The Pharaoh’s Curse Reaches Out | American Consulate General Karachi

February 1978

[Part One]

After an arduous two weeks in Cairo trudging over one sand hill after another (not literally) I packed up and returned to Karachi. The majority of my time at the “sand pile” had been waiting on a radio repeater that was intended to extend the radio network coverage from Am Embassy Cairo to a personnel enclave out beyond the Maadi district.

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The radio repeater had arrived on site prior to my arrival. However, the unit had been tuned to the wrong frequencies at SECSTATE (Washington D.C.). I waited a week for a piece of test equipment to arrive for the retune. It took another week to retune the repeater (I screwed up on the first two attempts) and get it installed on the rooftop of a Cairo apartment building under the control of the embassy. Needless to say, Murphy’s Law had been usurped by the curse of the Pharaohs.

I wasn’t too thrilled about returning to my base at the American Consulate General Karachi, Pakistan, but it was home for two years. Karachi (what my cohort Al called “Crotch-ee”) was hotter than Cairo. The fine sand that got into everything (including my toothbrush case) in Cairo had been replaced by the pungent odor that was Karachi.

My Pakistani servant turned out to be the one constant in my Middle East/ South Asia assignment. Basheer was always waiting to help me with my bags upon my return (I never figured out how he knew when I would return). He’d fix coffee and/or something to eat no matter the time (I often arrived in the wee hours of the morning).

My cohort Al and I lived in the same apartment building in an area called Clifton. I usually got a ride in to the Con Gen with him since my vehicle remained stored in the bowels of an impounded ship in the harbor. But Al’s car was in the maintenance shop so we drove in with the eight a.m. shuttle. Al feigned lack of sleep as the older Foreign Service secretaries gossiped about the latest scuttlebutt. I nodded here and there.

As soon as I arrived the RCO secretary named B.J. grabbed me and said not to go near RCO Roberson. “Bob’s in a very bad mood, this morning,” she said. “He wants to talk to you about Cairo, but don’t go near him.”

I didn’t ask B.J. why. Otherwise, I would have to listen to a long drawn out version of “War and Peace in the Middle East and South Asia.” I hurried off after the CRO (Communications & Records Officer), wearing a devilish grin, walked up and handed me an immediate precedence message from Am Embassy Cairo.

I grabbed a cup of coffee and proceeded back to the radio room desk. It was hot as hell in the radio room. The air condition wasn’t putting out.

“I forgot to tell you,” Al yelled out from his desk. “The AC’s been out for two days. They had to order a new condenser.”

That explained all the fans I had seen.

“Bob got us all fans,” Al said, his voice filled with sarcasm.

After perusing the immediate message from Cairo I wiped the sweat off my forehead and sighed. The radio repeater I had installed in Cairo had crapped out already. Because of the fine sand, power outages, and the curse of the pharaohs I had anticipated the possibility. Before I left I instructed CEO Bill H. the crypto tech permanently assigned to the embassy on what to look for if such an event occurred.

First thing I went up to the CRU (they had AC) and fired off an immediate message to Bill. I waited for his reply.

Twenty minutes later Bill replied that he was on his way to the airport in about four hours (I didn’t get the memo). He gave me an ETA at Karachi along with a subtle hint that he needed a place to stay (I had a spare bedroom). Bob wanted him to touch base with the crypto techs here before he headed to a conference with them in Bangkok.

In my reply I offered for him to stay at my place and asked Bill about the possibility of stopping off at the repeater location on the way to the airport. Otherwise, I’d have to return to Cairo ASAP.

Bill came back and said he would do his best but couldn’t promise anything. I understood, knowing I had put him in a stressful situation having to deal with the faulty repeater while staring at his watch.

With nothing else to do but wait (and absorb another crisis in, “One of those days”) I headed back to the RCO office.

Okay, so I’m walking down the hallway, frankly with my head down. I’m staring at the floor trying to think of a solution to the radio repeater problem if Bill doesn’t come through. I look up when I hear the sound of footsteps coming in my direction.

It’s a girl whom I’ve never seen here before. But, she looks familiar.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hello.”

She was quite attractive. I said, “Are you new here?”

“Yes, I just arrived at post yesterday.”

I couldn’t quite place her. “Who do work for?”

She nodded. “I work upstairs.”

“Oh.”

She smiled and said, “Well, I’ll see you around, huh?”

“Sure, welcome to Karachi.”

Her eyes grew large. “Yeah, thanks.”

As the comely CIA girl continued on her way I racked my brains to remember where I had seen her back in D.C. …

(To be continued)

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