Desert Christmas

I survived Christmas. I’m disappointed because I can’t get online and I was very much hoping I could skype with my family today. The internet stopped working in the office at some point today, and no one’s been able to fix it. I discovered a wireless internet service (called SniperHill of all morbid things) and paid $10 for it so that I could use my computer, but shortly after doing that, I lost all wireless bars and haven’t been able to get them back. I’ve carried my laptop all over base trying to find a place where it works, and so far not had any luck. I am now in my room and I keep trying to connect over and over again. I even tried holding my laptop up to the giant hole in hopes that the wireless signal might come through like Santa Claus. No luck. L

 

Today was fairly uneventful. I slept in till nine and then went to work. We had a decent amount of visitors as many told us this had been their first day off of work – ever. Dr. Berg, Danny and I ate a huge lunch at the dining facility (D-FAC), and it was great. They really went over the top and there was a ridiculous amount of food, as well as food sculptures, ice sculptures, and people in costumes. I got a picture with Rudolf, and could feel him giving me the eye for a while after that. Creeepy.

I ate ham and turkey and stuffing with yams, green beans, corn on the cob, deviled eggs, etc. Just when I thought I might explode, I ate cookies and an ice cream Sunday for dessert. Yum. I have to say, this is the best dfac I’ve ever been to, and I can see that it’s going to challenge some of my new year’s resolutions. I mean, seriously, they have four kinds of crepes every day for breakfast. It’s over the top. Your tax dollars are at work here!

 

After lunch we worked but it was relatively slow. I played Trivial Pursuit with Danny and he won, but not by much. I made up for it after dinner by neatly beating him at four games of ping-pong. Then I went to the coffee shop to see if I could get online and had no luck. Now I’m in my room getting ready to go to bed, and sadly typing this into Microsoft Word.

 

But I’m healthy, and happy, and looking forward to future years of celebrating the holidays with all those I love. You are in my heart! Merry Christmas

.

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Written on Christmas Eve

I’m feeling a bit sentimental, but OK overall. Danny is here to help us set things us and that helps a lot. It’s been a morale boost for me, as well as a big help workwise. I’m honestly glad that the holidays are passing and that things are getting done. We’re running a psychology class here and we’ve been trying to promote it and get students enrolled with little to no help from anyone. I’m trying to stay positive and not focus on the negative.

 

I’m feeling listy, so here are the negatives:

  1. My room looks a lot like a Mexican prison cell. The walls are bright blue, and the whole place is filthy. There  is dirt everywhere, and a tiny metal bed in the center of the room. They gave me a thin grey wool blanket to keep warm, which helps since there is a GIANT HOLE in the ceiling. I have no idea what it’s for or where it goes, but I’ve been sleeping here for 5 days, endured one hard rain, and nothing bad has happened. I’m growing to like my Mexican prison cell. At least I don’t have to share it with anyone.
  2. The camp is desolate, and dirty. It’s a huge base in the middle of the desert, and as I walk across it, I keep recalling scenes from “The Road,” which, if you haven’t read it, is a post-apocalyptic and excessively dreary novel. I’m fairly sure I now know what it would look like if the world was destroyed and everything was covered in a fine grey ash. I also imagine it’s a lot like what the surface of the moon looks like. Yes, there are buildings and structures here, but they’re all hidden behind hescoes (giant barrels filled with dirt and wrapped in chicken wire) or T-walls (big concrete blocks). This adds a mazelike element to the camp, and makes walking a direct path fairly difficult if you don’t know where you are going. Filthy and confusing? Yes.

  3. This Christmas is different from my last 7 in a major way – I’m not spending it with anyone I love.

 

Positives:

  1. I’m coming to the end of a challenging year, and I always love New Years. It’s a chance to start fresh, and invigorated.  I have lots of New Years resolutions, and I can’t wait to dive into them. Being in an isolated place should make it fairly easy to achieve success in ways that are harder when I’m at home. Basically, the temptation to have fun doesn’t exist here. Although I have played a few very exciting games of boggle!
  2. I have a great job. I mean, really. I honestly can’t think of something I’d rather be doing than traveling and helping people go to school that never thought they would. I feel really good about our program and I love the people that I work with and for. Plus, it enables me to live in Heidelberg, which is my favorite city in the world, where I am surrounded by some of the greatest and most interesting people I have ever known. I learn something new every day.
  3. There is a Ugandan guard that works outside of the MWR building where I have to go to use the bathroom. He is really nice and always happy to see me. And, his name is ROBOT. Yes, Robot. In addition to understanding what it would be like to live on the moon, I now know what I will name my firstborn child.
  4. Iraq makes 33 countries that I have visited.
  5. Today I found a huge sign that said ENTRANCE – EMPLOYEES ONLY attached to a concrete wall that was completely impenetrable.

  6. The sinks here consistently run warm. Every time I wash my hands (which is A LOT), I am happy that the water is warm.
  7. I am really good at boggle.

 

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JBB

We finally caught a flight on Wednesday afternoon. It was a C-130, and it was packed with passengers. They had red cargo net style seats lining both sides of the plane, and also running the length of the center of the plane. I was one of the unlucky ones to sit in the middle, back to back with the guy behind me, Forrest Gump style. I didn't actually realize this was the case until he leaned forward and I fell backwards. Luckily, I was so tired from being in the passenger terminal for 3 days that I slept most of the flight without even realizing it. Until the combat landing, that is.

SleepThe inside of the C-130


I woke up with a jolt when I felt the plane to a nosedive. I looked around in panic, but people mostly seemed bored, so I figured we were ok. Then the plane made a sharp turn and I was involunarily pinned against the seat (and the back of the guy behind me). I have never felt a sensation like that before in a plane. It was terrifying and exhilarating, a bit like being on a roller coaster. We continued our direct downward trajectory and were on the ground and shuffling out of the open back of the plane in no time.

After a short bus ride, we walked into the nicest passenger terminal I have seen in a long time. It was a real building, with all the amenities. Danny was waiting for us, and he drove us over to the Ed Center, which was also insanely nice. It apparently used to be one of Sadam's Air Force Academies or something like that, and it's nothing short of beautiful. Truly nicer than the Ed Centers I've worked at in Europe. Danny's got the office set up really well, and things are trucking along.

I've got my own room here, and it's just great. I can control the heat (yes, it's basically freezing here) and the bed is comfy. The bathroom is a bit of a walk, but it's imepaccably clean, and the showers are hot. Nothing to complain about here at all. Except that I have to leave tomorrow.

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The Waiting Game

We had to wait until 1900 to get my passport back, so we spent the day trying to work and get ready. We got new gear (helmet and vest with metal plates) issued from the warehouse. It’s awkward, but somehow I like having it. And I look damn sexy in it, I’m sure.

I got my passport back and we immediately went to the passenger terminal where a flight was just leaving that we were too late for. They announced the new flights at 2030 and we found out that our next roll call was at 0445, so we packed up and left. We decided to spend the night in the Education Center so that no one had to worry about driving us back and forth. This seemed like a great idea until I actually had to get up at 4 and walk 3 quarters of a mile wearing a metal vest and 30 pound backpack – not to mention the helmet flopping around awkwardly on my head.

We did not make that flight, nor the next three. It is now 1845 and I am sitting here just waiting for the next roll call at 2030. The good news is that is very comfy here, and there is an abundance of free, healthy food. I’ve got books, crosswords, my computer, etc. The only thing missing is the internet!

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Middle Eastern Adventure – Day 1

I woke up at 8 am after only about 4 hours of sleep, showered, and managed to cram 2 months worth of stuff into one backpack.

Patricia picked me up and drove me and Dr. Berg to the Frankfurt airport, where everything went smoothly. Then…Dr. Berg cut off all his hair! He seemed really nonchalant about his first haircut in 24 years, but I was excited. The flight was uneventful and we arrived with little difficulty.

The trouble started when we tried to leave. Passport control told me "VISA" and sent me away. I got out of line and tried to figure out what to do. I decided to ask a friendly airport employee.

ME: "Excuse me, could you tell me whether I have to buy a tourist visa if I'm only passing through Kuwait?"
GUY: *Points vaguely to the left*
ME: So I should go over there and they will tell me if I need a visa?
GUY: "Visa"

So I wander over there and find one billion people waiting for visas with no apparent order at all. I first get in line, but then notice a numbering system, so I wander around for about 5 minutes, then finally ask a guy where I can get a number. He just grunted and pointed, but I found it. And I got number 508. They were on number 340. I looked at all the people standing in line and decided to ask them what they were doing. After conducting a short survey, I learned that they didn't really know, but were just hoping it would be faster.

Then I decided to try to leave again without the visa and it almost worked…but then I got stopped and was told "VISA" about 5 more times. So I went back and took a seat, defeated. I asked the girl next to me how long she'd been waiting and she said over two hours! But she'd been observing and collecting discarded numbers, and she gave me one! I got bumped up to 367 and it didn't take me too long after that. Bless you, kind lady!

After that we came to the base where I turned in my passport so that the Air Force could take it back to the airport and have the visa removed. How 'bout that?

So then we went over to Ali Al Salem where I had a nice bed in a transient trailer. It was warm and quiet and I slept fine. This morning I was shocked to discover something I had long forgotten…sunshine! Blinding, wonderful, sunshine!
It's about 65 or 70 degrees now and it feels lovely.

Tonight I go back to get my visa-less passport and then I should be free to try to catch a flight.

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