Sunday, May 11, 2008

D-270: Iraq

I flew in to Baghdad International Airport yesterday on an overcrowded C-130. The seats are nets, and I had another person on my left, my right, directly across, and back to back with me; making it the most uncomfortable flight imaginable. After we arrived, we were driven to "Tent City," where all transient personnel live in 40 man tents surrounded by cement barricades. All the tents are identical, as are the barricades, and the honeycomb layout makes it nearly impossible to find your way around. Adding to the confusion, my tent is toward the center, so the area looks about the same regardless of the direction you come from. It got dark shortly after our arrival, so I spent a few hours last night just getting lost in the dark, so I quit and called it a night.

Living conditions are gradually improving, hopefully I'll have pretty sweet digs by the time I get to my final location. The tent here is dirty, and the mattresses are paper thin, but I have a bunk with no one above me, and two lockers to myself. The head is clean and hasn't been overcrowded or over-smelly yet and it is a short walk over gravel, which is a vast improvement over the soft sand of Kuwait. In Kuwait, you'd walk back to your tent from the shower and you'd be covered in sand up to your ankle.

The Dining Facility here is tremendous. Every variety of food is available from the usual short-orders burgers and standard galley fare to a carving station and Mongolian BBQ. I had the Mongolian BBQ last night, which was delicious, but way to spicy. It may have had something to with a little communication breakdown; the cook asked if I'd like red pepper, and I gave him the thumbs up, which is apparently comparable to the middle finger in America. He didn't seem offended, but maybe he loaded me up on the spice to teach me some manners. I'll never be sure.

A similar situation occurred this morning in the head. One of the cleaning men was in there wiping down counters while I was brushing my teeth. I said hello to him, and he sort of nodded and looked away, but then he stood behind me and off to the right, and just stared at me. I could see him staring at me in the mirror and got a little creeped out, so I turned around and with a mouthful of toothpaste asked;

"Am I in your way man? Do you want me to get out of here?"

He must have thought I said "Get out of here!" because he shot out the door so fast I didn't have time to say anything else. So I look forward to our next very awkward meeting.

Most of the cleaning men, galley staff, and general service industry around here are hired by KBR and referred to as "Third Country Nationals" or TCNs." Third country meaning not the USA, and not Iraq, hence some "Third" country. It could mean neighboring Arab countries, Pakistan, India or Indonesia; I can never really tell. So all the "culture" briefs I was given about Iraqia, i.e. no thumbs up, no "A-OK" hand signal, don't hand people things with your left hand, may or may not apply to TCNs. So who the hell knows, but I do know I scared the hell out of that squirly little creepy bathroom guy.

Today I explored a bit in the day light. I had two goals; get on the internet, and get a new shoulder holster. I went to the MWR to browse the web, and school my friend in Ping Pong, but on the way saw a little shack with "Ali Store" scribbled on the wall. We stopped in and found wall to wall bootleg videos. I bought Ironman and Gone Baby Gone on DVD for $2.50 each. The Ironman looks OK, it is clearly just a dude sitting in the back of the theater with a camera, so you get all the associated laughter, chatter, echo, and people getting up and down, but it is certainly worth $2.50. The Gone Baby Gone doesn't work at all, but I plan on going back and swapping it. I don't see why they would give me an issue considering they make these things on their computers.

From MWR we checked out the gym, which is pretty nice, and went to the PX area to find the trailer with internet access. We walked through the Bazaar, which had some pretty nice things, but the prices were nothing like the prices in Global Village in Dubai last year, but the items were pretty much the same. I kicked myself in the ass once more for not buying more stuff in Dubai. There we found the shoulder holsters we wanted, which are made of camel leather and are infinitely more comfortable than the quick draw hip holsters we were issued.

We finally found the internet trailer and purchased one weeks service for $26.50! I want to reiterate how appalling I find it that the government lets these companies come in and charge these kinds of prices for the web. The internet is an essential part of modern life, and it is how most of us stay connected with our families when we're are deployed. It is not that difficult to set up, a point made obvious by these little companies that come on base to take advantage of us. The internet should be the very first MWR-type of thing that is installed on a base after the gym! I should not be forced to spend $26.50 for a single week of access, so I can stay in touch with my wife.

That rant aside, the wireless here works like a dream, and I am farely confident that I will be able to successfully skype with my wife tonight.

In conclusion, happy Mother's Day. Verizon has set up a trailer with free phone calls to call Moms today. So this is an official endorsement of Verizon, who has once again proven superior to Sprint.

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