Friday, July 22, 2005

Freedom Rest Day Four

It's actually been 10 days since freedom rest day four but it's been a busy ten days. The last day of Freedom Rest was like all the other days, relaxing and enjoyable. The night finished off with one of the funniest things I've seen since being here. They had a Karoke machine set up in the movie theatre and you could pick a song and do it. I didn't participate but got on the computer to chat with my wife instead. I was on a computer close to the door and as a result I could see what was going on in the hallway out of the corner of my eye. I thought I saw Michael Jackson walk by. You remember the white shirt, black arm bands and black hat era of Michael Jackson? That's when one of the guys said if you want to see the funniest thing you've ever seen you need to come to the theatre right now. Sure enough, one of the Iraqi guys that works at the Freedom Rest place was dressed like Michael Jackson, curly wig and all. As he started his way down the aisle the lights dimmed and a spotlight came on. Michael Jackson's Billy Jean started pumping through the speakers and the Iraqi MJ stepped on stage with all the grace and commanding personality of a seasoned performer. At first everyone was sort of quiet not really knowing what to expect.....Until he started dancing. This guy could really move. He started to dance and then threw his hat off stage just like MJ would do. This guy had choreographed the whole dance section from the Billy Jean music video. At this point everyone was on their feet cheering, and then he started singing. It was more or less on pitch but still had an Arabic accent to it. I got only one picture and it didn't turn out to well because it was dark, but they were taking a video of it. Earlier in the week they had told us that they took on average 500 pictures per cycle and at the end they gave everyone a CD with all the pictures on it. So I figured the Michael Jackson pictures and video would probably be on there too. After all the excitement I went to bed around 11:00 and got up for breakfast the next day and the dreaded return to my uniform and weapon. After breakfast and signing out of our rooms we had a little brief we had to go to to get the instructions for getting out of there. That's when they told us they had a problem with the pictures and couldn't make the disk. Oh well, I'll always remember Freedom rest and Iraqi Michael Jackson.

A convoy from our unit came and picked us up to take us back to Liberty. Once there I was supposed to catch a ride back to FOB Justice. I had a small layover there so I stopped by my company to see if there was anything I needed to take care of while I was there. As it turned out it was a good visit. The timeline for our departure from Iraq had been published that day. I can't really give any details but let's just say I have less than two months left in the country. After that it's only supposed to take a little over a week to get to the states and be completely out processed and back at home. All said and done my 18 month activation will only last a little less than 14 months. A long time still but not as long as it could have been. Once that timeline came out everything sort of hit the fan. Now we have to plan the turnover to the next unit and plan all the logistics involved in getting a Brigade from one side of the world to the other. The time is flying by because we're so busy and I don't really foresee it slowing down until the plane lifts off the runway and we wave goodbye to Iraq. I know it's really close because we're starting to turn in some of our gear and I already mailed a footlocker of personal stuff home. In case you wonder it costs 45 dollars to ship a footlocker from Baghdad to the west coast of the United States and it should take about a month to get there. In my haste to pack the box I accidentally put my Sim Chip for my cell phone in with the rest of the stuff. We don't have outgoing mail here so when they showed up unannounced for one afternoon everyone rushed to mail boxes and packages home. Not a terribly big deal but I won't be able to use my cell phone when I get to the states. One of the pictures I've had in my head is calling my wife from the plane as we taxi to the gate in the States and saying I'm home. I'll have to get a calling card or maybe have my wife overnight it once I get back to the States. I'm really starting to get excited. You have to disconnect yourself from your life back home just to be able to get through being here. Sort of an emotional buffer so you don't miss them so much. But now that the end is in sight I'm letting that down and I almost can't contain my excitement. It's like a little kid thinking about Christmas. You just play the different scenarios over and over in your head and almost can't contain yourself because of the excitement exploding from deep inside. I find myself just sort of giggling every now and then just to let a little excitement out so I don't explode. Sort of like an excitement steam valve. Once the pressure reaches a certain point it just opens for a second and everything's fine. Well, I'll keep you posted on any further developments.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Freedom Rest Day Three

Even though I call it day three it's really a recap of day two. After lunch I did spend quite a while out by the pool. To answer a question in one of the comments the orange cones by the ladders in the pool were there because they were vacuuming the pool and didn't want us in there stirring up the dirt. We had a little rotation going on at the diving boards trying to one up each other. I did pretty well. It's probably been 15 years since I've actually tried to do any kind of real dive. Not since High School swimming anyway. It was a lot of fun. When we first got here they gave us each a bottle of sunscreen. It's the spray on kind. It seems that yesterday when I put mine on in the morning I srayed everywhere except my right arm. I guess I forgot to change hands while I was spraying. So now I have a sunburned right arm. Oh well. I also played a whole lot of acoustic guitar again. What a great instrument. I can't wait to get back to playing it regularly. I read a Michael Crichton book for a couple of hours and ate an ice cream bar. The ice cream bar was of the chocolate variety and sort of messy. After I was done it looked like I not only crapped my shorts, but my shirt to. Fortunately there's a laundry place here where you can wash your own clothes. We had Lasagna and Spaghetti and some other Italian stuff for dinner. It's going to be disappointing to go back to the Army chow at FOB Justice. My Grandma was at my Parent's house visiting yesterday so I surprised her with a phone call from Iraq. It was good to talk to her. Well, I guess I'll get my busy day of relaxation started. Today is the last day here. We leave tomorrow morning.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Freedom Rest Photos

This is a picture of the big pool at the freedom rest area. I'll post some more pictures in the photo album right after I post this blog. Then I'll update it as I take more pictures.

Freedom Rest Day Two

Man this place is still great. Yesterday after the brief I hopped in the pool. They have scheduled activities throughout the four days or you can do whatever the heck you want to. As I was getting into the pool they were just starting the water volleyball tournament. That was great. Everyone is so relaxed and just wants to have some fun so it didn't turn out to be too terribly competitive. After that I just swam around and jumped off the diving platforms. I bought a pair of swimming shorts for 8 bucks at one of the shops. You're allowed to wear your PT shorts to swim but if you do you have to wear the whole uniform right when you get out of the pool. IF you wear civilian shorts it doesn't matter. Eight bucks is so incredibly worth it to not be in an Army uniform. Last night I watched a movie and a half in the movie theatre. They sell DVD's here at the Haji shops for two or three bucks a piece, but watching a movie on a laptop versus a theatre doesn't even compare. Not to mention the quality of a real movie is far superior to the Haji copies. It was great. We also had SUMO wrestling last night. You know where you dress up in the huge padded suits with the fake SUMO hair helmets and knock each other out of a circle. I didn't get in on the beginning when they had sign ups so I just watched. It was hilarious seeing grown men and women bouncing each other around in those big suits. Let's see what else was there? They had belly dancing lessons but I opted out of that one. Of course more music. I checked out the acoustic guitar, which turned out to be a very expensive Martin, and played that for a while. I think it'll take me a little bit to get my acoustic guitar chops back. The string tension on an acoustic is so much heavier than an electric. Even though I play my electric fairly regularly my fingers were a bit tired after the acoustic. But man was it cool. A few of the songs I've written are ones I planned on using an acoustic for so it was extremely satisfying to hear them on one. Plus chicks just dig acoustic guitars. We had steak for dinner last night. It had been marinating for a couple of days and it was unbelievable. I also had a fruit salad and some sweet potatoes. They have a place for breakfast where you can order omelets however you want them, but since I woke up around the crack of 10:00 I missed breakfast. This morning I sat out by the pool for about 45 minutes and then came to the computer lab. After lunch I plan on spending a large part of the day in the pool. I'll probably post again tonight and fill you in on the events of today. Maybe by then I'll actually get some of the pictures off my camera and post them for you.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Freedom Rest Day One

Last night I convoyed back to Camp Liberty so I could catch a ride this morning to "The Green Zone" for a four day pass called Freedom Rest. I slept in my old room with a surprise new room mate. I guess I don't really have a room at Liberty anymore. We pulled out of Liberty this morning and convoyed to a resort on the Tigris river built by Saddam for his republican guard. This place is great. There are 2 pools, a gym, a music room, movie theatre, restaurant, you name it. The first thing we did was turn in our weapons and body armor. It was nice to get rid of them but sort of weird to walk around without a weapon. Every time I walk away from somewhere it feels like I'm forgetting something. They put us up in these little bungalows 6 guys to a room overlooking the two pools and a little outdoor section of the restaurant. I think it's sort of like a cruise though, you don't spend much time in the room. Next I did something I haven't done in the better part of a year. I took my uniform off and put on civilian clothes. Right now I'm trotting around in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. Who would have ever believed it. We took a short tour of the place before lunch. After the tour I headed up to the music room where a couple of guys were jamming and joined in. I played drums for a while and then switched to guitar. Someone donated a few drum sets, an electric and acoustic guitar, a bass and a few amps. The electric is an actual Gibson Les Paul (my personal favorite) and the amp is a Line 6 Spider II for anyone who cares. The point is that the stuff is actually pretty decent. After shaking the rust off of my drum chops and strumming a few melodious slabs of distorted guitar music I swaggered on out by the pool in my cool civilian duds to see what Saddam had waiting for us there. There's a regular spring board and two diving platforms at 5 and 10 meters respectively. I'm not sure why but there's also a little round pool a few feet deep with some slides. Looks like a kiddie pool. I guess Saddam was a real family type of guy. I think I'll wait until the brief at 1300 before I go swimming. Lunch was next. I ordered stir fry and they cooked it right there in front of me however I wanted it. This place is really cool. I think the thing that makes it so cool is that your in regular clothes and free to do whatever you want. They have a full size movie theatre so I think I'll catch a movie or two while I'm here. There's also a place they call "Vendor Alley". It's a row of little shops run by locals where you can buy anything from Muslim prayer rugs to $30 Nike shoes to fake Rolex watches. I'll have to check it out to see if anything strikes my fancy. All in all I can say I'm having a great time so far and I've only been here for a few hours. I'll post some pictures once I get a chance and I'll keep you updated on what I've done while at the glorious Freedom Rest Resort.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Kentucky Rides Again, and How to Fix an Iraqi Hose

For those of you that remember Kentucky, the guy I went through the initial recall with, I heard from him the other day. He's alive and well and counting the days until he leaves. It seems when they cut his orders they were for 365 days instead of the 545 days the rest of us got. It looks like there may be a chance he will get to go home earlier than the rest of his unit. I hope he does. The big question remains what will happen to our bags when we leave? Everybody else is loading theirs up in a conex to ship back to their home station. We don't have home stations though. This is a problem for him too. It's good to know that there universally isn't a plan for everyone and not just me. As long as I'm not the only one that doesn't have a plan for getting home I feel better.

On to the Iraqi hose. I've noticed, since I've been working with the Iraqis, that they are a very resourceful bunch. They're completely comfortable with thinking outside the box. Not only in things like problem solving but also in law enforcement and human rights. My first glimpse at this was when they were trying to run some wire from one side of the building to the other. The building we live in is shaped like a "U" if you look at it from above. So from the hallway just outside of my second floor room I can look out the window and see the other wing across the courtyard. One day the Iraqis decided they needed to run a wire from our wing to the other wing. This does, on the surface, present a few problems. How do you get the wire across the courtyard, how do you get the wire from inside the hallway to the outside of the hallway, and once on the other side how do you get it back inside the other hallway? The answer to these and almost all other questions is a hammer. They just hit the window with the hammer breaking out a whole section. Then they tied the wire to the hammer and dropped it into the courtyard. Another guy in the courtyard would then throw the tethered hammer up onto the roof on the opposite wing. This took a few tries and more than one injury. Once the hammer and wire are on the opposite roof they just bashed out another window and fed the wire through. Problem solved.

A similar solution is used to install a car stereo system onto a scooter. You know the Honda Spree type scooters? Those are everywhere around here. And nothing says pimped out scooter like nailing a car tape deck and speakers to the plastic molding under the handle bars. I don't know about you but I think that just screams Chic Magnet! Once the stereo and speakers are nailed to the dash they take a wire coat hanger and wrap it around the whole front end. I guess this is a secondary safety incase the shattered plastic no longer holds the nails they drove into it.
Lets say you wanted to water the patch of dirt oh say 20 meters from your front door but only had two 10 meter hoses. What would you do? The obvious question is why do you need to water the dirt, and the answer is since the hose is never turned off you might as well water something. The hose outside the front of our building has been on since I got here a number of months ago. 24 hours a day the hose is on. There's no grass, just dirt so why do you need the hose? I don't know the answer but I do know that the hose must have been too short because as of yesterday it's now twice as long. How did they mend the two hoses together you ask? Simple, they nailed it together. I know you think I'm making this up so I have photographic proof. The service I use to post my blogs just came up with a way to post pictures without using a third party hosting site so here's my first trial at using it.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Iraqi Charades

First I’ll set the scene. It was me and about five Iraqi soldier and officers sitting on a wooden bench outside the detention facility just as the sun was setting. Usually I have an interpreter with me wherever I go, but not this time. We were pointing at things around us and saying what the English word was and what the Arabic word was. Bird; Bil Bil, Puppy; Jerue, Door; Bob, open the door; Eftah Il Bob, close the door; Sed Il Bob. I’ve known these guys for a while and I’m pretty comfortable with them. They’ve taught me a lot about the Arabic culture and language. We’ve shared many meals together and stories about our homes and families. A few of them have even tried to kiss me on the cheek, which is normal in their culture but still a tad bit weird for me. So there we were trying to learn to communicate in each others language without the help of an interpreter. The words flowed pretty well until we got to the word pistol. Most Iraqis can write Arabic words using our alphabet to spell the words phonetically. Most of them can even sound out English words but have no idea what they are. It seems odd to me that they could actually read a book in English by sounding out all the words, even though it would take forever, but still have no idea what they just read. Anyway, we got to pistol and they told me three different words. War War (rhymes with Jar Jar), Masadas, and Fart (which I found out later is actually Fard). I was trying to figure out which was which, like did you use one word for one kind of pistol and another word for a different kind of pistol? At this point it broke into a game of charades. They kept saying Fart and the word Al Bedewa like that would clear it up for me. I still didn’t know what they were trying to make Fart mean but now it seemed Al Bedewa was important too. Now we have to figure out Al Bedewa to get Fart. Then they would explain it in Arabic and talk among themselves I guess to try to figure out how to tell me what they meant. It seemed the discussion produced the bright idea for the officers to tell the enlisted guys different things to act out so I could figure out the difference. One guy was walking around hunched over repeating a hand motion showing he had what I thought was a lump or tumor on his back. All I could come up with was Quasi Moto but that didn’t help. I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to show me but he kept saying Fart, Fart. So all I see is this guy walking around with a deformed back farting over and over again. He was actually saying Fard but I couldn’t tell the difference so I thought he was using some English slang. So I did what every American does when someone talks about farts. I laughed. The more he did it the more I laughed which made them laugh. They looked at me sort of strange so I used charades to show what the word Fart meant to me. This got them rolling. It seems the only culture that thinks human gas is funnier than Americans is Iraqis. The whoopee cushion my son sent me and the little electronic "pull my finger pen" my friends sent are testimony to this fact. So now they know what Fart is but I still have no idea what Fard is. The Major that was there tells one of his soldiers something and the soldier leaves. A minute later he comes back with some paper and a pencil, charades just turned into Win Lose or Draw. The Major draws a picture of a camel. Now the charades made sense, but I still didn’t know what Fard, Pistol and Camel had in common. Was it some special type of pistol you only shot camels with? So I act out the motion of shooting the camel and this makes them laugh more. He keeps drawing and makes a rope coming from the camels mouth and tied around the neck of a little stick figure dangling off the ground. Now I’m really lost. Now they are hanging people from camels? The Major sees that this illustration isn’t doing anything so he moves on to the word Masadas. For this he draws a man with a turban and a Dish Dash (the long man dresses some people wear). So now I think you must use a Fard to shoot camels and a Masadas to shoot men. What does it matter what weapon you use, the outcome is the same. So I think maybe it’s like the Eskimos and snow. We just say snow but they have a bunch of different words for snow depending on the way the flakes form together. It seemed sort of fitting that the Iraqis had different words for a pistol depending on what it killed. After all, they’ve been killing each other for 2000 years. It still seemed odd, and they were still walking up to each other and saying their new found English word Fart using animated motions and all. This scene sort of dissolved into hysteria and Fart jokes and not much learning. After a while one of the interpreters showed up and cleared the whole matter up. A War War is an old word used for a revolver, Masadas is a new more modern word used by more sophisticated people (Hence the Dish Dash), and Fard is the word the Bedewans (Al Bedewa) use out in the desert for pistol (Hence the camel). It turns out the guy they were lynching from the camel was in fact just taking the camel for a walk. This was probably the most fun I’ve had just hanging out talking with the guys here. When you have an interpreter you tend to use them as a crutch, and the rythym of the conversation is lost. You say something and then it’s translated. They say something and then it’s translated. You spend the majority of the time waiting for the translation. This way, even though we didn’t get much communicating done, it was more like we were bonding instead of trading ideas through an idea broker. I had a good time that night, in fact I stayed about an hour after my shift just laughing and learning Arabic words. These will be some of the times I’ll take back with me.

Photo update

SCM has requested new pictures so she's got em. Her requests were the ones that prompted me to start the photo album in the first place, and she is probably one of the most loyal readers. So SCM, I updated the FOB Justice section of the photo album and I'll try not to neglect it so much in the future.

In other news I've got what's called a freedom rest pass coming. It's a three or four day pass to the "green zone" in Baghdad. I don't know all the details yet but I think there's a hotel with a pool so all the rest doesn't really matter. I'll fill you in more when I find out the details.