nancydelcol said...

Great to catch up with your adventures Glenn. Sounds like you are enjoying yourself, other than the animals, the ants, the heat, the garbage, the water shortage... Did you try any of the bush meat (those rats are bigger than the ones on the TTC!)
Love the pics of the kids.

Merry Xmas to you!