Wednesday, November 28, 2007

See, What Had Happened Was...

This is the terminal in Kuwait. If it looks like total chaos, that's because it is. Total. Chaos. Also note the lack of seating--you have to sit on the floor. These people seemed to all come from an Indonesian girls' school, and the noise level in this concrete hallway rivalled that of the airplane pulling up to the gate outside.
This is the smoking area. Note the woman smoking just outside the door. The terminal, which is really just a hallway, was blue with smoke at one point. Call our smoking laws fascist all you want, I'm pretty damn glad we have 'em.

I really dread going back through Kuwait. It is a true pain in the ass. I don't dread going back to my job in Iraq--I actually like my job.

But I love being here. I've spent the last week stuffing my face with BBQ and catching up with the wonderful people I've known all my life, family and friends. It was absolutely the best choice to come back here last year. I had gotten so tired of starting over every time I moved, trying to find a niche and make friends. Here, it's all set for me. And I love it.

I have an awesome family and a core handful of friends here who used to sneak away from school to go hang in the park in high school.

Disclaimer--I just took another oxycodone and I'm feeling pretty damn good. See, I had surgery yesterday, and now I look in the mirror at a proportional, almost hourglass figure. It's wonderful. Just the proportionality makes me look like I've dropped 20 pounds. I did the right thing getting these girls.

So here's how it went down--Bob, my wonderful stepdad, drove all the way here from Adamsville, TN, about two and a half hours away on Monday night and slept on my couch so that we could get up and get to Memphis by 9 am. See what I mean about being here among family? How cool is that? AND he drove the Caddy, which rides like an airboat. Post-op, I was really happy to be in that car and not a truck or something less padded that I'd have to climb up into.

I woke up with nasty allergies but didn't dare take the Claritin I'd been taking all week. My throat was terribly dry and I couldn't stop coughing--nothing to eat or drink after midnight, so it was a bit uncomfortable. We arrived a bit early and after filling out some paperwork and paying the nice folks at the Memphis Surgery Center, they led me back to the pre-op room. I had to pee in a cup--quite the feat, given that I hadn't had even a sip of water since the night before.

The nurse had a tough time finding a vein. Actually, she couldn't--I simply have no visible blood vessels. I look like the undead in that respect. She called the anesthesiologist in--he was an older gentleman I had pegged as a Harley rider (I was right), and even with his years of experience, my dehydration meant that what little veinage I have was buried too deep for him to get a hold of one. He tried all four extremities, which made me uncomfortable--an IV in my ankle? Didn't sound good! He asked me if I was an android.

So what did he do? Went for my neck. I swear I'm not making this up.

They injected some numbing agent first--good thing, because I probably wouldn't have been able to sit still if I could feel a needle going in my neck. After it was numbed, it didn't hurt a bit. The only uncomfortable thing about it was sitting there with a little catheter in my neck, trying hard not to move or sneeze. I had to pinch my nose at one point to keep from sneezing.

The doc came in and I had to stand up with that damn thing sticking out of my neck--again, it really sounds worse than it is, it was just knowing it was there that made me all squeemy. He drew all over me with a surgical marker, then they wheeled me into the OR and gave me some great drugs that made me all giggly.

I'd heard that people act and talk crazy just before going under with anesthesia. I have no recollection, but I'm told that I looked right at the Harley-riding anesthesiologist and said, "If I start talking about Iraq, please tape my mouth shut because it's probably classified and I'd hate to have to kill everyone in the room." Much hilarity ensued, I'm told.

The next thing I remember is being in a dreamlike state and totally incapacitated--shadowy people moved around me, I was handed a styrofoam cup filled with ice water (which I gulped down), and I babbled incessantly about God knows what. The anesthesia made me shake violently, which hurt enough to cut through the drugs. I was wrapped in a heated blanket, but still shook until they'd administered two separate doses of Demoral to stop it. Several times I babbled on and realized there was no one around, particularly after the Demoral. Then I'd start giggling and drift off again. Going to the bathroom was quite the challenge--the nurse had to more or less heft me from a wheelchair right onto the toilet. Thank God I could at least wipe myself.

They wheeled me out to the car. I put a handtowel over my face to block out the sun and passed the hell out until we reached Oxford. Bob was really ready to get home by that time, and I cannot blame him one bit--he sat in that waiting room for a long damn time. It was so kind of him to drive all the way down to pick me up and take me there and something I could never expect anyplace else I've lived the last fifteen years.

So yes, I am high on Percoset and in love with everything and everybody right now. I love my house, my animals, my family...I'm a walking Hallmark card right now. It's pretty silly.

And the boobs? They look great! I think I chose exactly the right size--it'll be a C, not ridiculous porn boobs, perfectly proportional for my frame. I can't really tell what they'll look like, since they're in a light bra with some bandaging and they're locked in tight behind my chest muscles. There is a phenomenon with breast implants called "drop and fluff," in which the muscles finally loosen their vice-grip and the boobies settle downward and get softer. It takes several months. Even still, they look great already.

And with that, my eyes are fluttering...time for a nappy!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Next Phase

So now I'm in Kuwait at the International Airport. There's a Starbucks. So here I sit with a cup of strong coffee with real half-n-half, not the weak simulation of cream we have in Iraq. It tastes lovely.

I'm sitting in one of Starbucks' little conversation corner things, my enormous bag in a cart behind my chair. Some American guy working in Afghanistan instantly sat down next to me and started talking. I just want to watch people. And I'm trying to look as inconspicuous as possible--not an easy task with my coloring. But I have a gorgeous Iraqi pashmina wrapped around my shoulder, my hair tied back, and I'm dressed better than most of the Americans wandering around.

There's a Kuwaiti family next to us and they seem used to having Americans around. The only one who stares is the little boy, probably about six years old. I keep smiling at him and he acts like any kid interacting with a stranger. He's grinning widely, hiding behind his hands, staring. I made a face at him and he giggled, then excitedly said something to his father, who didn't smile. Didn't scowl, either, just looked at me. Mom smiled, though.

Arabs don't smile at strangers like we Americans do. It's not unfriendly, they often just think it's odd that we smile at everyone. Maybe they think we look like baboons, wandering the earth with a big, stupid grin. It's better received from a woman than a man, for whatever reason.

There are men in full Arab dress--dishdasha (the white robe thing), headress, etc. Women in groups--some dress traditionally, in long dresses and scarves (hijab) over their hair, some are dressed Western with or without hijab. You don't see this in Iraq. The women are in traditional clothing with their hair fully covered, or they invite unwanted attention of exactly the wrong kind.

I wish I could take pictures, but it's considered terribly inappropriate, especially to photograph women. I'll keep my eye out for anyone else snapping shots, see the reaction, then gauge from there just how taboo it is.

I will shell out the $300 for a room at the Crowne Plaza on the way back--the airbase was utterly miserable. The light stayed on in the tent all night, people came and went, there were no pillows or blankets--I had clothes piled up under my head and used a towel for a blanket. I bet I slept about two hours overall, fully clothed. And on the way back, I'll be 2 weeks post-op, and the extra money will be worth a shower and pillows and sheets.

All things considered, it feels really good to be out in the civilian world, with shops and restaurants, and away from that shithole American airbase. I'm on my way to seek out an ATM for more Kuwaiti dinar.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On the Road Again

I'm in Kuwait, in a tent with about 30 other bored ladies, out in the sand in the middle of no. where. I turned my passport in at about 2pm local, and it will be ready for pickup with the mandatory visa at 9am tomorrow. I fly through Germany on the way back and don't need a visa for it. So why here in Kuwait? Because our friends and allies figured out that there is big money to be made on visas for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and since we're on Arab time (think New Orleans time, only slower), it takes an absurdly long time to take that money and put a little colored stamp in the passport.

I'd rather some little guy just stand by the airfield we fly into and hold us each at gunpoint. Smack me with a camel whip and demand it of me, then let me board my United flight to Dulles. I'd gladly hand over fifty bucks and a smack on the ass to not have to sit in this wasteland for 36 hours.

At least there's a shower. Sort of. It's like the tent--open area. Water everywhere, and the clean clothes you bring to change into? Yeah, wet.

But I have a good book (Philip Roth, Sabbath's Theater), I didn't sleep well last night at the safehouse in Baghdad due to one guy snoring to beat the band, and I even have about ten episodes of This American Life on the iPod to take in.

There's a little McDonald's here--I made a beeline for it, given my lifelong love of the little cheeseburger (not the Quarter Pounder or Big Mac, just that crappy little cheeseburger) and fries...and got about three bites into it before it just didn't taste all that great. I tossed the rest. Don't get me wrong, it tasted like the ones in the States, it just wasn't worth all that fat.

It could be that I've gotten used to indulging in amazing Middle Eastern food, thanks to our interpreters from Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, etc. They cook a couple of times a week and since I'm friends with them, I have an open invite. Last Friday was lamb-stuffed eggplant with fresh hummus and little flat bread things, also with lamb and cardamom. Amazing.

Things could definitely be worse. I think it's time for a long nap...home on Monday, boobies a week from Tuesday. Yeah, things could be worse.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Internet Dickwad

That one's for you, "Anonymous." Probably the same dickwad I fired from two different positions, then reported for compromising classified materials. Coward.

I moderate comments, and summarily reject the pointless, insulting, or ones I don't have time to write a big response to. Call me a Nazi, a censor, whatever. It's my blog and it's for the entertainment and edification of my friends and family, plus friendly strangers. I'm not in your world, sweetheart, you're in mine.

So go right ahead, Anonymous, and send childish little schoolyard comments--they all end up in the "rejected" pile anyway. Gave me a great excuse to put the "internet dickwad" pic up.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I Freely Admit..

...that I am not worth one good goddamn at work right now. All I can think about is going on leave--thirteen days until I'm actually home, ten days until I leave the International Zone. I'd be looking forward to it even more if it weren't for the Kuwait piece--the Kuwaitis make is as painful for us to travel through their crap airport as they possibly can, including a 24-hour cooling-off period to wait for your visa.

I worry about my tailbone injury--I have some sort of bone issue down there that makes sitting around for long periods of time, especially on hard benches like the one on the C-130 we fly down in, downright excruciating. Even driving in my sweet little leather-interior car hurts like hell after a bit. Traveling? I see a beer in my future as soon as I land at Dulles. No pain meds, though, since I'm having surgery on the 27th.

I've been researching the hell out of this surgery--I'm really looking forward to this. Not the surgery itself, mind you, but having a pair of Girls that are swimsuit-worthy. I may even have a bra-burning party for all those A-cups I barely fill out--liberating, but in a markedly different way than the bra-burnings 30 years ago.

It will be difficult not to work out--it could be over a month before I'm able to lift weights again. And I am so sold on weight lifting--huge bang for your workout buck. I now hit the elliptical for 30 minutes of balls-to-the-wall intervals (9 low, 17 high--my legs are on fire as I complete each rep) followed by about 45 minutes of heavy, intense lifting. I've broken into freeweights along with the sissy-ass machines after reading about the benefits of going free. I'm not in there to fuck around. I'm drenched and ass-whupped when I finish up...but why carve out time in a busy day, particularly at 5am, to go in there are get a little glisten on?

If I'm spending my precious time at the gym, I want to most bang for my time buck.

I plan to conduct some sociological experiments once I'm a C+/D-. Get pulled over--to ticket, or not to ticket? At the bar--what's my new drinks-paid-for-by-me to offers-to-buy-drinks-for-me ratio? Are more doors opened?

If I've learned anything, it's that you cannot underestimate the power of a great rack. I have a co-worker here who would likely not warrant a second glance, but for her size G porn boobs. Guys drool all over themselves in her presence, and I can't help but notice it's usually while staring at her chest.

Do I blame her for any of this? Certainly not. We play the hand we're dealt. I have really great, muscular, rock-solid legs...but they're in pants all day, except at the gym, and I don't think most men are *really* "leg men." I look great in a skirt, but a) can't really wear them here, and b) legs, while certainly important, are far from eye-level and are therefore peripheral. I suspect they're ALL "breast men," whether they admit to it or not.

I'll have to wait until July to truly solve these mysteries--just being cute and female in Iraq guarantees as much attention as anyone could possibly want, but it'll be interesting to see if even that gets affected.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Conversation with an Iraqi

I flew up to another Forward Operating Base this last week to interface with the Special Forces muldoons. It's been a long time since I've ridden in a helicopter--I'd forgotten how nice it can be if you're sitting by the window. The first few times you fly in one, the straight-up motion is a bit disconcerting--one moment, you're sitting there on the helopad feeling the wwwhhaammpp wwhhaammpp wwhhhhaammp of the blades churning, then the tenor changes, and you just lift straight up.

In this case, we flew over Baghdad at sunset. I kicked myself for not bringing a camera. Helicopters fly fairly low, so you can see everything going on down there--black-cloaked women hanging laundry on their rooftops, people gathering in the streets to enjoy the evening cool, the brightly-colored jerseys in the children's soccer game we flew over in central Baghdad, the blue minarets. Date trees, cars, markets. No one looked up at us--they are so accustomed to the noisy birds, it no longer warrants a glance.

As we left the city, I was surprised to see how much farming takes place here in the desert. It looked much like any rural American landscape--patchworked crops, livestock, irrigation devices, date tree groves. However, we crossed a line at some point into straight desert--nothing stirred as far as you could see.

Every so often, we flew over a house, just out there in the desert, with deep wells dug all around. Imagine that life. You'd be isolated enough in the U.S. if your closest neighbors were miles away. But here? Where they lack many of our modern conveniences? Something must keep them from going mad. Islam, perhaps.

As I've gotten to know some of the Iraqis who work with us here, it's becoming clearer to me how much of a bum rap they get. Most Iraqis are just trying to make a living and send their kids to school without getting shot or blown up. I told one about North Korea and how they're brainwashed, how they have no electricity in most places, no internet, they're starving to death, and they get killed for saying the wrong thing. He bowed his head in understanding. Saddam.

I like to ask them things: What did Saddam tell you when Iraq invaded Kuwait? What did he tell you when we intervened? What was the Iran-Iraq war like?

Saddam, it turns out, pitched the Kuwaiti invasion this way: There is no true separation between Iraq and Kuwait, they are our brothers and sisters, the border should not exist and *poof*, I proclaim it does not. See, many Iraqis have immediate family in Kuwait, so that wasn't a stretch. Iraqis believed the Kuwaitis welcomed the invasion in order to reunite them with their families under one, righteous banner.

Here's what is wrong with that, though--why on Earth would Kuwait welcome reunification with a penniless state ruled by a madman? Their own booming economy would get irrevocably dragged down by Iraq, and Saddam would be in charge on top of that!

This point evidently did not enter into the Iraqi dialogue for obvious reasons. Then, when the U.S. answered Kuwait's desperate plea for help, we became the evil, meddling West, a title whose validity is, at this particular moment in time, admittedly debatable.

I posed these questions--albeit very carefully--to Ibrahim, an Iraqi man who speaks good English. He thought about it, then nodded. "No one would wish to be ruled by Saddam. You would be a fool to wish this, even if you have family in Iraq."

It takes a long time for people to see past the picture they've had of America for thirty years or longer. We haven't exactly made it easy for many Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere to reformulate their opinions, and only a select few actually live and work in any proximity to Westerners who can challenge the stereotypes. Their exposure is often limited to the crap on TV--and hell, many Americans have a love/hate relationship with our own media and entertainment industries.

I asked Ibrahim what he thought Iraq would look like in five years. His face lit up. "It will be prosperous. It will be like it was in the late-70's: nightclubs, people having fun, no more religious extremists." He believed it.

Then he sighed, gathering the change of clothes he has to bring into the International Zone so he won't be recognized when he leaves the checkpoint. Followed home, killed, his family murdered before him. It has gotten better, most Iraqis agree. But we're a long way from nightclubs in Baghdad yet.