Sunday, August 29, 2004

Little City

I managed to get out of the cage again, this time to the International Zone, formerly known as the Green Zone.

I rode in the back of a Jed Clampett-style truck, standing up and facing forward like a dog in a pickup, because I wanted to see everything. It's a little walled-in city, the International Zone, lush and green and peopled with smiling Americans and friendly Iraqis pawning pirated DVD's (Copyright? I'll Copy yo' shit Right onto mine) and former Regime currency with Saddams iconic mug on the bills. I spent all the money I had on movies--call it Hollywood's contribution to the war on terror, I don't feel the least bit remorseful.

I was there for a meeting at the Embassy. My job just became much more interesting and rewarding in that my piece feeds into a national-level effort. I'll go to these meetings once a week, either in the Embassy or closer to where we live. Either way, it's a bright spot in my week and infinitely more gratifying to be a part of something bigger than our little fishbowl of a Brigade.

So, the International Zone--we ate chicken biriani (fabulous) at a cafe next to a sign that read, "Alcoholic Beverages Will NOT Be Served Until All Weapons Are Cleared." I was with a group of Majors from our higher headquarters and they were great company. The female major has a voice that would curdle mother's milk when she briefs over the high-tech voice-chatroom thing we use, but in real life, she's warm and funny, and very good at her job.

I savored every moment. The spicy chicken and sweet rice, studded with currants and saffron. An older episode of Happy Days played on the TV overhead, complete with hystrionic Arabic voice-over. I drank a mango-puree concoction and we laughed about filming While You Were Out in one of Saddam's palaces. How his arrest, detention, and trial are all an elaborate ruse to get him out of the palaces so we can renovate them, make military headquarters and embassies out of them all.

I go home a week from Friday. I'd enjoy it much more if the lovely blue-eyed man could come with me, but that's outside the realm of possibility.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Novelty

I got out yesterday to a town several miles outside the Baghdad city limits. The purpose of the trip was to meet with the local Police Chief and discuss how we could help them maintain security in the town--reinforce the jail, buy uniforms and boots, get them some extra training.

As soon as we pulled into the Police Station, a small crowd of kids gathered just outside the reinforced barrier. They hollered, cheered, gave us the thumbs-up, which I'm still not sure about. In Arab culture it's more obscene than our middle finger...but we figure the kids have seen us do it enough, they know it doesn't mean that to us. And they won't stop until you wave and smile at them.

It was obvious that Americans haven't been to this town in quite some time. We saw no other military vehicles. The small crowd that gathered told me our presence was unusual. There was nothing hostile about it.

The Police Chief was a Colonel. Although anyone can call themselves a Colonel here, this guy had the bearing of one--he was clearly a man who was accustomed to being in charge. Iraqis are much larger people than Afghans; I dwarfed even the men in Afghanistan and even with my smallish feet, they easily wore my running shoes. Not these Iraqis. A couple of them were quite large, with giant hands like hams.

The Chief's lackey (probably a Lieutenant ;) brought in a silver tray of shot glasses centered on tiny saucers. They were filled with sugar, and he poured hot tea into each one. There were similarly tiny spoons; it was like playing tea party. The tea was almost unbearably hot, and very sweet.

We took off our helmets and settled in to talk. Soon the word got out that there was an American woman on the premises--every Iraqi cop in the force soon gathered out in the hallway, pushing each other out of the little door to stare at me. It was a bit unsettling. As soon as we finished meeting with the Chief (above all, they want rugs and curtains, to hell with the boots), the men saw I had a camera and the party started. One by one, they lined up to take pictures with me. I couldn't see the men as the Lieutenant took the pictures, and laughed out loud when I saw them later. In each photo, the man is leaned back a bit, with a very serious, tough-guy expression. A possessive arm hovers just behind my back.

I had three marriage proposals in fifteen minutes. There's the novelty of how we look--me, in particular, with red hair, pale skin, and green eyes--but I think it's more than that. I think American women are in turn worshipped and reviled the world over. For this, we can thank Brittney Spears.

Out of the Cage

Today I get to go out on patrol with the MP's. Not to a dangerous area, mind you, don't get excited. I'm going to recon the areas in which I'm tasking people to collect intelligence, meet with a local police chief. I'm terribly excited to actually see Iraq, rather than just the inside of the Headquarters. This filthy, mouse-ridden tent where I work. It's easy to lose perspective in here.

I haven't slept much at all. I could spend the morning sleeping after this briefing I have to give in half and hour. But I need to get out there. I need something to look at, I need to see different people and some of this country. And I will spend the next 24 hours straight prepping a weekly rollup brief for the Commander, so this is my one chance to run for it.

One just ran across my desk. Yes, a mouse. They don't bother me the way they do some of these big manly men--some of them screech and jump like little girls. They set traps, they consult with exterminators, it has become A Problem. They spend time and energy on it that I just don't have, or care to summon for something so trivial.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Talk Is Even Cheaper Here

Yesterday I was informed, in all seriousness, that the young'uns think Mark and I are doing the hibbidy-dibbidy. I had to laugh--I walk around like the undead, on fewer than four hours of sleep a night, and they think it's because I've been gettin' it on with this man with whom I admittedly would like nothing more than lose some sleep.

Problem is, we're under a General Order that forbids sex between unmarried people. Which means I won't get naked with him. Period. That kind of trouble, I can do without--I have enough just doing my job day to day. And Mark, he was the one who told me about said rumor. I tried to gauge how he felt about it, if it was a subtle how 'bout it?

And what did I do? Laugh suggestively, level a charming gaze into his baby blues, and purr that it would be nice to give 'em something to talk about? Um, no. Actually, it caught me completely off guard and I went all awkward. The sleep deprivation and my physical filthiness added to the decidedly unsexy way I felt right about then, sitting in the chow hall trying to force down a steak sandwich with dirt under my fingernails and grit in my ears.

It was a perfect opportunity for me to just lay it on him, that when we get back to the States it's on like hot buttered popcorn, baby, that I'll put him between two slices of bread and call it Love Sammich? Oh, but no. My stomach clenched and I stammered something about the fact that his civilian rank is equivalent to a Colonel and wouldn't that be fraternization?

Damn it! What's the matter with me? Ok, I have to bring it up again, casually, and stop being such a chickenshit. How is it I can tell someone higher in rank that they're a dumbass, but I can't even look at this man when the conversation turns a bit serious? I feel fourteen years old, like my braces are cutting my lips up and I have a bad haircut.

But all the signs are there. It's in the way we speak to each other day to day. The soldiers picked up on it immediately, hence the rumors. I have to be careful, though, because it looks unprofessional that I'd have a little summer fling.

But it's not. We're not fooling around. Really. It wouldn't be so awkward if we were. Would it? I'm out of practice, I've blissfully forgotten how uncomfortable it can be, getting that close to someone.

But really, there's nothing wrong with me that a full night's sleep wouldn't fix.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

If It Weren't for Bad Luck...

I haven't posted lately for two reasons: I am so short on time that I never get more than four hours of sleep a night, and I didn't/don't have anything nice to say.

The last few days have been utter hell on earth. I cannot even look the commander in the eye, I hate him so much. It's been so long since I've dropped off or picked up laundry, I'm on the Third Wearing of the Socks. It's 6:30 on Sunday morning, I've been here since five, and I won't get to leave until well after midnight tonight. And am required to be in by five. Seven days a week. For the next ten + months. And the late nights will not go away.

My short-term memory is gone. I couldn't remember the word for that thing you write when you come in from a mission, oh yeah, a REPORT. It literally took thirty seconds to come up with that word. This was last night. I think.

Just now I caught a glimpse of myself in the chow hall mirror as I washed my hands. I look like a drug addict--red, glassy eyes (with black circles, very glamorous), hair in disarray, pale skin.

The one bright spot in my week came two nights ago, unexpectedly, when I finished a six-hour meeting with the Men With Rank, and the sweet man I've mentioned before had gotten my dinner. Steak, a salad, and cookies, in a go-box on my desk with a little note about how he'd noticed I hadn't eaten.

It sounds like a tiny gesture, but at that moment, I was moved nearly to tears. I'll take all the wee kindnesses I can get right now, and make an effort to push some out myself. I gave my two soldiers the morning off and that's why I'm here now. Stuff like that. I can't let the vitriol filter down. I must be the shit filter. Does it make my life hell? Yes, it does. Is it the right thing to do? Yes, it is.

I'm good at my job. I just don't like it much right now.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Long Day's Journey Into Night

It's 10pm, I've been here since 5:30am, with no end in sight. It's been this way for over a week. I'm so sleep-deprived, I hallucinated on the walk home last night. A piece of white toilet paper fluttering on the ground became a serpent. Albino, I suppose, but a serpent nonetheless. I jump and yelped. I'm glad no one was around.

Actually, I was even more glad no one was around to witness my stress-induced tantrum moments later in the shower. Having worked that insane schedule for many days in a row, I can't exactly remember when my last shower took place. I'm thinking it was three days prior. But last night, I reached my filth threshold and sacrificed a half-hour of sleep for a shower. So imagine how pissed I was when I reached for the knobs, naked, shampoo in hand, and there was no water.

I cursed. I threw things. Slammed doors. Then went about fixing the problem...threw switches in the fuse box, turned knobs on the pump, still naked as a jaybird and not giving a tinker's damn. And finally, something went right and the pump started working.

I was still pissed, though, and muttered furiously all through the shower and kept it up stomping back to my room.

There's nothing wrong with me that a full night's sleep wouldn't fix. I'm only able to keep this blog updated because the Boss isn't around and we finally have an unclassified computer in the Dungeon.

I miss my queen-sized sleigh bed with the fine sheets and thick down comforter. I miss the ceiling fan's sweet breeze. I miss waking up to sunlight in the room and the sound of traffic outside the Park where I live. I miss my kitchen. And the front porch with the cheap chairs I bogarted from Dad's house that actually look great and are quite comfortable when you pull one up to the railing, put your feet up, and read for the late afternoon as the cats chase each other on the front lawn. I just plain miss home.