Sunday, November 30, 2008
Finally, we are able to step back a bit from the events of the past few days in Mumbai. We have been working 12-hour shifts (and sometimes more), running between phone calls or text messages with American citizens who were trapped in the hotels, meetings with the people “upstairs” who wanted to know what was going on, inquiries from families in the States, media calls (which we promptly passed off), and “field” duty at places like hospitals, outside the hotels, the airport, and even the morgue. Things were changing several times per minute – it was nearly impossible to get an accurate picture of things to report to the higher-ups at any given time, because it would all be different by the time you finished saying it. Yesterday, as things at last started to wind down, we found ourselves talking of Wednesday as if it had been a week or more ago. We are all feeling pretty drained both mentally and physically.
There were some high points, like when three Americans unexpectedly showed up at the consulate on Friday morning, having somehow gotten out of the Taj Mahal Hotel. They had been living for the better part of 36 hours in a utility closet inside the hotel, and had some harrowing stories to tell. Another high point was when an older American couple with whom we had been in periodic contact was able to get out of the Taj – they were absolutely wonderful people, the kind of people anyone would love to have in their family or their circle of friends. They showed us their souvenir from the experience: a bullet that flew into their room one of the times they decided to test the waters and open their hotel room door. They came to the consulate, we bought them each a sandwich and a drink (considering they’d been subsisting on minibar food for the past few days, it was the least we could do), got them on the phone with their family in the States, liaised with their travel company, and sent them off to the airport on a rescheduled flight home.
There were also, of course, some low points. Like when one of our officers was allowed to enter the Oberoi Hotel – he left the hotel shaken, telling us of a horrific scene inside, with bodies in a restaurant where there were still meals on the tables. And, of course, each time we learned of a confirmed death of one of the people who we’d been looking for, or whose families or friends we had been in touch with.
The places that were attacked were places that I and nearly all of my colleagues have been to at least once, either as tourists or to attend official events. Things have slowed down enough now that I have begun to hear people having the “I was just there [insert amount of time] ago . . . what if . . ?” conversations.
Today, we are not going in to work. There will be a small team at the office to field any calls that might come in, but at this stage we’re no longer in full crisis mode. After all that’s happened in the past week few days, it will be nice to stay home for a day, and invite some colleagues over to help us eat the turkey we plan to cook before it spoils – today is a real day for thanksgiving, much more so than I could have imagined a week ago.