Friday, May 13, 2005

Can't See the Bathroom for the Mold.

Last time we left our hero he was living in a storage room in the basement of Saddam's old Intelligence building. No air conditioning, 7 guys and a strange unidentifiable odor. What will happen next? Will our hero finally get a room? Will he live in the basement forever? What is that smell. Tune in for the exciting conclusion of "Find Your Own Room in Iraq, No not that one."

On Wednesday we got the word we had a room in the back of the building behind the chow hall. We packed up what little we had unpacked and went to scope out the new digs. Not too bad, not the greatest but not too bad. By the time we walked back over to the storage room/ living area the plan had changed. I'll pause here while you recover from your surprise' he says steeping in a heavy layer of sarcasm. It seemed we were to stay in the storage room just a bit longer.

Thursday afternoon, after a pretty exciting training session with the Iraqis, we were told we now had a different room and needed to vacate the all important storage room by midnight. We hoofed it to our new room and walked into a little bit of a surprise. We had heard that these rooms had regular bathrooms with a shower, a toilet, and a sink. That would be cool. I haven't had a bathroom since being in Iraq though I am unexplainably fond of the port-o-podies. Do you remember the bathroom I had at Fort Hood? No? I'll jog your memory. Urine soaked towel and trash everywhere. Well it seems that the guys who lived at Fort Hood before me have some Iraqi cousins and I just moved into their place. The bathroom here makes that one look like a gourmet restaurant. There is a toilet but not a toilet like you think. Oh no. It's a hole in the floor with a little hose so you can rinse your business down the hole. I don't think the former inhabitants understood the concept of the hose though. There's years of dry crusted urine on the floor. I can picture it now. "Habib, Habib!"' he cries as he squats over the hole in the floor. "What do you think this silly looking tubular thing is sticking out of the wall? Look I can make water come out of it." "I don't know Achmed, but hurry up I need to pee all over the floor too you know!" It seems aim was not one of their strong points. Volume however was. The shower doesn't have a curtain or doors on it, it's just a shower head and, once I scrape the mold off, I think there's a drain pan under the shower head. The sink, oh the sink. It reminds me of a beautiful hike I once took in Texas through a moss bog. The surprising thing was that none of it smelled badly. Well, until we turned the water on and got it wet. Dried urine doesn't seem to have a smell to it but get it wet and you could burn the nose hair out of a fisherman. I almost threw up but I think the vomit was too afraid to touch the floor so it decided to stay inside where it was nice and safe. The bad part of all this is that this is a really small FOB and there are no cleaning supplies to be had anywhere. There is also a little problem having to do with the lock on the door. Or should I say the lock that should be on the door.

When we were told what room to go to there was a phrase that caused me to pause for a second and just shake my head.

"When you get to your room it may or may not have a lock on it. If there is no lock then the Army will not be held responsible for anything stolen because you did not secure your room. Any questions?"

Well yeah, I have a few. "Who's responsibility is it to provide a lock for the door?"

"The Army's"

"So just to get this straight if the Army fails in it's responsibility to provide a lock and my stuff is stolen then it's my fault for not locking the lock the Army didn't provide?"


"Then would I be allowed to not go to work until either the Army provides a lock or until we go home?"


These are your tax dollars at work here ladies and gentlemen. I can be recalled from my civilian life and do nothing but sit in a room and guard my own stuff until it's time to go home.

"Grandpa tell me the story of when you were in the war."

"Well sweetheart, I moved some of my stuff from America to Iraq and sat in a room watching it until we went home."

"Oh, Grandpa, you're a hero. That's my favorite story, can you tell it again?"

"Well sweetheart, ........"

They did however install a lock so all would seem to be alright. Right? Wrong. The lock they installed has but one key. There are four guys to a room and they each work completely different schedules. So all that accomplished was to keep everyone out of the room including three of it inhabitants. Make another key you say? A capital idea. However nobody can do it. Little FOB remember. Fear not, I'm a handy little dude so I acquired a hasp and installed it on the door. Now we have a combination lock from one of the guy's duffel bags and the room is secured. Fear not Army my room is now locked, you can rest assured that if my stuff is now stolen I will allow you to pay for it all.

We spent Thursday evening into Friday morning lugging our crap from the storage room in the basement to the top floor of an entirely different building. This is a small FOB until you carry all your stuff from one end of it to the other for the second time.

Next time a convoy goes to liberty one of us is going to jump on it and get some keys made and pick up some cleaning supplies. Especially rubber gloves. Where's crazy bathroom lady when you need her?

On a more positive note this was the first week for the training with the Iraqi intell guys. It went very well. These guys are so excited to learn anything we have to show them. They treat every subject like it's the very information that will not only keep them alive, but also lead their country to freedom. You almost can't stop the class at the end because they want to learn more. Most of them are in their late teens or early twenties. Much like the American Army. It almost makes me embarrassed for Americans. If you put the same number of Americans from the same demographic together for the same reason you'd be hard pressed to get them to even pay attention. They'd be way too cool for school. On the contrary, these guys are so eager to learn there was even one guy who had scheduled some leave and was going to cancel it so he didn't miss any of the classes. We told him we would be here for a while and would catch him up on anything he missed. It's very exciting working with them and very validating. It almost makes up for the crusty urine.

One way the Iraqis show honor and respect is to invite you to eat with them. Food is a very important part of their culture. I'm pleased to say they've invited us to eat with them a few times already. The other day I had a dish they call Coobba. It's a yellow ball the size of a baseball. They make a paste out of something very similar to chick peas by grinding them up and adding some oil and water. Then they make a cup from the paste in their hands. They fill the cup with ground meat and onions and spices. Then they put more paste around the ball to close it off. I think they bake them to cook them. The paste gets firm but not crispy. They brought them in a pot with a red sauce and dipped them out onto plates. They also had many different plates with pickles and cucumbers and tomatoes on them. You eat everything with your hands and some flat bread similar to a pita. They serve the bread hot and sometimes use it to pick up the food. It was very good. Some of the guys have had some trouble because the sanitary standards aren't the same as ours, but I haven't had any trouble yet, knock on moldy porcelain.

I've put a few more pictures up on the photo album and made a new page called "FOB Justice". I'll post some more later this week. Hopefully the rest of the training will go as well as this week has.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading about your adventures. I look forward to every installment. I am glad that the lock situation finally got some resolve. I will pray that you get to convoy safely to get some cleaning supplies. It is amazing to hear about the training. You are making history. I am proud of you!

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just looked at your before and after photos of your bathroom. You should maybe consider a job in commercial cleaning when you come home. However, after seeing the before pictures, I would still not want to use that bathroom. The image will haunt me. SCM described it to me and it sounded awful, but to see it with my own eyes (without the experience of the real-life smell to accompany it) was there a word for it? Well, I hope you'll enjoy your bathroom experiences even more now. Hopefully you will not find another crazy lady in this bathroom! M. Pads Coach

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are all enjoying your adventures. If it were only under different circumstances we would say you are blessed to have such experiences with another nation. Your goodwill certainly will be helpful in attaining all the interpersonal exchanges to learn quickly the culture and heart of your students-peers. You have deep insight and a desire for learning that few people have. God bless you and keep you till we meet again. ZM

5:59 PM  

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