Monday, June 20, 2011
Ratman of the Far Abroad -- Reprise
Blogging will be light as I will be traveling. I have re-run another of the Old Diplomad posts (December 18, 2004) I don't want to make it a habit, but this one was one of my daughter's favorites, so in honor of her impending departure for college, I present a story about rats in Indonesia.
Not so long ago, one evening as the Chief Diplomad busily blogged away, the Always Lovely Mrs. Chief Diplomad rushed in to announce, "Rats!" Holding her hands about a yard apart, she added, "This big!"
The Chief Diplomad grabbed a Maglight, a heavy walking stick (you never know, those things might be a yard long) and accompanied by the ever-faithful houseboy Babu (not his real name) took a tour of the Diplomadic estate. Yes, indeed, I, Chief Diplomad and Internet Pontificator, confirmed the presence of several large rats in the yard - but maybe not a yard long -- congregating around the dog's food bowl. Using the command voice honed by many years of staff meetings, I said, "Babu, have the Embassy send the Ratman tomorrow."
The next morning, a Saturday, the Ratman, all 4 feet 10 inches of him, came to the house. Puffing on a smelly cigarette, loaded down with cages and a long hook, he surveyed the property. He ruled that the best places for the cages were the drain openings along the driveway. Sunday morning, the Ratman was still at work in the yard. As I prepared to accompany Mrs. CD on a short shopping expedition, I crouched down and peered into one of these drain openings; in the dim light, I could see something in the cage, "Ratman! I think you've got one here." I stood up and backed away to let the Ratman stick a hook into the opening and drag out the cage. Six big ones! All jammed into the cage! Their faces pressed up against the mesh. The normally dour Ratman appeared genuinely happy. "Rats stupid. One get in, others follow," he offered through a cloud of pungent yellowish smoke.
As Mrs. Diplomad and I clambered into the armored Chevy Suburban (BTW, the world's greatest vehicle -- it can do anything), she asked me, "What do you think he'll do with the rats?" As a long-time cynical observer of the Third World scene, I opined, "Probably take them to the other side of the yard and release them, so we have to call him back."
We returned about an hour later. As the guard swung open the heavy gate and raised the anti-ram bar, we saw at the far end of the driveway an enormous bonfire roaring away. The Ratman stood near it, poking his hook into the flames, pulling something out. Babu, a huge smile on face, ran up to us as we got out of the Chevy, "Sir, big barbecue! Hehehehe!" The Ratman pulled the cage out of the fire; all six rats roasted alive inside. "Guess, he didn't release them," I thought. "He's a man of honor, but on the brutal side. Isn't there a better way to treat rats?" Both Mrs. Diplomad and I were nauseated by the spectacle, but as the rats did not reappear we gradually forgot about the Ratman.
Some weeks later, the security situation in this corner of the Far Abroad took a marked turn for the worse. From a variety of sources, we began getting a stream of alarming information of what the bad guys were up to. We had several long days at the Embassy coordinating a response to the growing threat, working closely with a wide range of US agencies, a couple of key foreign allies, and host nation security agencies. In the end, some modest success: a couple of bad guys off the street, some explosives seized. At the end of one long day, perhaps around 9 pm, I got a call from a senior Eurodip, one with whom I have had a rocky relationship since my arrival here, and one from a country very critical of US actions in Iraq, Abu Gharib, and Guantanamo. He was furious. He had read in the papers about the threats, arrests, and seizures and wanted to know why the US Embassy had not briefed his Embassy on the situation.
"After all," he said, "we are allies."
I was only half listening as he spoke, but suddenly I had a revelation. I saw the Ratman pulling the roasted rats out of the fire -- getting rid of the rats as we had requested, but at the same time provoking revulsion in those of us who had asked him to do it. It came to me: Damn! They want us to be their Ratman!
"America, get rid of the rats! Don't tell us how, but if we find out how, we're going to get very upset with you. After a bit, we'll forget about the rats and will resent having you, the brutish Ratman around, unless the rats come back . . . and then you damn well better show up!"
I don't remember what I said to our "ally" but it was probably something not very nice as he hasn't spoken to me since. I expect, however, that when the rats return, that phone will ring again.
Ratman, title of honor