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Good News

Good News! I finally got my clothes back from the quarantine! Up to this point I was still wondering if they were going to be incinerated!

Haz-mat bags and Duct Tape

I had an interesting day this week. Please note, I use the word "interesting" in the broadest sense.  Before I begin my story, some background facts are requisite. We receive all our mail from a "pouch" system. This means that all you folks back in the good old USA can send us packages without paying international shipping prices. Of course, there are a fair amount of regulations that accompany the privilege of receiving mail with this system, but the good mostly outweighs the bad. When the Embassy receives the mail delivery from the airport, it arrives in large, heavy canvas bags which are secured with tamper evident devices. An American Citizen is required to be present when the mail is brought into the Embassy. So that is the background information.

This story begins with me and the annoying tendency I have to volunteer myself to help out. I was sitting at work, quite bored because it was a slow day in the office. My Boss, Allen, was shooting the shit with another colleague, I was working busily on my online Amazon baby registry. Allen's phone line rang, and I picked it up for him. It was Post II looking for an American Citizen to oversee the mail delivery. I looked in Al's direction and for some unknown reason decided to tell Post II that I could come down and handle it for Allen. No problem, I'd done it a few times before, and he was enjoying his conversation. As I strolled to the loading dock I was pondering complex problems such as which crib set I liked, and whether or not I could find coordinated receiving blankets. I watched as the bags were unloaded,  and watched as the tamper evident devices were removed. When Hunan called my name, I dragged my self from my thoughts. He repeated, "Becca! Does this look like flour to you?" "What the hell is he talking about?" I thought to myself. I pulled my cardigan tighter and walked over to where he was standing. He pointed in the bag and repeated his question. Still, I was wondering why he cared. I looked into the large canvas mail bag and saw a package covered with something that looked like flour, maybe. I reached in and rubbed it with my fingers right as the be-lated alarm bell went off in my mind. Here I was, reaching into a mail bag, touching - actually TOUCHING - a white powdery substance. Now I haven't had any mail handling training, but I knew that this was probably going to be a problem. I got onto the phone and called the Marine at Post I, and alerted him to a potential situation. Then the Regional Security Officer was notified. Meanwhile, I'm sitting at the mail dock trying to make light of the situation with the other Foreign National Employee who had been close to the substance. We kept assuring each other than, yes, it HAD to be flour, everything was going to be fine! It looked like flour, right? Thanks to my speedy thinking, I knew it FELT like flour. Chances were, it was flour... After arriving on the scene, the RSO looked into the bag and determined to whom the suspicious package belonged and from where it came. We all figured that if we could determine that the intended recipient of the package had ordered flour (or something like it) recently, we could safely assume that is what the substance was. No harm, no foul, everybody is happy. The RSO makes the phone call and asks the woman, in a very serious voice, "What  have you ordered from Walmart in the past month?" Apparently her answer was not clear enough, so He pressed her to check her records and make sure that is what she had ordered. She came back on the line to assure him that she was 100% positive that she had ordered 6 Dr Seuss books and nothing else. It was about this time that the "Oh shit" meter went off. The RSO and an aid immediately declared the area a quarantine area, and instructed everyone to cover their airways... Yeah, a little late on that call, buddy.... As he headed out the door, he called the Medical Officer and instructed us to go to decontamination as soon as the Doctor arrived. In order to collect a sample of the powder to be sent to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, the RSO returns in a full "Bio-hazard" suit.

Awesome. Meanwhile, I'm still standing there with my arm over my nose and mouth, trying not to freak out. The doctor finally arrived and starts telling us about the decontamination process. Basically, after taking off all our clothes and putting them in a red "bio-hazard" bag, we were going to  be scrubbed down, and drugged up. I quietly raised my hand and stated the obvious fact that everyone there had forgotten - "Um, I'm pregnant." The room went silent and 5 pairs of eyes dropped to my belly... Insert Long uncomfortable silence here... The doctor then assured me that he would "research" a "safe alternative" for me. My freak out level rose slightly. I called my husband and told him about the situation, and asked him to please go get me some new clothes. Always the calming influence, he responds, "Ok, let me know what happens." REALLY? I just told you that I might have been contaminated with Anthrax, and your response is to let you know what happens? Mm- hmm, Thanks! So after that comforting conversation, Hunan and I left for Decontamination.  Nothing is quite as encouraging as being greeted by nurses in face masks and rubber gloves, who are trying to stay as far away from you as possible!! From the nurse, I was instructed to remove all clothes, including underwear,  jewelry, and contact lenses, place each item in the red bag, then seal the opening with duct tape. At that point I was given my special red bio-hazard bag, a roll of duct tape, a bottle of decontaminating gritty soap and dropped off in a contained room with a shower faucet. I followed the instructions, and started my scrub-down - head to toe.  The soap was horrid! My hair has STILL not recovered from being assaulted with the gritty substance! And I'm not sure my eyes will ever be the same!! I staggered out of the make shift shower and dried myself off with the only thing I found in the room - packages of sterile gauze. By the time I pulled on my hospital gown I was freezing.
A doctor came and found me and offered me a blanket, which calmed my chattering teeth. After what seemed like an eternity, my clothes arrived and the Doctor came in with some news - The RSO had discovered a package that contained powered goats milk. They were "pretty sure" that the substance in the mail bag was in fact powered goats milk, but will still have send the suspicious white powdery substance to the CDC for confirmation. To be on the safe side, did I want to take some Russian anti-biotic that he was sure was safe for pregnancy? Um, no, thank you very much, I'll pass. "Well," the doctor continued, "if you notice any skin rashes or flu like symptoms, please come in as quickly as possible."  To date, the only thing that has caused any skin discomfort was that sand-paper like soap that I rubbed all over my body in order to decontaminate from exposure to Goats Milk. Fantastic. I left the compound squeaky clean. My clothes however, are still sealed in a bio-hazard bag in a cordoned off area, next to the bag full of "contaminated mail".


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