Monday, January 18, 2010

Late Homework

Dear Reader,

I'm HOME! Yes! I can hardly believe it myself and it feels amazing. Sadly this means our correspondence via blog is ending. But, on the bright side, I'm here so we can hang out in person. For those I don't know in person, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you got something out of this.

Don't be too sad though! I say it's ending but it hasn't ended yet. I owe at least one more to reflect on the overall experience, but I need some time before this happy ethereal dream of arriving home actually feels as real as it is. It seems that though I've arrived physically, I haven't entirely caught up in all the other "allys" (ie ment, spiritu, emotion, and any others there might be out there).

I hope you all had a merry Christmas and you're having a happy new year! I am!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Rule

Dear Reader,

Everyone has something to say about the war in Iraq. Here's my question and maybe it can give you another perspective on whatever shenanigans is going on. What is up with the new reflective belt rule?! No joke, you cannot go to dinner without wearing a ridiculous neon orange, green, or pink reflector belt around your waist or across your torso over your shoulder. That's right, we're making Iraq a safer place by requiring reflective belts to be worn to dinner! You know it's not a bad idea; people could run into each other at night. Or, maybe a slow moving vehicle creeping along the strictly enforced 16km per hour speed limit on a well-lit road might veer onto the sidewalk since it obviously can't see you without a giant neon reflector belt and because everyone knows slow-moving vehicles have a tendency to veer at night where there is a zero tolerance policy for any type of alcohol consumption. I think it would be really cool if the base was just a giant rave, or maybe at least if they played techno at the dining facility. Well, that's what I have to say about the war in Iraq.

Paz afuera.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Happy Holidays from Hell, or Paradise?

Dear Reader,

A lot has happened since last time we talked and I'm afraid this little blog project has fallen by the wayside. I also noticed how the quantity progressively decreases per month. Maybe I'm reaching my tipping point of marginal blog utility. Maybe it's because I got promoted (ka ching!), since it's also brought on a few extra responsibilities.

Ok, so remember Halloween here? Now let's talk about Thanksgiving! There was a giant Turkey sculpture made of butter bigger than me!!! There was a life-size crocodile made of pineapple, (obviously crocodiles are another Thanksgiving mascott (picture coming soon)), there were some plaster pilgrims, a butter steamboat, letters spelling "Happy Thanksgiving" made of ice, and so much other ridiculousness I almost lost my appetite. Who seriously thinks, "hey maybe we should build a giant butter turkey and butter steamboat for the troops in Iraq!" Ridiculous.

Somebody made some kind of "See you in Hell" statement about something and somebody else quipped, "Wait, aren't we already here?" Another incident occured when somebody said, "Did you hear the news that so-and-so died?" somebody else answered, "No way! when are they expected to arrive?" Many people consider this place to be hell. You're in the desert, you work long hours, you're far away from family, friends, and what's most familiar. I often imagine hell as something right out of one of Salvador Dali's paintings. Everything is bizarre and surreal; ridiculousness is paramount. The Thanksgiving butter ridiculousness drove it home. So just when I was thinking I was in the worst place conceivable, something happened that transformed my life...

Ok sidebar! So if you ask me what my three favorite dishes are, my answer might vary depending on the day, season, where I'm living, or even just my mood. However there are three things which I consistently love more than anything else. I can get tired of them like anything else, but these three things are independent definitions of excellence in edible form:
3. Vegemite toast--world's richest source of vitamin B!
2. Deep-dish Chicago Pizza-- I'll let you know where it's legit.
1. Smores.
Now let me talk about smores for a little bit. First of all, I have never lost a smore eating competition in my life. I have gotten opponents sick and after the match is clearly over, I will still continue to devour them because they are so good. Eating the perfectly toasted smore is the closest to heaven I have ever felt. It's such a simple concept yet it takes years to perfect-- it's truly the fruit of paradise. I bet the fruit in the Garden of Eden tasted like a smore. You know how people are like, "man, if only Eve didn't eat the fruit bad stuff would never happen!" But imagine if you were Eve and the perfectly roasted smore was the fruit the serpent offered. By now you should have the idea.
The only problem with smores is that a crucial ingredient is the bonfire. Trust me, I've tried the microwave, the oven, even a candle and you absolutely have to have a bonfire. Sadly, not everyone can just produce a bonfire whenever they want which makes smores difficult to come by-- especially here in Iraq. Fortunately a little bakery down in Chattanooga Tennessee (I've been there!), The Chattanooga Bakery, invented the next best thing to smores (drumroll): The Chocolate Moonpie. Now please don't get confused! The Moonpie isn't a substitute for smores, it's just the next best thing. Moonpies don't require bonfires! Moonpies come in many flavors and can be microwaved for 5 seconds! Sometimes I even like a Moonpie MORE than a smore! Moonpies are so delicious sometimes I think they should be called Heavenpies, or Paradisepies. I have a tradition of always asking for them for Christmas because I can never get enough... or can I?

Back to Hell. Ok so we're all sitting at our desks working away at our work feeling sorry for ourselves when all of sudden one of the Captains comes through the door carrying two huge brown boxes. He puts them down and asks for some help because there are more in the truck outside. A bunch of people get up and we bring in like a dozen or so of these enormous brown boxes. Ok so he opens one box and guess what's inside! Yep, stacks of boxes of MOONPIES! Each brown box had dozens of boxes FULL of moonpies!!! I am a moonpie fanatic and I've even been to the Chattanooga Bakery but I have never seen so many moonpies in my entire life. We could have emptied them into an empty pool and SWAM in them!!! (of course that would be a ridiculous waste).

This is all to say I don't really know where I am. On the one hand I'm in hell with ridiculous things like butter Turkeys and rampant boredom, but on the other hand I have more moonpies on hand that I can eat in possibly my lifetime. Hell or Paradise, in any case there's no way this place can be earth. Is life this ridiculous back home? Maybe I just can't remember what home is like and I'm going crazy... very possible.

Peace out.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Carnival

Dear Reader,

I got to take a little trip last week to the zoo. Well actually the zoo itself has long been abandoned of animals so I guess it was more like a carnival or amusement park. Welcome to Camp Victory, Baghdad. I'm so used to the deserty north of Speicher that Victoy was like paradise. I had some meetings in this beautiful palace (photo not taken by me) and I could not get over how ridiculously massive and even beautiful it was. Here is also a picture of the interior (also not taken by me). The chandelier there is no joke the size of my CHU. You can also get a nice view from
those balconies there and wow if you look out the back off the balconies that overlook the lake you can see a bunch of other smaller island palaces scattered around the lake. Apparently that's where Saddam used to keep his closest cronies. Now I don't normally associate palaces with carnivals but there's a lot more to the trip than a palace.

So, we stepped off the helicopter and were immediately stunned by all the noises, lights, and people buzzing around. On our way to lodging there were women walking around everywhere! Many of them were civilian contractors so to see a ratio of about 3:1 male to female with many wearing civilian clothes, it almost seemed like we were back in the USA! See, we're used to more like a 50:1 ratio mostly wearing uniforms. The next morning, we walked over to what was basically a Starbucks, (called Green Beans), on the base and we passed by a circuss tent in which a band was rehearsing. They even had a banner and some posters outside advertising upcoming concerts. I wondered, "seriously, where am I?" After we got our mochas and frappes we passed by a massive pigeon roost. Sadly nobody was taking care of the pigeons so they left the roost to inhabit holes in nearby buildings. The roost just looked like a monument towering there for tourists to pass by and take pictures of. Ok so here's my favorite part; my interpreter and I were riding in the van to an Iraqi restaurant that he claimed was far better than anything I've had up north. The driver turned on the radio and here's roughly what we got:
Female radio host: "hey Hey HEY! It's Jihad Jordan here with the latest and greatest hits for YOU! Up next, and you will NOT want to miss this, I'm gonna tell you WHERE TO BE tomorrow night for OW OW! let's hear it! HALLOWEEEEN! That's right! BAGHDAD IS THE PLACE TO BE this year for Halloween and I'm gonna tell you where all the BEST PARTIES are gonna be and you do NOT want to miss out!"
I was really beginning to think I was dreaming all of this. Sadly we arrived at our destination before I could learn where all the hopping parties were going to be in Baghdad for Halloween, but I already had a lot on my plate for Halloween anyway and wouldn't be able to attend. I mean, it's not like I'm deployed to a combat zone or anything...

In other news, Naughty By Nature is coming tomorrow so we're not allowed to wear civilian clothes (I know, it doesn't make sense), so get down with O.P.P.-- yeah you know me!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chicken Knows Best

Dear Reader,

I must apologize, I've been holding out on you for some time now. The secret most priceless perk of the military is AFN (Armed Forces Network). It has by far the most hilarious commercials in the world. The least of them is Super Bowl worthy. All of them are also very educational! For example, today during breaks for Jeopardy, a little computer-animated chameleon explained the importance of wearing a helmet while bicycling. Some dogs and cats taught me a little bit about how the Army JAG corps (lawyers) can help me out of a fix. Some babies with creepy adult voices talked about travel expenses, and an Air Force fellow danced for making the right decision, (to wear his reflector belt while going outside at night, obviously). Let's not even get into all the different unit ads trying to compete in being the baddest unit on AFN TV. There's a good amount of night vision, judo moves, and quick turning heads (to look like you're 'alert'). I guess the best way to describe them is that they're so bad that they're amazing. Anyway, I could probably set an entire blog aside completely devoted to an AFN commercial each day, but that would be a lot of work. I know there are a few on youtube so check them out; they'll change your life and maybe even save your life (if you're considering huffing, suicide, DUI, not locking your door at night, or not wearing your reflector belt). You absolutely have to see the Huffing one!

In other news, I think the Demon Wolves are pulling back a bit during this heat spell. We're over 100 degrees at daytime again! It makes sense that they're drawing down because they're already covered in fiery fur and I can see how hot fiery fur plus hot deserty sun may equal too much heat to handle. At least we've recovered some of our Class I supplies, (but not the Gatorade Nutrition shakes to my chagrin).

I've been pretty busy lately with trying to help get some interpreters US citizenship. It's been very educational to see how the whole process works, especially in terms of the conflict. I also really enjoy it. Oh! If you're single and you want to get married maybe you can help me out with the process! Heh kidding, not even sure if that's legal on my part.

Ok that's all for now.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Threat

Dear Reader,
Just as we began to think the war in Iraq was finishing up and the President weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, a new, much more sinister threat has risen. The last dust storm brought with it a wave of Demon Wolves and they are much more deadly than I expected. They already wiped out the Class I building, (which stores extremely important life-sustaining supplies such as Doritos and Gatorade), and I think their next target will be the latrine. Our weapons are useless against them. My interpreter and I cornered one once but he couldn't interpret anything except for some demonic snarls. He just got frustrated and threw rocks at it until it dissappeared.
Other than that things are going well here. It's starting to get cooler (80's to mid 90's), and even pretty nippy at night. I finally got out of the base and saw some of the countryside. It was kind of sad to see how violence is a way of life here. There are barbed wire, barriers, and checkpoints all over the place. Nevertheless everyone is out and about conducting their daily business. Though, I suppose you can't expect any better for a country torn apart by a war and sectarian violence.
I also had a few great opportunities to practice my Arabic and I completely bombed all of them. I tried to learn some food names at an Iraqi restaurant and everyone just ended up laughing at me, then I tried to get a screwdriver from an Iraqi without my interpreter and after a crazy dance and a bunch a gestures I got him to bring me a wrench. The worst was when I asked an American soldier a question and he replied with "3" in Arabic, which I've definitely learned before, and I didn't have a clue what he was saying. One of the interpreters called me out on not practicing my Rosetta Stone enough. He was right, I've only done an hour over the last two weeks. Busted.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rain and Fire(ing)

Dear Reader,

I apologize for the delay. I had the coming soon notice to show my sister that I haven't quit the blog. The delay is due to a rapid influx of events in my otherwise dry and desolate experience here. I will only blog about two/three of them for now and probably the others later when I don't have much else to talk about.

1. Rain - It rained for the first time last week! It was awesome. I sat in bed and listened to it and the whole time I thought about going outside to see it but I never did. It was kind of a mixture of laziness and preserving the enjoyment that kept me inside. Next time I'll probably go outside and see it for myself. The following day was so refreshing and cool. It almost felt like home for a second.

2. Fire - The Dr. for the interpreters went to Paul Smith's College in the Adirondacks! We got along instantly because I'm very familiar with Paul Smith's as LaVida uses their canoe point and I've had a few adventures there. One thing led to another and we started talking about cigars somehow and then he gave me one he'd just ordered. It didn't have a band and he said it was from Drew Estate which supposedly has flavored humidors in which the cigars just sit and absorb the flavor. Anyway, I'm not much of a smoker, but it was the best cigar I've ever had. Take a look at them on You can get the good ones for cheap by ordering the rejects. They are the same quality except for some minor aesthetic deficiencies.

3. Firing - The highlite of my week thus far was firing an individual. I know most people dread firing someone unless if they hate them and I don't really hate anybody so I understand that this isn't normal. I will explain. One of the interpreters was not working out for his team. There was no place else to send him and he had to be replaced. I had no choice but to release him. As we were driving over to the office to finish off the paperwork I was able to ask him some questions. I could see that he was very upset about losing his job, but he was still open to conversation. The cool thing about it was that I could empathize with him pretty well and even without having experienced anything like him, I could see where he was coming from. I saw that he needed some positive reinforcement and that he didn't really understand why he had to go. This allowed me to provide him with some tips of how to do better next time and encourage him to not give up. He was very receptive to this and realized that I wasn't a bad guy. By the time he was leaving he was thanking me for all of my help! This was by far the most rewarding experience I've had here thus far. It's a wonder what a little care and kindness can do for a crappy situation. This is especially convenient because I've always wondered what I'm going to do with my life and now I think I could be good in human resources. It's at least something to look into.

There you are, some good length to make up for the delay.