Live from Baghdad

My adventures in Iraq.

Monday, April 25, 2005

You know you've been in Baghdad too long if:

(This dates back to August 2004, but a lot of it is still relevant.)

  • You start to think "it's not so bad here"
  • You say "this place sort of grows on you"
  • You say "it's not the humidity, it's the heat" (for Houston residents only)
  • You say, "it feels cooler today" and find out that the temperature is 105
  • The term "trailer trash" is a term of endearment
  • You think "DVD Mista" is a friendly greeting
  • You call your tent (trailer if you're lucky) 'home'
  • A "weekend" lasts from 0730 to 1200 on Friday
  • You get excited at the idea of ICE
  • You don't jump when a door slams or someone drops something
  • You aren't alarmed when every second person you see has a gun...or two...or three
  • You kick the M-16 on the floor aside without a second thought when you sit down to eat in the Dining Facility.
  • A Gloc or 9 mm on a lady's hip is considered sexy
  • Mortars and rockets sounds are "okay" compared to Vehicle bombs (IED's)
  • You can measure distances based on explosion sounds
  • "Scoring" means you acquired a new weapon
  • You go to Fallujah and Mosul for R&R
  • You are soothed by the sounds of helicopters flying six feet over your trailer
  • You automatically get down on your hands and knees in the dirt to inspect the underside of your car, even when you are wearing a suit or skirt
  • Bullet holes in cars are no longer alarming
  • Car selections consist of "hard" or "soft", not Cadillac or Mercedes
  • Road trips consist of 6 vehicles and large caliber weapons
  • Driving on the sidewalk is normal
  • Driving on the wrong side of a divided four lane street is normal
  • Driving 60 mph through a bustling street market is considered prudent
  • Hit-and-run fender benders are treated as mere warnings
  • Riding in a hot Humvee is preferred to an air-conditioned soft car
  • You get upset that you don't get C-130 Frequent Flyer Miles
  • Your carry-on luggage includes a flack jacket and helmet
  • You enjoy waiting 45 minutes for the toilets to refill
  • You start believing that Deodorant should be a personal choice
  • KBR buzz cuts begin to look stylish
  • "Texas Barriers" are something other than a device to keep Texans out
  • "Jersey Barriers" are something other than fences to keep Holsteins away from Jerseys
  • You begin to believe that project construction being blown up only twice a week is progress
  • You get excited with the presence of clouds
  • You know ten times as many South Africans as you've ever known before
  • The security guards are Ghurka or South African and you know them
  • Afrikaans at the pool is normal
  • You look forward to Mohammad's Mango ice cream as the treat for the day
  • Powdered eggs taste ok
  • You consider plastic ware the Palace China
  • You can distinguish inherent qualities of various plastic utensils
  • The quality of the plastics utensils becomes a hot dinner topic
  • Having to separate plastic plates causes you undue stress
  • Lettuce for your salad becomes a luxury
  • Scamming a 3rd can of soda makes you feel like you got even with someone
  • You are putting on weight because the Saddam's Revenge Diet no longer works
  • Going to another mess hall is an adventure
  • You think desert combat boots look great with a dark blue suit or shorts
  • Sand between your thong sandals actually feels good
  • The color white is no longer an option
  • Speedos for security guards seem right
  • You can recognize 12 different camouflage patterns
  • You've given up on shoe polish
  • You think the bullet holes in the roof of your trailer is just another form of ventilation
  • You get upset because the post office won't ship your looted artifacts
  • You haven't had water from anything other than a bottle for months on end
  • You consider broken sandbags just a new beach expansion
  • The idea of a double wide is only for the fortunate
  • Forgetting your badge makes you feel naked...but pants are optional
  • A bootleg of the new stateside release is not available at the PX 2 days later
  • "Only one rocket has hit the Palace" is excellent news
  • Cardboard boxes have become substantial pieces of furniture
  • Stars & Stripes seems to be a liberal newspaper
  • Acronyms become the acceptable language
  • It feels normal to have to run outside to make a cell phone call
  • You call your coworkers on a cell phone as soon as new T-shirt patterns arrive at the PX
  • "Can you hear me" takes up 50% of your cellular telephone conversations
  • You realize it is Saturday or Sunday because no one from DC phones

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

SUPRISE! Happy Birthday to me! At my surpise 30th birthday party, March 22.  Posted by Hello

At my conference in Ebril with Iraqi ministry officers. Posted by Hello

Go Bokke! Posted by Hello

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Piano in Iraq Bridges Gaps

I'm apparently turning into a media hound: NPR: All Things Considered.

Edit: The "I was bored" comment at the end of the piece was in reference to my job. Apologies to my beautiful, and always exciting, wife.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Is it a Waste?

Great article in yesterday's LA Times: Millions Going to Waste.

Of the individuals quoted in the article, Mark Oviatt is my counterpart at USAID and Jack Hume is my counterpart at Bechtel. Obviously, the article is very critical of the mistakes made in the reconstruction effort. However, I think it tells a good story about where we are today. USAID recognized these mistakes almost 6 months ago and started to analyze the lessons learned. They will soon be kicking off a $25 million program to address the lack of operational capacity within the Iraqi government. I had the opportunity to play a small part in developing that program and this will be my biggest accomplishment from my time in Iraq.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Eight in a Row

Wow, I just realized how long it had been since my last post. I think I might still be recovering from my surprise birthday party. That’s right, my wife managed to throw me a surprise party from the other side of the world. What makes this an even better story is that I think this is the eighth year in a row that she’s pulled off a surprise party. That’s right, 8 straight birthdays. You would think that sometime before March 22nd every year, I’d start to get suspicious. However, this year I would have been excused for not expecting it. Not only was I in Iraq, but she was in South Africa doing research for her thesis.

The night of my birthday started off innocently enough. A group of friends took me to dinner at one of the few restaurants in the Green Zone. We had a good time but I was surprised and a little annoyed when my friends wanted to leave right after dinner instead of hanging out like we usually did. (Hint No. 1)

Someone suggested we go back and watch a DVD. It didn’t seem like much of a birthday celebration, but I shrugged it off as another sacrifice I made when I decided to deploy. After we arrived at our compound, I told my friends that I had to return my mom’s phone call from earlier that day. I walked home, called my mom and we talked for a long time. I must have been feeling a little homesick as I kept stretching out the conversation. Looking back on it, I realize she was trying to end the call but was too nice to be blunt about it. (Hint No. 2)

Suddenly, my radio crackles to life and I hear my call sign over the net, “Rugby…Rugby, this is Viking, over.” It’s my friends and I assume they want me to hurry up so they can start the movie. (Hint No. 3 – we rarely use the radios for something like that.) I finally say goodbye to my mom and start walking over.

As I walk up to my friend’s house, someone cracks the door. I notice more people, loud music, and decorations. My brain struggles to reconcile this input with the plan to watch a movie. “Huh…what are they doing here? this the right house?....what’s all that food and drink on the counter?...wait a, can’t be...hold on, maybe…” SURPRISE!

And instantly, I knew. Susan had done it again.

Belated thanks to Aaron, Kirk, Tim, Tamara, Pam and all of my USAID and Corps friends. Thanks to Mom and Dad for embarrassing me by sending over old school pictures which were posted at the party. And, as always, thanks to my lovely, but sneaky, wife.