Vengence Is Mine

Filed under: — lana @ 12:52 pm

Forgive me if this one makes less sense than normal. I have been up since sometime around 0400 or 0430 this morning on account of another day of fun in the farms and fields of tomatos and cow manure, though I can only approximate the time because since my watch died I had to purchase the only alarm clock they have at the PX. The nice part about these alarm clocks is that they are the same ones I recall my grandmother having when I was little that we used to use to torture her atrociously obnoxious poodle, the kind (of alarm clock, not poodle) that are 12-hour wind-up and you better wind it about every 14-26 hours or it will stop, and the ringing can be heard six miles away (and to be certain, much to the joy of my neighbors, through the plyboard trailer walls). Regardless, I rarely know what time it actually is because I frequently forget to wind the thing so it is good my roommate went on the same convoy I went on today.

So the joy started out normally enough, with the general confusion of attaching to a unit that then attached itself to an Iraqi Army operation, which is always fun and exciting, and the sitting around and the getting lost because the Iraqis haven’t quite grasped that the distance on the map isn’t real-life distance, and overall it looked to be another normal day of driving aimlessly around a new and exciting part of central Iraq.

But the fun was just getting started. Since this was primarily an Iraqi operation, my usual partner and I started to get a little bored waiting around for them to bring us people to chit-chat with about bad men wearing sandals. When we get bored, we like to make things happen, because it is funnier that way. Our team leader lost track of us at some point as she wandered back to the truck to get some water, leaving us without the supervision that someone along the line should probably one day figure out we need, and we took the opportunity to investigate the farm that we had set ourselves up at. What does one find on a farm? Why, farm animals, of course! This particular farm had some chickens, some dogs that were not very happy to see us, and, much to our excitement, some cows.

Now, after last week’s adventure with the waste canal, as well as a few other fun experiences out here, I have long since realized that most things can be powerwashed from boots. So I really have little problem with walking up to an Iraqi cow in an effort to “Pat the moo cow on the nose,” which is what my partner and I decided would be the most practical and overall beneficial use of our time. The Iraqi Army personnel around were very entertained by this, as my partner was afraid of the dog barking angrily from behind the cow so he didn’t want to get that close, that and the large piles of fertilizer mixed with grass that surrounded the cow pen. Not one to be twarted by such things, I reminded him of our powerwasher and that rabies gets you to Germany and trudged on over, much to the dismay of the cow (the dog wandered a little further off to continue exclaiming his displeasure).

Now the cow seemed a little intimidated, probably by the weapons and the fact that strange people were mooing at it, not to mention the barking of a dog from somewhere about twenty feet away, so I decided to feed the cow. So I bent down and picked up some grass. I guess the grass was fertilized, because it occurred to me that it didn’t feel much like dried grass, and the cow seemed to be reluctant to eat it (my interpreter wandered further behind the pen to get me some fresh grass after the Iraqi Army guy nearby said, “Well that’s DIRTY grass, get it some CLEAN grass.” Hello? We are in Iraq. Everything is dirty. But I digress…). Long story short, we got the cow to eat the clean grass, we got our pictures taken petting the cow (still to the immense dismay of the cow, which was tethered anyway so had a rather dejected look on its face anyway), and my boots could stand a powerwash.

But this didn’t seem to kill enough time, so we decided instead to make friends with the dog, which clearly had no intention of making friends with us. My roommate had been kind enough to pack sandwiches for some of us, and I asked her if we could use it to make friends with the locals. So she gave me one, and then proceeded to videotape my partner and I attempt to make friends with the local dog populace. Piece by mayonnaise covered piece, we attempted to get the dog to first stop barking, then gradually approach us. We were only a few feet from having him give us rabies (and thus a trip to Germany, all expenses paid!) when another friend of ours wandered over and said that a one-star general was in the area and we should probably shorten our populace engagement operations and go look professional somewhere. Knowing how hard this is for us, we tossed the dog the rest of the sandwich (to the dismay of my roommate) and wandered off to find the general.

Keep in mind that I have now handled grass, fertilizer (probably before it became what would normally be called fertilizer), cow slobber (better than my partner, who was trying to help get a piece of grass that was stuck on the cow’s face and got sneezed on), warm mayonnaise and bits of soggy sandwich, as well as the usual Iraqi dust and grime. Well now, I certainly wasn’t going to wipe that on my PANTS, was I? I did attempt to do some damage control on a nearby wall, but then the general decided to thank us for our part in catching bad guys. What is a soldier to do but shake the proferred hand of a general when he decides he wants a handshake?

And thusly, today turned out to be a small bit of revenge on the Army. I’m sure someone on his staff had some hand sanitizer, which we have found conveniently pushes dirt around to the point where it just sits in clumps on the outside edges of your hands.

The rest of the day consisted of us arguing theology with one of the interpreters and attempting to figure out if a building we were in was actually in the process of construction or if it had recently been knocked down, because in most cases, there is no way to tell. All in all, I would say a productive mission and another great day for the Iraqi people… somehow…


Cows and Canals

Filed under: — lana @ 11:33 am

Amongst all of the craziness that is the Army and me fighting to hold onto a promotion despite the Grand Inquisition that has started upon me because someone higher-up in my chain finally realized that I have a tendency to be a touch on the sarcastic side and occasionally actually Work Very Hard and Do Good Work (thereby making those above me look bad for doing less, which we all know is a military no-no), thus they launched the Tremendous Campaign Against All Things Deserved, as I have taken to calling it, I am still finding time to work very hard and do good work.

Some of this work, in addition to asking people how it is that they can still tell me the color of the car when in the last sentence they were asleep because it was after curfew, involves significant efforts on the part of yours truely to not make a break for somewhere like Canada (a long walk from here) where I can pretend none of this “Army” thing ever happened.

And some of it, actually out here, a lot of it, involves cows.

It’s cow-herding season in the Great Iraqi Central Regions, and that means it is time for slower convoys, runaway cows, and strange happenings. It is also a remarkably fragrant time of year, what with the still 112 degree heat like today.

The cows, what with them apparently being picky about walking on rocks, and their herders like walking on the streets. Nevermind that some of the herders are barefoot and the asphalt is somewhere between a bazillion and a gajillion degrees. On any given convoy, there are anywhere between one to twelve cows milling around on a given portion of roadway, with or without 12-year-old-says-he-is-actually-18-so-he-can-work-on-post herder. One of our recent convoys encountered one of those “without” days. Three cows. No herder. Chaos theory remained in full effect as we barreled down the road at the top speed of our slowest vehicle (which we won’t get into because it is a sore subject between us and the motor pool personnel these days), and myself sitting in the TC (truck commander… bet you didn’t know THAT one) position in the front passenger seat checking maps and such, I said to the driver “Uh oh. Watch the cows on the right side of the… uh oh…” as one cow moseyed on out to see what the hubbub was coming down the road. And there it stood. No deer in headlights look, no odd look but instead the same look I get on my face when one of our more peculiar contacts comes in and starts rambling in Arabic and I imagine that his head is made up of a sphere of turnips. Since I am a little loose on what a turnip looks like, this can occupy me for a good deal of time.

But I digress. Attention turns to our gunner, who’s job it is to ensure the road is clear for the convoy. He yells. My driver honks. The cow burps and chews some cud. Then I see a little dust pile next to the cow. Then another little poof on the other side. My gunner had acquired a large number of rocks which he was keeping on the turret with him, throwing them with the vengance only someone stuck in the operations center for most of the deployment can muster. They are just warning shots, though I note that explanation only came after I asked him if his arm was so weak he couldn’t hit the broad side of a cow with a pebble. I was quite happy that he wasn’t doing this with his weapon, because a dead cow is much harder to convince to move than a live cow.

Then again, eventually we had to find a way to skirt around the cow without doing too much damage to the nearby tomato fields.

The other story only has a little bit to do with cows and more to do with how I hate this country. I admit, as I did after the last infantry-based convoy, that I enjoy doing a lot of the infantry stuff. Early this morning we got to go with the door-kickers and I got to take out some of my I-Love-The-Army passions with a lot of yelling. We also got to get air-lifted out of a town (just like back in Saigon before the Tet Offensive… war is hell…). We also got to walk into the town in the pitch black again, and this time they actually waited to shoot the flares until the right time.

We ALSO got to miss a turn on our little foot march in the pitch black and so the only way to cross the waste canal separating us from our destination was to cross through it. Waste canal purposes are a millionfold in Iraq. It is their primary sewage system. It seeps farm waste such as fertilizer (the cow connection is seen at this point and not referenced again, so enjoy it while it lasts). It irrigates farms further down the river. It is also, pleasantly enough, swimming water for children and young adults in the summer heat, and occasionally a clothes washing site for wives with no water pump. I saw the first guy from my element break off and cut across to the other side. I thought “Hmm. He must be seeing what is on the other side. I wonder if he knows what that canal is used for.” I then saw another person in front of me follow him. I thought “Well of course, they won’t travel alone.” Then I saw another person go, and before he went he turned to me, pointed at me, pointed at the canal, and then point to the other side before going in himself.

Keep in mind, I travel with Samoans. They are all about a foot, if not more, taller than I am. I saw the canal go up to about his knees. I sat down and slid into the stagnant river of scented glory (they are lined with concrete and sloped on the sides), crossing the three or four feet (no easy task, since your boots stick to whatever that several inches of sludge is at the bottom) and helped out at the other end by the encrusted hands of my predecesors. At this point I remembered my height deficiency, and with a small amount of alarm reached down to my mid-thigh level pouch which contained all of my maps, my notebook, some tissues, and an inkpad, and was situated in the pocket over my wallet. Upon finding its condition, I retracted my hand and tried to find a dry spot to wipe off the grime. Let us say I had no maps for reference this mission.

I turned around to ensure that my interpreter and partner had made it across safely. My partner was shrugging and sliding in, but my interpreter was standing there, an incredulous look on his face, as he looked left and right to determine if he actually had to get into the fragrant bathwater. Finally, he grimaced and sludged down and through, at which point he shot me the most angry and hurt look I have received this deployment, and I know it is only because he didn’t know I could see him through the night-vision goggles. I admit, my terp is great, but I used the excuse of patting him comfortingly on the shoulder to dry my hand. I am about positive he is the one who left the handprint of some sort of fun on my arm, so we were even.

And so it was victory for Iraq from the get-go today, though we did round up some bad men with scraggly beards and sandals for our troubles. As we sloshed through town, it was still a small comfort to notice that the door-kickers on the first few houses left large, Samoan-sized boot prints of waste canal on the gates, like some sort of strange calling card… As the day warmed up, which it did in significant leaps and bounds though my feet were numb for two hours until the sun came up and after a brief sojurn at sunrise where it appeared we might be spared must have decided to stop checking its e-mail and heat the day to between Scalding and Blistering, it became difficult to tell the difference between the regular smells of a late Iraqi summer in a farming town and the new and improved smells of stagnant waste water seeping from the tiny holes in our boots while the foreign microbes munched happily on our toes.

Insurgents beware… particularly the ones with olifactory disorders that can’t smell us coming…

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