Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Feeling underwhelmed by the US Consulate...

So in the aftermath of the attacks, there is an understandable swell of anger from the populace and a common desire to hold accountable any responsible officials. Personally, I have been a little curious about the U.S. Consulate here in the city. I don't know what marching orders they receive from the State Department, but I do know that they ask all U.S. citizens to register online with them so that they can keep us informed and otherwise look after us. Nice idea, ehh?

However, when we first arrived in the city, I was jokingly warned not to expect much in the way of information. For example, apparently every year, they send out the same generic warning for all Indian holidays warning people to be cautious while in "public places." Public places? This is a city of 18 million people. You can't spit without hitting someone. The trains are so crowded that sometimes people climb ON TOP and ride on the roof. When I opened my 4th floor windows this morning, I dislodged several kinds of birds just trying to get some peace on the bars outside the window. Even the birds can't find a minute alone. During the monsoon season, the city will flood, and then only days later when the waters recede and everyone's already going back to work, the consulate sends out a warning email.

Anyway--the consulate. There was automatic gunfire at two of the most tourist-popular hotels in the city, and at the most popular tourist hangout in the city, well before midnight on November 26. A taxi blew up outside the domestic airport during the night as well. A good friend of ours first notified me of the attack because she saw it, in the US, before 1AM our time. The local and national TV news here was also covering the attacks. At 2:07PM the next day, I received an email from the consulate warning of terrorist attacks in the city. The email was so generic, I suspect it was probably sent to everyone supposed to be anywhere near the country. I suspect that the email was generic because it suggested that people call a (US only) 1-800 number if they needed help, or call a DC-area toll number if outside the US. At the bottom it gave a local number for the consulate.

Now I didn't *need* the help of the consulate, but other Americans could have benefited greatly. Moreover, I found myself jealous of other expats. I learned that an Australian friend had been personally called with a warning of the attacks and then also called to determine whether he wanted to be repatriated home to Australia. All of this before I even got the generic warning. The British got similar treatment. In fact, days later, while out shopping, Andrea and I were stopped by another foreigner on the street and asked if were were British. We cautiously answered no, and then she explained that she worked for the British consulate and was personally responsible for following up with a list of nationals to make sure they were all OK and that everyone had notified their family back home. Since she saw us on the street, she thought it was worth checking to make sure we had been thoughtful enough to tell our parents we were OK. Pretty wild, ehh? I've heard through news accounts that France, Spain, and other nations sent planes to collect their citizens.

Now it's not that I think we should be babysat by our government everywhere we go, but I think a "Hey, there are people in the city who would like to kill you" isn't asking for much. It seems like maybe the staff works a 9-5 and that's all? Maybe they're understaffed? Maybe they can't do anything without approval from the top? What I do know is that our newspaper delivery guy has a Blackberry, as do practically everyone else trying to feel important in this city. Would it have taken more than one consular official at home in a bathrobe in front of the TV to shoot off a warning email during the night?

If that weren't lame enough, today's front page, top-of-the-fold Times of India article details how U.S. intelligence twice warned India in October that Mumbai was facing possible attack (specifically to its hotels and tourist destinations) coming by sea. I find it even more frustrating that even after the top secret-keepers had decided that the news could be shared with Indian officials, they either didn't see fit to warn their own local consulate or the consulate didn't see fit to warn its citizens. I mean, if they think I need to hide indoors for a month because it's the fireworks season of Dhivali, you'd think a terror strike would warrant instructions on where to purchase my duct tape, plastic garbage bags, gas masks, and whatever else we're supposed to have in our survival kits. Is it too soon and too assuming to say "Thanks for nothing, U.S. State Department"?

You tell me, I think I lack perspective on the issue.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Yes, but how do you *really* feel, Isaac. I sense you're holding back. (grin)

Thanks again for calling this morning. It was great to hear your voices!