This is a Tale told by a friend who is a senior in-house lawyer at Chevron. It goes back many years when he was involved in a negotiation for rights over the Tengiz Field, a huge oil field in Kazakh territory right by the Caspian Sea.
The Kazakhs had insisted that the first negotiating meeting took place not in the capital Almaty but right in the proposed area of operations in Atyrau, a small fishing village on the shores of the Caspian. It is not a bad tactic to get Western negotiators away from the Ministry offices and hotel rooms where they are comfortable.
The meeting took place in a small farmhouse right by the Caspian. It was summer and Atyrau was intensely hot. The farmhouse had no air conditioning and the windows were open to keep the temperatures bearable.
The opening exchanges of an international negotiation are difficult. The protagonists are getting to know each other and testing out their opening positions.
My friend was leading the negotiation for Chevron. The parties had taken a break to consider their positions, and the Kazakhs re-entered the room and took their seats at the table.
My friend was sitting with his back to the window, holding an A4 piece of paper with his points in manuscript, working out what he was going to say. At that moment a camel put his head through the open window, over my friend’s shoulder, picked the piece of paper out of his hand, and commenced to eat it.
As my friend said to me, you do not know how large and smelly a camel is until you see one really close. He was shocked and, deprived of his notes, speechless. The camel was still chewing noisily.
The lead negotiator for the Kazakh Ministry did not miss the opportunity. “Well, Mr R_____” he asked, “are you going to say something, or will it be the camel?”