Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in Iraq

This is my second Christmas in Iraq. My first Christmas was way back in 2003, when no one had any idea what was going on (things a bit better know, we realize this country is screwed). We received some intelligence that the Green Zone would be mortared by the insurgents, so we had a ‘stand to.’ That meant we awoke before dawn, but all of our body armor on and manned the walls waiting for hajji to charge the walls. There were a number of rocket attacks that didn’t land anywhere near us, so we got all dressed up for nothing.

I spent the first part of the day at work sweeping the floor while that heart breaking 3 Doors Down song warbled on the radio, think it’s “Love me when you’re gone.” No phone banks back then…I don’t think I even got an e-mail off.

After cleaning up my work area, went back to the gate guard building I was living in and enjoyed a nice bag of lime corn chips and cheese salsa while watching Star Trek. My roommate and I watched the movie M*A*S*H. Did you know that was the first movie to have the ‘f’ word?
Dinner at the mess hall featured life size sculptures of children made out of butter. I’m still confused about that.

This Christmas I’m surrounded by the internet and cheap phone lines, huzzah.
But, I and every other service person in this country are away from their loved ones. I’m not married, so I can skip that bit of heart ache, but I still wish I could enjoy Christmas morning with the family and watch a Star Wars marathon with my brother. I think my nephew still hasn’t seen Star Wars and he’s almost a year old. His geek development is stunted.

My goal for a future Christmas (maybe not Christmas 2008 as I may still be in Iraq) is a tree with nothing but Elvis and Star Wars decorations. I don’t know why, it just feels like the right thing to do.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Iraqi Food

Iraqi food is a fact of life. Duh, but after 4000ish years of civilization Iraq would develop dishes more…advanced.

I’ve traveled to many countries, and experienced all manner of foreign cuisine. Squid in Japan? No problem. Horse meet in Europe? A1 sauce! Then I get to Iraq and we have this:

What the hell? Remember that scene in Alien 2 where the android dude was dissecting the face hugger? Doesn’t this look just like that?!

Not only do we have to eat it, but Iraqis aren’t too big on utensils. They rip it apart with their right hand (they really do wipe with their left. Yes. Really.) and mash the goat, bread and rice together then shovel it down.Yum-o!

However, there is an interesting cultural dynamic at work. Since you can’t use your left hand, Iraqis will nudge their buddies with an elbow, then the buddy will grab a hold of the goat/mutant corpse while the first person rips off more succulent flesh. Bam! So, there’s some community building going on. Next week you might run into Achmed, the guy who helped you eat a camel.

The Iraqis are nuts about this stuff, I am not. But, for the sake of international relations I will do my best to enjoy it. Until time comes to eat this:

The Pita Mush of Death. I stared at this substance for a good ten minutes wondering what the hell they did to perfectly good bread. I still don’t know. I think they marinated it in baby poop and lamb urine before sneezing on it. If anyone knows what the hell this is, let me know.
The Iraqis have chicken, why can’t they serve that?

When we bring the Iraqis in to the FOB for mess hall food, they only ask one question: Who cooked the food? If we tell the truth and tell them a bunch of Indians (dot, not feathers), they won’t touch it. Indians are not ‘People of the book’ like Christians, Jews and Muslims, and considered ‘unclean’ by the people who wipe their ass with their hands…did I type that? Yes I did. Moving on. If an Indian cooked it, they won’t eat it. So we just lie and tell them Pakistanis or Bangladeshis are the cooks.

This country doesn’t need schools and a thriving economy, they need a frigging McDonalds, maybe an Outback. Even the mud huts have satellite dishes, wonder if they get the Food Network.

I will caveat my rant with this, the Iraqis are very hospitable when they aren't trying to blow you up.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Iraqi Family Issues

My unit recently set up operations in a little village we’ll call Kraplackastan, situated on a thin strip of arable land between the vast desert and the Euphrates river. These folks are not well liked by their fellow Iraqis because they’re a bunch of bandits and inbred weirdos, but I digress.
So, we’re setting up a new branch of the famed Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) in Kraplackastan and found a local leader to run the whole thing. Kraplackastan is famed for Al Qaeda operating in and around the village, so not every military aged male can join the CLC. Some Iraqis with Al Qaeda association are reconcilable, some are not.

The local commander vetted a number of the CLC applicants, and forbade one of his relatives from joining the CLC. The kid in question is the commander’s nephew AND son-in-law (think about it). The kid was rather upset about this, so he pulled a suicide belt out of a cache and used it to blow up him, his uncle/father-in-law and everyone else at the breakfast table. Yes. Really.
Any time my family has issues; I’ll remind myself of this story. Every so often you hear about American families shooting or stabbing one another following a remote control or financial squabble. Suicide belts are right out.

Sometimes I wonder if I deployed to Iraq or to the Twilight Zone.

This whole mess has turned into a huge inconvenience, as now we need a new Kraplackastan CLC leader. Imagine how that interview would go:
“Do you have any bat shit insane relatives? No? You’re hired!”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Small Life

Life on a Forward Operating Base is small. We may think we're accomplishing great things, but our scope is limited to very few locations. My life is largely limited to my trailer, the dining facility, work, the gym and the walk between each place. Every once in a while I can escape to new vistas, but the above locations are my life.

My CHU (trailer) is smaller than a Katrina trailer. There's my bed, a nightstand, wall locker and a rug that really ties the room together. I have a room mate, and he has all the same stuff I do. No room for anything else, but did I mention the bed? That's the best part, as I'm not sleeping on a cot. I had a cot for my first tour in Iraq, minus two days I slept on a bed somewhere on Baghdad International Air Port.

The dining facility is marvelous, really. There are meat carving stations, stir fry stations, short order (hamburger and french fries) and a main line. All manner of soup, salad (I'm wary of salad in this country. Friend of mine caught food poisoning last time I was here from a salad) and beverages. They even have near beer. Why? Why must they torment us with the taste of beer, but none of the alcohol? No one drinks beer for the taste!

Friday is surf and turf day. Yes, steak and lobster/crab in the middle of Iraq. Would you eat seafood this far from the ocean? Neither do I.

The Post Exchange (PX) is the biggest mystery for me, as we don't need it. All of our toiletry needs are taken care of by care packages, snack food is easily smuggled from the mess hall and we can get cheap DVDs (3 bucks a pop) from the movie pirates. But, there are sundry items like American soda (always flat) and Maxim magazines that we can only get from the PX...and American cigarettes for those that smoke.

My office is where I spend most of the day. I moved in late, so got stuck with the desk that no one wanted. A particle board and aluminum monstrosity that cost KBR 15 dollars and then sold to the Army for 300 (guess on my part). Someday I hope to move up in the world and actually have a drawer or two. But, I have a coffee machine and hot water heater for tea, so my caffeine needs are met. I have my iPod full of angry music and powerpoint slides to fill my time. Joy!

Sometimes I can leave, but that involves helicopters (more on that later) and eating goat.