Saturday, December 24, 2005

Our redneck Christmas tree. How do you like it? Barbara bought the tree at the exchange, with lights, and then we all decorated it with whatever we could find. The round things are "pogs", which the exchange hands out as change because of the expense of shipping heavy dimes, nickels, and quarters overseas. I have been saving pop tops from soda cans since Day 1 here (old-school stuff that kids won't understand), and I finally found a use for them. Strung together, they make a lovely garland. IF YOU CAN GUESS HOW MANY ARE ON THE TREE, YOU WIN 7,000 IRAQI DINAR (THEIR MONEY). Guess by posting your estimate in the "comments" section for this blog.


More to follow...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sec. Rumsfeld stopped by the palace tonight to speak to the troops, so Sabah and I got our pictures with him. He was calling me by name, saying, "Where's Nancy? She's good with that camera. She has a very steady hand." So I said, "Former Marine, Sir," and he laughed. He was cool. I've met him before, and he was cool then, too. He is just really good with the troops. Very genuine. He stayed forever after his speech to make sure everybody who wanted a photo got one. Thanks, Sec. Rumsfeld! You are the MAN, and we appreciate you.

I took this shot of myself and Secretary Rummy. It's possible he has a slight crush on me...

Rumsfield on surprise visit
22/12/2005 17:05 - (SA)

Baghdad - Defense secretary Donald H Rumsfeld flew unannounced to Iraq on Thursday to meet with American battlefield commanders and soldiers amid increasing signs the Bush administration is planning new troop cuts.

Flying to Baghdad from Afghanistan in an Air Force cargo plane, Rumsfeld was met at the airport here by General George Casey, the top United States commander in Iraq.

In an in-flight interview, Rumsfeld hinted that the US troop presence would soon be cut below the 138,000 number that has been the standard level for much of 2005. Rumsfeld referred to a plan to cancel the scheduled deployment of two Army brigades.

"Until it's announced, the government's decision hasn't been announced. Therefore it's not final," he cautioned.

Rumsfeld's surprise visit followed one over the weekend by vice-president Dick Cheney.

My dad was looking through the Boise paper and discovered this pic of Secretary Rumsfeld greeting the troops at Al Faw Palace. He's got a good eye, because he spied half of what could very well be MY HEAD! Take a look. I mean, I was there...taking pictures...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

December 15. Iraqi elections. My friend Pauline, who left Iraq for America when she was a girl, and who now works with us here at Camp Victory, cast her vote in the historic elections on the 15th. She was so excited about the significance of this vote for the Iraqi people that she still had a deep-purple finger several days later. We sure are happy for you, Pauline!

I am going to cheat here and steal from my friend Maureen's blog. She asked Pauline to write down her thoughts about the elections, and I cannot help but think her words should go here, too. With permission from all, I bring you Pauline's thoughts:

"Casting my vote was the second dream that came true, the first being the ousting of Saddam.

We hoped it would have been done in 1991, but between 1991 and the liberation of Iraq, Saddam was left to execute the worst of his evil on the society, the people, the land, the environment, not even the apple orchards in the north nor the palm trees, that counted in millions, and the natural marshes of the south survived his wrath.

I believed the end had come only when I witnessed the 3ID (3rd Infantry Division) crossing the Kuwaiti border into Iraq on CNN.

I was cheering them along, and thought it is finally happening, over 30 years in forced exile, I will have a chance to visit my homeland again. You see it is not just my birth place, it is the land of my ancestors, the Assyrians, who contributed so much to civilization (visit, both in ancient times and their second glory was spreading Christianity from Iraq all the way to China.

Watching the 3ID, I suddenly felt that an invisible prison door opened and my soul felt it was free at last. It was unusual because I was never conscious of it before, yet we, the Assyrians and all Iraqis in exile, over 4 million, lived the same way.

I thanked General Webster of the 3ID for all their contribution towards the liberation of Iraq, as I told him, they didn't just liberate the Iraqis inside Iraq, they liberated the Iraqis in exile, thousands like me, have finally been able to come back and visit their families after years of separation. And now, we all participated in shaping the future of Iraq by voting.

A heartfelt thanks to our troops and their families for all their effort and their sacrifice to spread freedom and democracy - freedom has a price; that is why I’m here now to be part of that effort."


Monday, December 12, 2005

Today, Sabah forced us to go down to the first floor for a picture in front of the Christmas tree. GOSH, SaBAH! Geez! Anyway, it was a great idea, and we are now very psyched to have photos for the ol' scrapbook (and blog). We had fun hamming it up in the Al Faw rotunda. (L to R: Barb, Jd, Nancy, Sabah, Kristy(a.k.a. Tiffany when I decide it should be so.))

While we were hangin' out in the rotunda area, we decided we should have a group photo on Saddam's couch. we are! Cheese!

Kristy and Barb and I took this opportunity to strike several poses for the camera. Well, ok, fine. Barbara was behaving herself and was innocently swept into the evils of my lens.

Because Sabah was the leader of this highly successful photographic mission, he has earned billing here in this blog, surrounded by the two girls on the team who are the least camera shy. Sabah, you devil!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

These tracers are from an M-16, and they are a bit like the rounds we saw overhead during the "assault" on Camp Victory. This is just a shot I took off the web, because it was too dark for my camera to work. What we saw was actually red tracers going up into the air and arching back down, lob-style. We saw incoming as well as outgoing rounds, of course, as our guys returned fire on what they thought must be attackers. I wonder how many celebrating Iraqis lost their lives last night. It's a bad idea to scare the Americans when a war is going on!

Last night was the first somewhat frightening night we have had here at Camp Victory.

I was in bed, minding my own business, when I heard unusual gunfire (I say unusual because gunfire is usual here. It was just an odd hour and an odd cadence this time.) through my foamy earplugs. I took the foamy out of my right ear and sat up in bed, eyes open to aid my superhuman hearing powers (do you find you hear better with your eyes open, too?). Less than an hour earlier, I had heard three, three-round bursts from what must have been a .50 caliber machine gun, so I was already a bit wary. Rounds were going off around us like Jiffy Pop. My friend Kristy has been to Iraq before, as an Army officer, and I knew she would recognize the sound of hostile fire.

"Kristy," I said, in a gruff whisper. "Does that sound weird to you?" Her reply was yes.

I got out of bed in my running clothes (I sleep in whatever I plan to wear on my morning run, to save time) and stepped into my flip-flops, aiming through the darkness for the door to our hooch. Outside, a few people were stirring, startled out of bed much like myself. When I looked up, I could see red tracer rounds arching into the sky from all around. All 360 degrees of horizon was covered in tracers. (Tracers are special bullets that are white phosphorus-tipped or contain a powder in their base that burns very brightly during their flight. This enables the shooter to follow the bullets' trajectories. The shooter then, typically, "walks" his cone of fire onto the target by seeing where the tracer is going.)

"Holy crap," I thought as I coolly ambled over to a guy in flak jacket and kevlar (helmet). I asked what was going on, and he said he didn't know, but that whatever goes up must come down. OH YEAH! CRUD! So I went inside my hooch and woke up the others.

We had just had an exercise the day prior to this (or that day, even, maybe) that required everybody going to the dining facility or venturing anywhere outdoors to don flak and kevar, so three of my teammates' gear was still at the Palace where they'd stowed it. I put mine on and went back outside to gawk at the tracers and try to figure out what we should do. I mean, it kind of sounded like we might be under attack, and not one of us was armed.

My friend Maureen and I stood near the tents outside and chatted with a couple of neighbors who acted like they knew what was going on while Kristy called her friend at another base to ask if he knew anything. We were standing there listening to the bravado of a brave knight on a white horse when Kristy came out and said, "I was right!" Right about what?

Before I could ask what she was smirking at, a voice came over the camp loudspeaker. "Attention in the compound, attention in the compound. Camp Victory Base is NOT under attack. I say again, Camp Victory Base is NOT under attack. What you are witnessing is celebratory gunfire from Iraq's victory in soccer. All personnel are directed to stay indoors under cover for the next several hours." IDIOTS!!!! Hahaha. (Nervous laughter.)

The white knight disappeared swiftly into the darkness with his tail between his legs while Boy Wonder (does his mother know he's playing contractor in Iraq?) started ripping off his flak jacket. "Um, those rounds could still come down on your head," I said. His lid went back on in a hurry. "Well, I guess that's it," I said. "Um, yeah, maybe we could meet again's not, like, the middle of the night," said Boy Wonder. (How sweet!) "Yeah, catch you later!" I yelled as I ducked back into the tent. "Catch you later." I guess the sight of a woman in flak, kevlar, and running shorts just does it for some guys!

[Check out Maureen's rendition of this story here: Mr. Authoritative. You should visit Maureen's Blog as often as you visit mine! She's hilarious, and she kicks a$$. She was enlisted in the Air Force before becoming an officer in the Coast Guard and retiring from service. She and I both met wonderful "Daves" on Haha. She married hers. No joke; her husband and my boyfriend are both named Dave, and they are awesome! We joke about making a commercial where we say, "We met our Daves on You could meet your Dave, too!"]

And here's what really happened:

Soccer Win Sparks Celebratory Fusillade in Baghdad
By Jim GaramoneAmerican Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 11, 2005 – The sky over this city lit up with "celebratory gunfire" as Iraq beat Syria in a soccer match Dec. 10.As time ran out in Iraq's 4-3 victory, many Baghdad citizens ran outside and fired weapons in the air.

"It's typical," an Air Force colonel who was caught outside during the beginning of the celebration said. "This is what happened when Iraq had the success in the Olympics last year. And Eid al Fitr (the celebration of the end of Ramadan) sounds like the Tet Offensive."
An Iraqi linguist at the Ministry of Defense said he believes the match had political overtones. "The Iraqis were pleased we won because Syria is sheltering the 'Saddamists' and helping the terrorists," he said.

When the gunfire broke out, most Americans had no clue why it was happening. Tracer rounds stitched the sky interspersed with actual fireworks. After several minutes, rumor control informed folks that it was "just" celebratory gunfire and not a terrorist attack in the city.
But what goes up must come down. The embassy warning system activated: "Rounds are impacting the embassy grounds. Take cover. Take cover."

The rounds actually falling on the compound sounded like fat drops of rain. "When it first started I thought it was rain," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Scott Graham. "I was in my trailer, and I wondered how it could rain without a cloud in the sky."

Coalition personnel stood under overhangs just as people take cover from a particularly bad thunderstorm. They stood and waited for the rain of bullets to stop. "I know it's a gun culture here, but somebody could get killed," Marine Maj. Timothy Keefe, who watched the "fireworks" from the back entrance to the embassy, said.

The celebratory gunfire lasted approximately 45 minutes. Coalition officials said there were no American casualties.
OK, so, check it out: saddens palace has a Christmas tree in it. We had the lighting ceremony this morning, so we took a break from work to peer over the balcony and take a few photos. There was singing and general merriment all around.

Bop batta bah, bahtta bah bah bah bahhhhhhhhh!!!

General Casey said let there be light, and there was light!

As we like to joke over here on our team: "Saddam Hussein would roll over in his grave if he knew a Christmas tree was in his palace." Yes, yes. We know he isn't dead. But somebody made that slip once, and it has sort of stuck. An inside joke that I maybe shouldn'ta let out.

I told my Dave there's a menorah in the palace, next to the Christmas tree, and he said he absolutely has to see it. Here you go!

Happy Holidays...Catch you later. Oh, and go ahead and send my my presents now, so as to beat the Christmas rush. Hahahahahaa....

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Guess who just won's Horde photo contest?!! YESSSS! I totally nailed it. First prize is a gift certificate for $1000 to spend on one of the world's best websites. They could NOT have chosen a more grateful person, nor a person who is better able to pick some super-righteous gear for her collection. Backcountry, you made me feel like a rock star. Thank you!
This is, without a doubt, the coolest non-athletic contest I have ever won. Super cool. The news really kicked my day off to a great start. The Hordeman emailed me a couple of days ago to let me know how "classic" he thought the photo was. He sent it around to the whole company, apparently, and he said he was going to give me some stuff for sending them such a cool picture. So I was expecting a T-shirt or something (also very cool), but a few days later (today), I was notified that I have won first prize! The news made me jump out of my seat and do a little dance.
Here's the photo entry info:
Show us your goat! - photo contestSend us a photo of your goat logo sticker placed in some kind of scenic-creative-wild-out-of-the-ordinary-not-on-a-cop-car location and who knows, you could be the 1st place winner who will receive $1000 to spend on our site.
For aspiring photographers this could be your big break! A panel of employees, who have nothing to do with photo editing will select the winners.
1st Place -$1000 to spend on, published photo in our newsletter, fame and fortune
2nd Place -$500 to spend on and knowing you didn’t take 1st.
3rd Place -$250 to spend on
Most creative -$250 to spend on
The intern’s favorite -$250 to spend on (well, the intern has to contribute somehow, right?)
Entries must include the Goat. If you happen to include the goat participating in a backcountry sport-hiking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, trail running, or kayaking, we’ll think that your goat is one hardcore goat. One photo per goat sticker.
The photo that won is the lead photo on December 5th's blog. (Posted just below the one below his one.) I have several stickers because you get one with every order, and I even brought one with me from home with the intention of entering the contest. Well, I'm glad I finally did it. I sent in a couple of photos, and the email trail and entries are posted below. Hope you get a kick out of it. I sure did!

And that's all she wrote. I am so dang lucky!

Have a good one.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A convoy of Humvees leaves Camp Liberty, locked, cocked, and ready to rock.

I had a pretty cool adventure the other day. I'm going to Italy soon to visit my boyfriend, so I had to arrange travel out of Baghdad Airport. We have two choices for flying out of here. The first is to hop a military airlift out of Baghdad to Kuwait, and then hop mil air or civilian air out of Kuwait. Sounds simple enough, really, but it is anything but--especially during the holidays. Military have priority, and it is space available, so it's easy to get stuck in Baghdad, or Kuwait, or both, for several days on both ends of the trip. The other option we have is to purchase a flight on Iraqi air out of Baghdad, fly to Dubai, U.A.E., and then fly to the desired destination. I decided to pretend that Iraqi Air's maintenance and training schedule is on par with that of the U.S., and I opted for Option B.

I purchased my roundtrip ticket from Dubai to Pisa quite a while back, but I had been waiting for help from one of our Iraqi advisors to secure my Iraqi Air ticket. The trouble with that process is that you have to go to their office in downtown Baghdad, or to their offices at the airport, and pay for the ticket in cash (about $400 U.S.). One side of Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) is military, and the other side, though very restricted and quite secure, is civilian. I had to visit the civilian side.

Leaving Camp Liberty to venture to BIAP.

It was a little disconcerting just because we (my Iraqi-American friend) and I had to drive off of the base to get there. We left the haven of Camp Victory and Camp Liberty and drove down what was once a very busy main freeway toward the airport. There were very few cars on the road, and the outside wall was laced with concertina wire and had a guard shack with a couple of .50 calibre machine guns sticking out of it spaced every couple hundred meters along the wall. It was actually pretty cool...but very eerie. (One end of the road is controlled by the Coalition, and the other is controlled by Iraqi Army.)

The freeway. Nearly deserted, this secured freeway leads to BIAP. Check out that wall and the guard tower!

The airport itself looked like it was probably pretty nice, back in the day. We had to go through several ID checkpoints on the way into the airport parking area, and then we parked in the bottom of the parking deck, where people would normally be waiting to be picked up. At the doors, my friend was searched by armed guards while I was escorted inside, across the open area, well into the interior of the building, where a woman guard searched me...hmm...Then we went upstairs where about 40 or so Iraqis, Americans, and people of other nationalities were waiting for flights.
Airport signs point the way.
What was once a busy parking area now stands deserted...but free of charge...!
Heading into the airport parking garage.
After much to-do, I was allowed into a back area where the Iraqi Airline "office" is located. A very nice woman inside informed me that she could only sell me an unconfirmed seat since (from what I understand) they were unable to communicate with the corporate office in Baghdad due the busy hour. I was advised to come back in the morning if I wanted a confirmed seat. Since I didn't want to go throught the hassle again (even finding a ride is quite difficult), I decided to have my friend's driver purchase my ticket for me in Baghdad.
He bought it two days later, and I am now all set to go to Italy to visit my Dave. I can hardly wait!
Hope you enjoy the pics. Until later... Nancy

It felt really good to drive through the gates onto Camp Liberty after returning from outside the walls.

The sun began to set as we made out way through Camp Liberty to Camp Victory.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The other day, I took pictures of the goat sticker in various locations on base. I sent it in to the Backcountry folks for a chance to win free gear (they're my favorite online gear spot). I am a gear whore, but at least I admit it. Here's the sticker on Sadaam's big chair at the entrance to Al Faw Palace.
Things are going well here at Camp Victory. I actually had my first day off yesterday, Sunday, and it was really nice. I slept in a little (not much, actually, because my internal alarm clock woke me up), and I chatted online with Dave all day. I also went for a run with the Lost Lake Hash House Harriers, a running/drinking club that meets every Sunday at 1700 (5:00 p.m.). Most H3 clubs drink a lot of real beer and run around all crazy-like, but we have no excuse for crazy running, since all we drink here is Gator Aid and Near Beer. It's fun running around at night, with ever-present possibility of a twisted ankle at every step. Gotta love it.
I run here on base a lot, and my friend Kristy and I work out at the gym a few mornings per week, so a lot of people recognize us now. They come up to me and say stuff like, "Didn't I see you running the other day?", or "How was the gym last night?", or "Why were you running backwards on the tread mill?" You know, stuff like that. Of course, since I am always in the zone when I work out, and since I try never to make eye contact with anybody at any time, I never reckognize A SINGLE PERSON. Oh well. Whatever.
Hope ya'll are having fun. We are...sort of...

Sunday, December 04, 2005

On the way in to work on the morning of the Army/Navy game, we realized some Navy fans (they have to be alumni) had gone on a recon under the cover of darkness and painted some messages on very highly visible items on base. Here're the messages on the steps and porta potties between the palace and the chow hall. Haha. Whoever did it, I thank you.
Well, I had fully intended to go to the Army/Navy party in to watch the game in the Al Faw Palace ballroom, but I went to bed instead. The game started at 2230 (10:30 p.m.), and that is just way past my bedtime. My mom tells me we trounced Army, though, so I guess they didn't need me there to cheer them on. Woohoo! Awesome!
Just for fun, I've posted some more photos of all the Go Navy, Beat Army! graffitti. Don't worry, though: the paint was water based and has already been cleaned up.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

My friend Maureen took this photo of the sun setting over Camp Victory here in Baghdad, Iraq. Kinda perty, ain't it?
Iraq, contrary to the images a lot of us conjure up in our heads at the mention of the word, is actually quite a beautiful country. I don't get to leave the base here (not a bad thing), so I haven't seen the outside first-hand, but the pictures show a good bit of grass and lots of trees. here on Camp Victory, we have trees, canals, and lots of reeds and palms. There's not a ton of wildlife right now, but I have seen kingfishers, carp, and a jackal. The sunsets, I think you would agree, are really nice.

Friday, December 02, 2005

LTC Cummings hangs Christmas decorations on a chandelier inside of Saddam's Al Faw palace. Saddam would roll over in his grave if he knew we were putting Christmas decorations in his palace. Oh? He's not dead? Well, still, you get the point.
The Christmas season is fast approaching! My whole team, as far as I know, will be here over the holidays, so we will have fun, I'm sure. Decorations are going up in the exchange, the dining facilities, and elsewhere, and I fully intend to get in on the action. My darling mom is sending me some outdoor lights, so I promise to decorate my hooch and post the pics here. It should be fun.
As we all prepare for Christmas, a lot of internet shopping is happening after business hours. My shopping is pretty much completed, and I have to admit that my favorite purchase is my round-trip set of tickets from Baghdad to Italy, via Dubai, to see my sweetie. Dave and I are going to spend New Year's and his birthday in Italy, and then we're going snowboarding in Garmisch, Germany, for a whole week! It's gonna rock! I can hardly wait. This will likely be my only leave period during my nine months here in the sandbox, so I'm making the most out of it. Whooooopeeee!!!
Hope you're all having a groovy December. (I still can't believe it's already December...)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

This is my home, or "hooch", Tent 27. It's located in Tent City here on Camp Victory, Iraq.

Today's blog is designed to give you insight into how we live here in Iraq. New arrivals whose military or civilian companies don't have trailer space available have to bide their time in Tent City until a trailer becomes available. That "until a trailer becomes available" part of the deal could be a month or four. One of the ladies in my hooch has been there four months!

Each tent has cots for 10 women, so there could be anywhere from one to 10 women in each tent at any given time. At present, we have seven, but our old max was nine, if you don't count the day and a half that we had 10. Now, though, we are seven, and five of us are working for the same company.

Everybody likes to complain about the tents, but they really aren't that bad. I mean, they are dry, climate controlled (for the most part), and fairly clean, and nobody's shootin' at us, so I'm happy. The only crappy part is the distance between our tent and the toilets/showers, but I'm getting used to stopping the liquid intake well before bedtime and visiting the head before bed. It just really sucks when the need arises in the middle of a cold and/or muddy night. Just this morning, I was trying soooo hard to hold it for a final hour before my alarm was set to go off...but I didn't make it. It was a bummer, because I never did fall back asleep again. I hate losing precious sleep!

The issue of privacy isn't that big of a deal, except that I am unable to use the microphone and speakers when I chat with my sweetie each night. I don't want to disturb the neighbors. Oh, also, until she moved out, the tent was abuzz with rumors about one of the women secretly peeing in a bucket in the corner of the tent at night and emptying it in the sink in the morning. The same lady, reportedly, had a penchant for viewing pornos on her laptop at night. Haha. I have no evidence, but I do have second-hand testimony.

So, here's my home. I hope you enjoy the pics. Until next time, see ya, wouldn't wanna be ya.

That's my hooch, in the foreground, and way, way in the back, invisible behind that third tent, is the toilet. It is exactly 93 paces between my door and the door to the head.

(LEFT) This is my rack. It's pretty cozy, and I just recently moved to a corner cot, so it's good. I lock my valuables in my footlocker and my duffel bag during the day, but crime isn't a problem, as far as we know. Hanging on the laundry line there to the right is my new toy: rock rings. They're for building upper body strength. (RIGHT) This is the entrance to Hooch 27. When it's muddy, the entryway is full of mucky shoes.

Finally, this is the view to the left of my tent. Those guard towers are still standing from Saddam's reign, and I think someone actually lives in this one. Beyond that are the trailers where one of my company's teams works. They are the trailer monkeys, and we are the palace monkeys. Heehee.