Hot Days

Filed under: — lana @ 1:45 pm

Humid nights. The nice part is that the evenings aren’t that hot (yet). The not-so-nice part is that the bugs here are not just creepy, they are downright strange. Behavior and appearance, these things are just not right.

Let’s begin with the flies, which actually started back at my last little assignment of fun and adventure about 50 miles south of here. The flies are regular houseflies of normal size, buzzing around areas that you probably would rather not be for any length of time anyway. However, and this is a phenomenon that has followed me further north, if they end up flying into any area where there are humans, such as, say, an office or a small trailer that you share with another person and all of your gear and they are the size of a tool shed, they seem to blame it on you. I say this because flies don’t normally dive bomb a person’s face, circle around, and do it again, paying no mind to swatting (I’ve seen several try to take revenge after being slammed against a wall…). If they get bored of one person, they attack the other for awhile, entertaining themselves by being just far enough that it doesn’t make sense to swat, but close enough that you feel dirty.

Next are the ants. First, they have set up some sort of main thoroughfare that involves the lowest step in front of my trailer entrance. I don’t know what is to the immediate left of the step that means they all want to be there, nor do I know what is on the immediate right of the same step that those bored of whatever it was on the left feel the need to go there, but every day around 0615 they start going back and forth and don’t stop until about 2300. Whatever is on either side, it must be terribly interesting. I’m going to start posting traffic signs.

But those are the friendly ants. Then you have the street ants out on the main compound. Today, a bully ant was vehemently attacking a slightly smaller one. It quickly became a gang war. I’m sure if I were a lot smaller I would have heard music in the background as they pulled out little chains and baseball bats, because they were doing what looked like coreographed West Side Story moves. (On a side note somewhat unrelated to bugs but really not that far off, we are becoming convinced that there is an Air Force gang trying to start a turf war, because they mill around at the same spot outside the exit to the chow hall every evening at the same time and stare at the Army folk as they leave. The crowd grows every day. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time and a need for an adequate soundtrack…)

The weather is too hot now for the flying ants, I think, which appear to have been replaced by mosquitos at a ratio of a gazillion to one, and the weather has warmed to the point where the ants with the raised rears show up. They had those in the Stan as well, so I should be used to them, but how do you get used to a bug that cruises around with its ass in the air and always finds the gap in the tread of your boot so you can never seem to kill it?

There are others… I saw what looked like a fast moving baby-scorpion, which I chased while calling it my ticket to freedom while my former first sergeant shook his head and told me sometimes he was glad to be leaving the company, and the black bugs with the red spots that attach to each other at the butt so one scuttles around forward and one backwards. There are the little white things with wings that look like pieces of paper, the hard-shelled water bugs in a land of little water, and today some monstrosity fell out of the sky with a loud smack and squirmed around on its back while we stared at it, entranced. I’m surprised the mortar alarm didn’t go off…

This place is a dream for an entemologist (that’s either the bug one or the tree one, I think… whichever, I’m sure they will find it entertaining). As for me, I’ll take my bug spray, swatter, and can of Raid and go about my daily business armed for battle…


Rainy Days

Filed under: — lana @ 11:33 pm

What is it with this country that says it can be 104 one day, and then for the next successive two days it is 70 and raining?

Not really raining, I add, more like a chilly, piddling drizzle that makes you really super-thrilled to be in the middle of Jihad-istan in late April. The really fun part comes when I get into my humvee, which, by the way, is nice and open to both the cool summer breeze and the rain upon its soggy seats. Another glorious day is upon us…

Also, I wonder about the puddle that I saw outside of one of the buildings this morning. It is bright yellow, and the edges are a bit greenish. Not surprisingly, this building is in rather close proximity to several of the Port-A-Potties. A clue, Watson! I don’t wonder too much about it, though, because it doesn’t really seem like it is something I prefer to be elected to investigate…


Turning Japanese

Filed under: — lana @ 11:18 pm

For those who are curious about the comment string to the earlier post, it is in reference to an email I forwarded in my extreme boredom. The following is the email:

> >Apparently this is an IQ test given to job applicants in Japan:

> >”Everybody has to cross the river”.

> >The following rules apply:

> >Only 2 persons on the raft at a time

> >The father can not stay with any of the daughters without their mother’s presence

> >The mother can not stay with any of the sons without their father’s presence

> >The thief (striped shirt) can not stay with any family member if the Policeman is not there

> >Only the Father, the Mother and the Policeman know how to operate the raft

> >To start click on the big blue circle on the right.

> >To move the people click on them. To move the raft click on the pole on the opposite side of the river.

> >

It kept me busy for a few minutes, and anything that takes up a few minutes of my time out here is a wonderful thing…

Happy Passover, by the way. We don’t have matzah out here, since I don’t know how many Jews we have on this post but I can about garauntee that you could count them without taking off socks, but I am closer to Jerusalem than a lot of people, so that probably counts for something… nothing like a religious Jewish holiday in the middle of Mesopotamia. The real problem is that I gave up sandwiches for the week, which makes finding something edible at the chow hall challenging. I’m going to blame it on the server handwriting that the sign reads “bruised beef” instead of “braised beef.” Since nothing tastes quite like the dust blowing around outside (actually, that’s not true, it’s more like EVERYTHING tastes like the dust blowing around outside, and will continue to do so for a majority of the summer, I suspect), I will just accept what I can get…

Back to the Grind

Filed under: — lana @ 8:32 am

I would have posted sooner, but oh wait, nothing ever happens. The mortars come on schedule, the days are getting hotter, and rumors are flying about the battalion like the weird ant-things that come out as the sun goes down. Note, please, that these weird ant-things do not fly with a great deal of accuracy, and frequently crash into things that they did not intend, or they simply barrel headfirst into the ground where they are easily stepped on and leave little puddles of ant-goo. Make of that what you will.

But I digress. We are finally back to work, and so at least now things are happening with some sort of consistency and I feel less like my presence here is some sort of sick joke at brigade level and above. Well, okay, I still feel like that, but I can put it aside while I don my body armor and ACH or whatever they are nicknaming our helmet (or crazy-hat, as I call it, because as far as I’m concerned I should only have to put it on if something crazy is about to happen) in bazillion degree heat and proceed to wander about.

Today was another fun one, for example. I donned my vest and crazy hat and walked outside to discover that it was 104 degrees or so outside, and even the sparrows are flying around with their mouths open. I guess someone failed to point out to whoever controls the weather that it is only mid-April, so perhaps they shouldn’t get too crazy with the hot already.

And so I get out and into the humvee and cruise out with my interpreter to find out about bad men with beards. With me I take some bottles of water, thinking, “Hey, it’s pretty hot out.” So we get to the meeting place about ten minutes early and wait. And wait. And wait. And I am actually surprised when they show up only half an hour late.

So we get them to where we can chit-chat and I give them their water. One takes a sip, caps it, and puts it outside. I pick it up and follow him in. I give it back to him a few minutes later. He gives it a disgusted look and says, “It is too warm.” My interpreter said that me saying something along the lines of “Well maybe if you hadn’t shown up 30 minutes late when we were standing in the middle of the desert waiting for you, it would be nice and chilly, jerk,” would be rude.

Not 10 minutes later, I drank some of my rather tepid water and put it down on the table in front of me. I look down at my notebook, look up, and lo and behold, there is the crazy local with my bottle in his hand, drinking my water. My water was acquired from the same time and place as his and was held in the sun with me for the same amount of time. And now I really didn’t want it back. I didn’t ask questions… it seemed like it would only get me nowhere.

Ah, back to work…


Passing years

Filed under: — lana @ 5:16 am

On this, being my birthday (I made a little rock pile and stuck a match in it from an MRE packet for a cake), I would like to recount some past birthdays. Why is it that birthdays stick out in our minds, I’m not that certain, because so far today is much like any other. Milling around with only a general idea that you probably should be doing something if someone would only tell you what, and other than that breathing the toxic dust containing the occasional hint of sewage blowing inland from the Tigris…

Let’s see. We will start with senior year of college. It was karaoke night at Bear Lodge. I think we can leave it there, though I do remember the guy who always sang only the “crowd” parts of Sweet Caroline every single time he got up to do a song butting into my rendition of You Give Love a Bad Name. Beyond that, you would probably have to ask someone else… Good times were had by all.

The following year… I woke up and said, “I’m 23 today.” Next thought: “It’s 0330 in the morning.” Next thought: “What in the… oh yeah. I left for the Army yesterday… today is my first wake up at Basic Training.” Thought not long after: “Oops.” Good times had by at least some. We got our shots that day. “Happy Birthday! You aren’t pregnant and you don’t have AIDS. Go do push-ups.”

The year after that puts me in Western Afghanistan. I decided to take my first day off that day, which was nice. A full year in the Army at that point, second birthday away from pretty much everyone I wanted to be around. But I got to sit on the roof and listen to music and not talk to crazy locals that day trying to tell me about pistachios and bad men with beards, so all in all it was a pretty good day, and my friend made me dinner and my team leader got one of the locals to find a cake somewhere (it tasted like dust… just like everything else out there).

Then there is this year. Still in transient status and therefore living on a cot in a little room with about a dozen other cots, a friend also stuck here in limbo wandered into the little shack where I have crammed my stuff to wish me a happy birthday. I then proceeded to do what I have done for the past two weeks: putter around. oh, this morning I got my birthday fireworks. I tried to tell the locals that they shouldn’t feel the need to light anything for me, but the alarms went off right on schedule… celebratory fire, no doubt. I think I have noticed a decline from the ol’ college days…

So in essence: two days ago I had three years left in the Army, yesterday was my two year anniversary for leaving to join this zany organization, three birthdays in strange (and stranger) places, and now I’m milling about in Jihadistan (again). This morning for what I like to think of as my gift they gave us a mission that we get to start on or around Monday maybe, which was kind of them. They also opened up a little coffee shack within walking distance on the base, further convincing me that they are establishing somewhat of a resort-like and noticably permanent presence here, which is very eerie and really somewhat disconcerting. Maybe I should go to the pool to calm down a bit…


Smells like… victory

Filed under: — lana @ 3:19 pm

So in my time waiting for a mission, I am trying to do these correspondence courses that the Army has that can get you absolutely no benefits in the outside (or, as I refer to it, “real”) world, but can get you promotion points. What with points for my job being somewhere in the gajillions, anything helps… The Army has a problem with our job. They keep points high for most of the year, thinking that they have too many people running around with rank because they have stop-lossed people through the year 3014, but then people redeploy and everyone gets out like someone just yelled fire in a crowded theater, so for a month or two points go down to where all you need is a pulse (and that is waiverable), and then they shoot back up to unattainable to start the cycle all over. So it’s a fun game…

So anyway, there was one course that I was taking called something like “Introduction to the Laws of War.” Basically, what is a war crime and what is not. I read the little course and took the exam. And I found I had to re-read the course because apparently not everything is permissable. And I took it again. And I found out that lo and behold, it hadn’t changed in the past 24 hours, you still cannot use a bulldozer to fill in trenches when the enemy is in them NOR can you use tear gas to flush them out, even if they have substantial trouble reading maps, have a decrepit sewer system, and graze their sheep in garbage piles. Go figure. We ain’t in the days of Saigon before it became Ho Chih Min City anymore, I guess… Sigh… Live and learn.

So it took me THREE tries to pass that course. And the third try was only a “barely pass.”

That was apparently some matter of concern when I happened to mention it to my brand new team leader (who, I point out, is not American-born and can sometimes have difficulty with my particularly morbid sense of humor/sarcasm/cynicism), particularly because I found this amusing, and possibly because in conjunction with telling him about it I noted that the water tower nearby gave good line of sight over certain elements that some would consider “friendly”… I was merely making a tactical observation… I even used Army lingo when I went into further detail, and Army-speak isn’t something they get out of me very often. I told him he should be proud. I also pointed out that at least I was motivated enough to keep trying until I finally passed, so I can learn… though I had already forgotten most of it, but that’s okay because no one had given me any tear gas canisters anyway.

He nearly had a coronary when my team sergeant, listening to all of this (and with a similar sense of humor), asked if I wanted to be the gunner for the team… we might just have a fun year yet.


Everybody Limbo!

Filed under: — lana @ 11:51 pm

Ah, the limbo. Conjures up images of the luau, some pigs with apples in their mouths, steel drums, and the best part, large-sized fun-colored drinks with little umbrellas and a piece of fruit floating on top.

For me, the limbo conjures up images of dust. And… well… more dust. I remain in limbo, stuck in transit for a little longer, it seems, because after the battalion figured out which company I was going to go to (which took them a week), the company then had to figure out which team I was going to. Once they figured that out, they had to change their minds. Twice. Now they know which team I am going to. Now they just have to figure out where that team is going to go.

And so the fun continues. Luckily, until they decide, our days are as free as shoplifted goods, where you didn’t pay for it but you have that sinking feeling that someone is going to realize something is amiss and you are going to have to pay for it later… with your soul. But they opened a pool here, which is not really surprising, since no one really wants to go running in 120 degree heat as summer rolls around. I don’t particularly enjoy running when it’s something more reasonable, either, come to think of it…

And so my dusty little luau goes on…


Seventh Circle

Filed under: — lana @ 8:39 am

I think Dante was actually from central Iraq. Oh, and he was a part of my battalion. There is simply no other way that someone could have come up with so accurate a picture of the lowest plane of hell without actually being here.

Now, I know it’s worse in other places in terms of the threats, though the breakfast and dinner mortar attacks are quite charming in their own way (we have learned that if you don’t get to dinner early enough, your three minute walk to the chow hall turns into a half an hour bunker-sitting expedition). But no one is shooting at you, you can wander down the street happy as can be over and over and over and over and over…

So you can get a lot of walking done. All because oh wait, there is nothing to DO. I have no job, because my battalion can’t figure out just about anything (I think several have forgotten I am here at all. I can only hope), so I can only mill about and stay out of sight before I end up a chair-warmer in our overstaffed operations center. I actually took a physical training test yesterday because it killed an hour of my time. Life has actually gotten to be that dull… this place is a sinkhole of depression and the land that time and the brigade forgot.

Then comes the evenings. A time for rest, relaxation, maybe a movie, read a book, and get eaten alive by swarms of malaria-ridden (I hope… here I come, Germany!) mosquitos that thirst for the blood of the American infidel more than the most well-known terrorists out here. I have grown convinced that Abu Musab Zarqawi, the superfun evil genius that no one can seem to find (he’s working with Elvis and Osama in Tennessee somewhere, I think), has a mosquito breeding center where he trains his millions of devout winged followers to wait until I put on some shorts and go for a run, then attack and drain the blood in one horrendously itchy fell swoop. Curse you, Zarqawi, and your minions of evil demon bugs!

My only hope is that the freakishly large winged ants that also come around in the evenings eat mosquitos. The ant things, a cross between an ant and an albatross, don’t bite, they are just rather unpleasant looking and mill around being fairly useless annoying. Someone give them a promotion…

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