Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Our NEW new guy. He takes the place of the OLD new guy, Dan. This is Shane. Welcome aboard, Shane!

Hello, friends. Well, I am sorry, but the wireless isn't working in the tents, so I don't know if I'll be able to post anything spectacular tonight. I don't have any recent photos, but I'm going to stop and take a couple on my way home tonight. I really don't have anything exciting to report. I am actually nervous about writing too much, because I don't want to bitch and moan too much in this blog. The thing is, though, the internet has been out at the tents for three nights now, and that means I can't chat with David. When I can't chat with David, I get pissy. So there you have it. Argh! Enough of that.

OH! Maureen and I are going to have an intervention tonight. One of our new tentmates, a translator, isn't playing nice, so we have to set her straight. Lights flicking on at all hours, enough junk in the tent to make you think Jed Clampet just moved in, smoking so close to the tent it stinks inside, and the list goes on. Ugh.

I'll let ya know how it goes.

OH, OH! And we have a new guy. Shane is originally from Louisiana, so he'll provide us with lots of interesting stories, I'm sure. We're stoked to have him aboard. More later.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

The mud is starting to dry up a bit here, and now it has reached a sort of chocolate-mousse texture. If there is one thing American kids can be jealous of Iraqi kids for, it's the mud. This stuff would make perfect mud pies, and it washes off very easily.

Howdy, ya'll. I would like to draw your attention to the sidebar to the right of this screen. For the longest time now, that sidebar has been scootched down to the bottom of the page, and, until this morning, I have been utterly befuddled at how to fix it. Figuring there must be a glitch in one of my posts, I started at the bottom of my post list and saved and reposted each one, checking the layout for corrections, until I found the culprit. My blog about the REVA 4X4 had a little error in it, but it has been found and destroyed.

If you will notice, I also added some neat little links to some useful/favorite websites. The first has a link to the Camp Victory newsletter. The third, my favorite, is a link to my friend Maureen's blog. She can provide insight from a broad new perspective. The other stuff is just for fun. My Drive Around the World expedition team's website is there, too, and I recommend browsing through the journals.

Anyhow, I hope you like the improvements here. I know I sure do!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

This is the Camp Victory "Cable Guy." Technically, that's a poor name for him, because he is actually the satellite television guy, but I think we all agree "Cable Guy" is more fun to say. He has blue spots on him because he lives out in Baghdad, and I need to protect his identity. I have spent the past week or so getting our satellite television hooked up so we can watch CNN, etc., so I ended up working with Cable Guy a lot. It was fun bringing him into the palace, because it was his first time. I had my camera handy and was able to burn a bunch of photos onto a cd for him. It was pretty cool. He told me stories about how all the photos in the palace were of Saddam, and Saddam used to bathe in milk, and he would feed body parts of those who disagreed with him to his fishies, tigers, and other wildlife. He also said there used to be dolphins in the palace lake here. I don't know if I believe that one, but I guess anything is possible with that whack-job.

Anywho, we put the sat. dish on the roof of the palace after I went through the approval process with the building manager, and we dropped the cable down through a 3rd floor window. I then had to string the cable down the passageway to our cubicle. In the end, we needed about 85 yards of coax! The extreme cable length caused our signal to be weak, so Cable Guy had to return again with a bigger dish. Realizing that bigger is better, I had opted for the big dish in the first place, but he showed up with the little one on the initial installation day.

We now have the big dish, though, and our signal kicks butt. My work here is finished.

Notice anything weird about this passageway? No? GOOD! This is where I strung the coaxial cable. On the left. See it? No? Super!

Here's a closer view. I put the cable up under the molding to hide it better. So far, so good. The building manager hasn't come to scream at me yet. I might see about a second job here as the Cable Guy's assistant...

And, voila! Our television. Now we are ready to rock. All we need is a microwave and some popcorn!

Friday, January 27, 2006

This is what happens when it is muddy on Camp Victory. The mud sticks to shoes and boots, dries, and falls off indoors. Our lovely cubicle here in Al Faw Palace is continuously littered with mud and dirt. Our chair wheels scritch across it, making awful, gritty, fingernails-on-chalkboard-like sounds. It puts me in a bad mood.

Apparently, I am not the only one who abhors a gritty floor. I noticed all these boots suspiciously lined up, Japanese-style, outside the entry to one office. I had to laugh when I read the sign across the doorway.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sorry it has been a while since I last blogged. The information security Nazis here have been up to some good tricks and restricted access to blogs recently. I am back online now and ready to write. So here goes...

This is me standing beside our tent, where we have to walk on our way to the toilet. Flippin' SWEET!

(This is sort of an ode to Hunter boots, aka "Wellies.") Alright, so, it rained here a month-and-a-half-or-so ago, and the muddy mess that resulted prompted me to do a web search for a suitable pair of “Wellies”, the famous rubber boots that Brits wear in the mud-laden countryside of the UK. I finally found some and ordered them for myself, Kristy, and Pauline. Of course, after the order was placed, the rain dried up and we entered a period of unseasonably dry weather. Finally, while I was on leave, the skies poured forth three days of incessant drizzle that layered the entire camp in some of the worst mud in the entire history of mud. Since I was away when this happened, I became slightly jealous that Kristy got to wear her super-cool green Wellies while my “Angelina Jolie in ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’” red Wellies sat unused and neglected in my dreary trailer. I can't have her face, boobs, lips, or bod, but I can have her boots! And she can keep her boyfriend.

Well, you should always watch out what you wish for, because, just as the awful mud I returned to from leave was almost completely dried up, and not long after our first real sand storm, the skies again unleashed their torrent. It rained one morning and one night, and now the Iraqi soil, with its complete inability to absorb moisture, is covered in giant puddles and mud that resembles that lake in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Wonkaland is NOT all it’s cracked up to be!

For two days now, Kristy and I have been wearing our Wellies everywhere, and I think no fewer than 50 jealous people have asked us where we got them or commented on their utility. If I had known they would stir such emotion, I would have bought a pallet of them and sold them for profit out of the back of my hooch. (Another enterprise we have in mind is offering piggyback rides in front of the base exchange to ferry people through the mud pit between the parking lot and the building. Fees would range between $1 and $5 per ride, depending upon weight.) (Buy your Wellies here!)

The pictures in this blog do a lousy job of showing just how nasty the mud is here, because you can’t get any real understanding of the consistency of the mud by looking at a picture. I was driving around on it today in our team Pathfinder and did fishtails and donuts in the “parking lot” by the other team’s office trailers. It was so flippin’ fun. On our walk back to the palace, Kristy and I were joking about how crappy it would be to slip and fall when, wouldn’t you know it, Kristy slipped and fell. She caught herself and struggled to stand up while I fumbled for my camera and tried to keep from peeing myself from uncontrollable and spontaneous laughter. She really came out of it very well, with mud merely covering her hands, right knee, and left breast. I mean, it could’ve been a lot worse! In hindsight, I am glad I didn’t try to help her to her feet, because then we would have probably ended up in a female mud-wrestling match in front of God, Allah, and the soldiers and Iraqis standing around watching…

The stretch between the tent and the toilets...

The mud in front of the ladies' shower at the tents.

Kristy walking through the rain pools in Tent City.

Trailer-monkey mud compound.

Kristy after she slipped and fell in the mud. She got off easy!

A quickie:

This is my new alarm clock. Whenever I travel, I lose at least one item, typically leaving it in a hotel room or a friend’s house. My trip to Italy/Germany was no exception. I arrived home without my flip-flops or my phone charger. It pains me to admit that this is the second phone charger I have left in Italy, and the dang things cost $50, so I have to wait until Dave can send it back to me. The true crap part of this situation is that my phone (Treo 650) is also my alarm clock, and since I don’t have a replacement, I realized immediately that I was gonna be screwed when the charge ran out…like it just did. As luck would have it, the battery in my SUUNTO wrist-top computer (a.k.a., my watch) died yesterday, too, so I was forced to find a substitute alarm clock. Honestly, since I sleep with earplugs every night, watch alarms are useless, anyway.

I went to my trailer to pick up some of my junk and saw a trinket I had picked up at the Turkish gift shop. There, I found a blue mosque alarm clock to replace the pink one I bought in China and eventually destroyed in Russia (long story…). I brought it home to my tent and demonstrated its functionality to Maureen. I have never seen her laugh so hard. When it goes off, its face lights up and an extremely loud (it actually startled me, and I knew what it would sound like) voice sings “ALLAHHHHHH…alalalabalahhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!” It is meant to mimic the Allah Akbar guy who does the Muslim call-to-prayer each morning (at 0530), and four more times throughout the day and night. I don’t really know why I love it so much. It’s just so…”kitchy.” I might buy a bunch of them (like my Saddam salt shakers and silverware) to sell on Ebay…or not.

Anyway, I had to use this clock, and I am pretty sure my roommates are all going to kill me if I don’t find a more tolerable substitute before morning. The sound of an alarm clock is NEVER welcome, especially THIS one.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

This is the inside of my tent, and that is my cot. In other words, this mess is mine. You have seen hooch pics before, but I have moved three times since then. I moved from my first cot to one across from it when the bucket lady moved out, and then my name popped up on the waiting list and I got a trailer. That was a wonderful day for me until I actually saw the trailer. It is as far away from everything as you can get. That isn’t so bad, but what IS bad is that it is three football fields from the ladies’ head (toilet). I have to use a port-a-potty for emergencies. And that would be tolerable except that the wireless internet doesn’t work that far away from civilization, so I can’t chat with David or Mom from there, so that is a TOTAL NO-GO. The internet is my link to all that is important to me, and without it I am a wreck. Depression started setting in within minutes of moving my junk in to the trailer. That first night, I didn’t sleep a wink. After having spent two months in a sleeping bag in a cot, I couldn’t get used to covers and a real bed. My sheets and comforter kept falling to the floor, and I kept thinking I was suffocating because of how hot my roommate liked to crank the heater. (She’s cool, but I couldn’t get used to the climate control.) I finally slept better after a few nights, but I was still becoming more and more depressed. I couldn’t have good chats with my boyfriend, I was separated from my girls, and I couldn’t bear the loneliness.

Inevitably, as soon as I returned from leave, I packed up my trash and moved right back into the tents. Reunited with my sorority sisters, I finally felt happy…like I was home again.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

A hummer makes its way through the sandstorm. It looks dark and late, but it's only around 4 p.m.

Today I experienced my first sandstorm. I woke up last night with a sore throat and feared I might be getting sick. I didn't get a ton of sleep, anyway, because the wind was so fierce it nearly blew the tent down. Strong gusts cause the walls to flap against my cot, making loud noises and waking me up. At about 1:00 pm, the sky started getting dark and "foggy" with airborne sand particles, and I figured out that that was the cause of my sore throat. The good news is, I'm not sick. The bad news is, my throat and head hurt like I am, and it won't get better until this wind quits. I wonder when that will be! Everybody is warning us that these storms are going to be worse and much more frequent in the summer.

In an effort to get some stuff posted, this is all I'm gonna write. Hope you like the pics.

Saddam's pond, obscured by the "fog" of a sandstorm.
I tried to take a picture of a palm tree during the sandstorm and forgot to turn off the flash. I captured nothin' but particles.
This is the picture I was trying to get when I got the one above. That was taken during my walk home this evening. That's Tent City.
Headlights and sand help create this surreal image. I like this shot. I passed this guy on my way home.
Not my tent, but a tent in my neighborhood.
Besides a severe sore throat, itchy, watery eyes are another drawback to life in dusty Iraq. The photo doesn't really do it justice.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My welcoming committee: Kristy. Jd is waiting in the car, motor running...
Well, ya'll, I am back in Iraq.

The flight home was loads better than the flight out, except, of course, that I was getting farther away from David instead of closer. Waaa. There were no flight delays or cancellations, however, and I didn't have to spend the night in Dubai. That was a relief.

I was fully unprepared to actually fly home after 2+ weeks with Dave in Italy and Germany, so when the time came to go to the airport, I was caught off guard. I couldn't believe I was actually leaving to go back to Iraq for 6.5 months of separation. We will depend on MSN Messenger and email every day between now and my return to the U.S. sometime in July. Waaaaa, again...

Dubai International Airport. The ticket counter for Baghdad departures.

I flew from Pisa to Milan, spent a few hours shopping in the airport, and then flew to Dubai. That's about a 7-hour flight, I guess. I arrived in Dubai at about 0630 with no clue when my flight out to Baghdad would leave. I hopped a cab to the other terminal (paying twice as much this time as I did the last time), and waited until 0900 for the Baghdad ticket counter to open. At that point, I was operating on zero hours of sleep and was in no mood for shenanigans. The agent told me I wasn't in the system, which was no surprise seeing as how I had an open-ended ticket and couldn't get the Iraqi Airways contact I was given to pick up the telephone. She said I'd have to wait a 1/2 hour for an Iraqi Airways employee to arrive. An hour later, he arrived and cleared me for the flight. That gave me 1/2 an hour to get to the gate, which was about 50 steps away, and another 45 minutes or so to wait for the flight to begin boarding. Sometime around 1130, I was in the air on an old, decrepit, ugly, scary, rented jet plane full of other crazy people heading to the world's most dangerous city. I said a few little prayers to help ensure our safe arrival. I'm pretty sure I saw a loose fuselage panel near the wing as I boarded the aircraft that is so old it had an actual ash tray in the bathroom.

We made it alright, and I slept for an hour during the 2.5 hour flight, and the meal was even pretty good. No worries. As we flew at 58,000 feet over the desert, the 60-year-old former Navy SEAL ((Mr. (Vernon?) Dicey)) seated next to me told me about his trip to Africa for R&R and then told me we were entering Iraqi airspace. I looked down to see the Tigris and Euphrates rivers paralleling each other below, and a while later, I saw a bombed-out oil pipeline billowing black smoke. Surrounded by vast nothingness, it's no wonder these middle-of-nowhere infrastructure attacks are hard to thwart. The cool thing is, because of the danger of flying low over non-secured portions of the country, we had to descend from way up high, in a column pattern, directly over Baghdad International Airport. That meant we had lots of time to take pictures of Camp Victory (my base), Camp Slayer (neighboring base), and the airport itself on the long descent to the runway.

The most dangerous part of the flight was probably when we flew low over the ground on final approach. I think that's when willing insurgents can take pop shots at the airplane in hopes of bringing down a big prize. Thankfully, we were safe, and we debarked with ease. (In this picture, you see lush farmland with the runway way back in the distance.)

Customs is a piece of cake, and I got my prize Baghdad entry stamp in my fat passport as a treasured souvenir. Trust me, after a drive around the world (www.drivearoundtheworld.com) in 2003-2005, my passport is fat like a book!

I called my teammates from the airport, and they made the short drive over to pick me up. Thanks, teammies. I have to say it was sad how at-home I felt upon arriving aboard Camp Victory. Haha. It is comforting to be back at work and back with my Iraq family, but that doesn't mean I don't miss Dave. Ugh. Oh well, I once did 6 months on a Navy amphibious ship. I can handle 6.5 months here.

I have SO MANY SUPER COOL pics that I don't think I ought to post. Just enjoy the photos below!

Airplane shadow on the green fields. Didn't think Iraq was so green, did ya?

The final approach presents a nice view of some Iraqi structures.

Some of my fellow passengers.

BIAP, or Baghdad International Airport. I am in love with the 1970's green.

Airport signs in English and Arabic.

Baggage claim.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Here we are getting ready to snowboard down the mountain in Garmisch, Germany.

Well, the internet cost $10.00 in Garmisch, so I didn't bother getting online much. When we did get online, I was too exhausted to post to this blog...so now I am playing catch-up. We basically snowboarded all day, every day, and when we returned home, we went straight to dinner and bed. We had a week of snowboard lessons with an excellent instructor named Randall, and we enjoyed just exploring as much of the mountain as possible. It was just me, David, Randall, and a cool Air Force guy named Darin in our group, so we were able to really get out and have fun. I think the photos will demonstrate how much fun we had.

We drove back to Italy yesterday, Friday, and I have to fly to Dubai tonight. I am not happy about having to leave, but I guess that's life. I'll be happy to see my Iraq teammates again, and they will help console me...

Enjoy the pics. Talk to you from Baghdad.

Riding the lift up for our first run.

Dave at the top of the hill.

A solar corona, which I guess is just ice crystals in the air creating a prism effect and creating a rainbow of colors.

By the end of the week, Dave was catching mad air. Personally, I was too afraid pain and/or death to try it. I did get a few inches of air, I guess...

Dave and me atop the Alpspitz.

This is near the top of the mountain. Apparently, they worship here during the summer months.

On the last day, we hiked up and out across a high snowfield to find fresh powder. Here's a shot of Dave coming down the mountian. Awesome.

When we were out boarding in the powder, I came to what I thought was just a little jump. When I jumped it, though, I realized just in time that there was about a 20-foot drop on the other side. I came over the lip and just barely caught myself with my arms. It was enough to give Randall, our snowboard instructor, quite a little stare. Once he caught his breath, he proceeded to laugh at me unreservedly. When Dave came down the mountain, he whipped out his video camera to capture the action. There was nothing but air below my board, and I could go neither up nor across. I decided to go straight down, and Dave has a video of me plummeting an then riding it out like a pro. It was fun. As soon as he updates it, I'll link his website so you can see the footage.

My friends will appreciate that this WUBA's favorite part of the day, or at least one of my favorite parts of the day, was eating at one of the many lodges on the mountain. The Germans know how to eat, and their food (meat and bread, mostly) suits my palate.

Dave bought us a full snowboard package for the week, and it included instruction. We lucked out big-time, because our group ended up consisting of just Dave, me, a cool Air Force dude named Darin, and our instructor, Randall. All the other groups were loaded with kids, so we referred to ourselves as the geriatric class.

Leaving Garmisch behind was a bummer, but the drive home was beautiful. The sun began to set as we neared David's place in Italy.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

HEY! I'm in Garmisch, Germany. We drove about 6 hours from Lerici to arrive here last night, and this morning we awoke to some of the most beautiful scenery we've ever witnessed. Picture mountains, lots of them, covered in snow and surrounded by cute little German buildings. I'll post pics later. I just wanted to do a quick update. Our week of snowboarding starts tomorrow, so we're going shopping today! Weeeeee!!!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Just a farmhouse along the stretch of highway between Pisa and Lerici.

Dave and me. Don't worry, I'll stop putting up so many "us" pics as soon as I get some other better photos...

WOW! Look how well my new little camera captured tonight's sunset!