Victory is Theirs

Filed under: — lana @ 2:11 pm

Well it has been a good few days for the Iraqi insurgency. A few days in a row, the man who knew the names of all of the bad men with beards and sandals has failed to show. And so they remain safe in their obscurity for a bit longer. These guys kill me. They all know where all the bad men are, and can’t understand why the Americans haven’t figured it out too, because I mean really, EVERYONE knows this guy is a bad guy, right?

Well the man who knew all didn’t show up. Well, yes he did, to be fair, two hours late (after I waited for him for half an hour in the sun, which in the recent week has gotten to the temperature that would make Dante cringe). I got a phone call that he was there to be met, and rousted an interpreter and went over there, and by the time I got there the guards said, “We told him to wait over there…” but I guess ten minutes was enough for the guy to get bored and leave… So the insurgents scored another victory and another day in anonymity, because only Americans are dumb enough to wait in the sun for half an hour, whereas a two-hours late Iraqi gives 10 minutes because hey, it’s hot out there.

Also in the past week I have been adventuring enough to see some more of the countryside. I have noticed that there are interesting similarities and differences between here and The Stan. Difference: fewer mud huts here, some houses are even stone or concrete and a lot are more than one story. Same: Chickens run around the yard, the walls around the houses are still mud, and there are an excessively large number of small donkey-pulled carts with excessively large numbers of sticks piled on the back. There are also stick bundles for sale in markets. I don’t know what these people do with all of these sticks… or where they get them from, because they don’t look like they come from the trees around here…

Also, there’s the tires. Both countries have an unnatural obsession with tires. They are piles of tires everywhere, and scattered groupings of tires. Big tires, small tires, tires out the back door, tires near the front door. I never see them fix a single tire, just pile them up. The same with large bags of thick plastic. Piles and bundles of them all over the countryside and on the back of donkey carts and in the trunks of cars. I’ve never seen them used, just piled. Something about the Middle East and bundles and piles…

Maybe these crafty little insurgents have something up their sleeves…

And maybe they just sit around laughing at us as we give suspicious looks to the stick-bearing donkey…


Hajis in the Dust

Filed under: — lana @ 11:12 pm

I am beginning to think, with a certain amount of validity, that our friendly mortar-launching neighbors across the river are tracking my movements. Now, this isn’t QUITE like Catch-22 when Yossarian decides that they are all trying to kill him because they shoot at him (regardless that they are shooting at everybody), but it is a bit similar… I merely have some proof.

Let’s take the past few attacks (not counting the really fun ones at around 0200 because once I’m asleep, if you think I’m getting into a bunker you are as crazy as the locals that can’t understand when I say meet me at 1000 on Sunday that means THIS year). It’s a case that we only get mortared right when I am about to do something. We only get hit during chow times right when I am in line to get in (which means they shut the doors and into the bunker you go) or about ready to stand up and leave (which means you have to sit there and wait for about 40 minutes in a building they think is safe but looks remarkably as sturdy as a trailer). Outside of chow times, there are three times and three times only when we get hit:

1) When I am about to leave to go meet someone and I have to be there in about ten minutes.
2) When I have just finished my shower and am about ready to leave but can’t because the alarm just went off.
3) The most frequent and the most convincing: When I really have to pee.

I’m convinced that late in the night some crazy local snuck in and implanted a sensor in my bladder, because almost daily I end up dancing around the office because of his impeccable timing. Sneaky and clever little bastards…

Additionally, we now have the added fun of the dust storms. Almost every day around mid-afternoon on 100-degree or hotter days the temperature drops about 20 degrees because the sun has been blocked out by the flow of dust going about 45 knots straight into your cornea. The good thing is that during these, our friends across the river don’t launch anything at us, so I found that these are the best times to go pee. It is my best solution so far for twarting their evil plans. You have to take what you can get, I suppose…


The Crazies are Out

Filed under: — lana @ 12:06 am

So apparently I am not the only one obsessed with the bugs around here.

First, let me explain that I could write an entire book about the strange antics of my team leader. We won’t call him crazy. We will call him… unique… with special needs… and a fanatical panic about the insects and the perceived potential effects of their various bites. This, combined with some of his other interesting characteristics, makes for an adventure every day that usually ends with me shaking my head at him and gently guiding him back into the realm of sanity. Not an easy task and not for the faint of heart or mind, I point out.

Let us look at an example. Yesterday it was put out to everyone in the battalion that we have to treat our uniforms with a special kind of bug repellant that I can pronounce but not spell. It comes in little olive drab green packets and smells awful, and you have to mix the stuff and let it sit outdoors and all of that.

Now I should have started at the beginning. My team leader is something of a meticulous perfectionist, and when he does something, he does it all-out full-gusto you-couldn’t-stop-him-with-a-half-ton-truck type. So he decided to do what we call “Improving your fighting position,” which for us non-combatants means he went and stole a mattress from some unused area and put it on his cot. Unfortunatly, he stole one from a tent that hadn’t been used in quite some time, so it may have had some pets that came along with it; an added bonus. Well, it may have been fleas, because the next two days he woke up with bites on his face, his hands, and anything that might touch the mattress in the night. He would not have it. He went and bought a huge mosquito net (now hanging over long strands of cord crisscrossing the room), and stopped by supply and got about 40 cans of the bug repellant stuff (it also comes in aerosol cans that explode both on impact and apparently when they are used as flame-throwers against the ants, but what the S-6 shop does in their spare time is none of my business. All I know is the canned stuff doesn’t last as long). A few hours after he returned from supply I walked in and he is sitting in a chair with a little white respirator-filter surgeon mask on and you get 6 forms of cancer just wandering in. I looked at him, he looked at me, and all I said was, “Did you have to spray everything you own?” and he launches into a long, vaguely garbled because of the mask, detailed explanation that he thinks the bugs were in the mattress so he had to use four cans to spray it down. He then asked if it was that bad. About that time I got lightheaded and had to leave.

So now we have the official company uniform-treating packs, and yesterday he decides to start playing with that, despite me saying to him that indoors is probably a bad idea. I made him move his operation outside, but not before I also pointed out that there are instructions for how to use it on the packaging.

English not being his first language, he sometimes has an adventure just reading things. Usually out loud. Usually several times (he has a repeating habit, both verbal and reading, where if you say something to him he picks out key words in the sentence and says them back to you a few times. It’s rather distracting, but fun if you can play the game of getting him to say fun words or words he can’t say properly). So these instructions tell him how to fold the shirt. He got the sleeves part okay, but then it tricked him by further saying, “Fold the shirt shoulder-to-shoulder.” Well, this part was tricky for him. For some reason, he didn’t get it. So he read it again. And again. And then just started saying, “Shoulder-to-shoulder. Shoulder…to… shoulder-to-shoulder. Shoulder… Okay. Okay okay. Shoulder-to… Okay.”

The pair of us peons who do not hold a team leader position watched him for about five minutes, trying not to laugh too loud because we didn’t want to distract the hamster, which was obviously running full speed and getting winded. He’s a nice person and tries hard. Just those Army instructions can be a little tricky sometimes…


Call to Jihad

Filed under: — lana @ 7:10 am

Come together, my brothers of all faiths, and listen close, for I am to issue a fatwah to rid the world of evil.

And so it is written in the holy notebook of yours truly that there must come a day when we can rid the world of evil. This evil does not just come in the form of the white devil infidels, nor of the bad men with beards and sandals who operate shady weapons dealerships out of chicken farms. Lo, it does not even soley fall into the hands of the great regime of the armed forces…

It falls upon the mosquitos. The bloodthirsty enemies of all, who take the blood of the innocent with no remorse. They will sacrifice themselves, suicide bugs, by alighting on your arm in full view for you to swat while their evil brothers feast upon the back of your calf. Selfishly they leave their itchy mark, laughing at you because once again you failed to capture them in the act. These creatures do not care if you are but an innocent bystander, walking back from the PX in the evening hours, or if you are standing with a can of Raid at the antpile near your doorstep. They have no sense of right or wrong. They think only of themselves and their quest for blood…

Forget North Korea. Forget the Taliban. Zarqawi and Bin Laden have nothing. The true enemy is among us, the axis of evil: the mosquitos, the flies, and the sandfleas. We must fight together in this call to Jihad, the holy war of man against beast, of me and my flyswatter and the bug lamp I am about to order off of Eddie Bauer.

Yeah, so I guess I shouldn’t have sat outside in shorts and a t-shirt again last night. 31 bites and counting… Forgive me for so often writing about the bugs, but it is going to be an itchy week…


Upon the Winds

Filed under: — lana @ 6:57 am

Now, I know that I mentioned in some of my Stan journey saga that upon our arrival and inbrief, they mentioned that there had been tests done and indeed the amount of fecal matter in the dust wafting along the breeze were within “acceptable” limits. No, I never did figure out what level is “acceptable,” nor do I know by whose standards. What I do know is that this country has interesting odors as well, and there are definitely days where you wish you could go back to the Stan and eat the dust by the fistful just to get the awful taste of Iraq out of your mouth. Now isn’t that a tasty image.

We can start with my little adventure out into the scenic farmlands of Iraq. Oh, before anyone gets confused, by farmland I mean desolate stretches of nothing. There are, legitimately, some farms for a few kilometers out, and I did see several sheep herds milling around on some grassy knolls, but once you pass those there is just an expanse of dust and rock and a few one-story structures they call shops, houses, gas stations, garages, storage sheds, shelters, huts, mansions, offices… they all look the same to me, of course, but there is some magical distinction that says that the locals can point in any given direction and say, “Third shop on the this way side [insert obscure hand signal to mean some general vicinity something like left] of the main road.” Every road is the main road, by the way. If it is paved, it is the main road. Every road is the main road just like every house is “A famous house everybody knows this house any child on the street can point you to this house.” So of course, you go to the third shack on the left and they are like “No, two shops down! You have only passed one shop! This is a house, you stupid infidel!” Right. The difference between a house and a shop is that the crap on the walls is for sale in the shop.

But I was on the odors. Ah, the interesting odors. Luckily, the inside of a humvee in the desert smells like dirt. Outside, on the other hand, it smelled like cow. I know there are cows around, because I heard rumors about ones that explode sometimes (everything out here explodes at one point or another, I’m pretty sure… those zany insurgents and their home chemistry kits!), but I haven’t seen them. Smell, though, is different. We got out of the trucks into a rock field (of course) and the scent on the breeze was that of a southern farm in August heat. Fragrant. So we puttered about for a bit (you get used to it after a bit), and we talked to some people who told us that nothing bad happened in the area but if we wouldn’t mind could we please stop at a few other places along the road so they didn’t become a target. Right.

But what was even nicer was back on post. We were wandering off to dinner and as it turns out, dinnertime is apparently when they clean the porta-potties right near the chow hall. Who would have thought? So as we cut through a gap in the fence by one of the motor pools (to keep the rest of the world out or the mechanics in, one has to wonder) , we walked by the back end of the poop truck in all of its glory as the tube was being detached and dripped over to be crammed into the mystery blue stuff in the porta-potty to make everything fresh and clean again. Boy, what a nice scent that was immediately prior to entering the chow hall. What was especially refreshing was that we could indeed get those smells without ever having to risk our lives… I came back from dinner telling my team leader that I didn’t need to leave the gates anymore… I could get all the smells that make me feel like I’m deployed right here. Come to think of it, though, I think I preferred the farmlands…

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