Lions and Tigers and… Nazi Bakeries

Filed under: — lana @ 3:00 pm

The climb over with, safari is next on the whirlwind tour of Tanzania. Too little time for the Serengeti, we took two days for Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater. I crammed my foot into a sandal, it long since having swelled beyond what could fit into a closed shoe, and lost count after mosquito bite 37, all aquired in an hour or two of drinking with some fellow climbers from Holland as well as sitting by the pool with our Australian and Finnish friends.

Our guide picked us up in the morning shortly after the day’s climbing trips departed the hotel, all of them eyeballing my limp out of the corner of my eye as they loaded their bags into their vans. It was just myself and my friend going on the safari, so we said goodbye to our new friends and threw our stuff on a van designed for eight person tour groups, greeted our new guide, and took off.

To get to the parks, you drive through first Moshi, then Arusha. In Moshi is where we first noticed that English, while widely spoken, was not necessarily widely understood. This was prominent as we passed signs advertising the wares of the shops within, such as “Peace Shop: The Finest Taste of Supermarket” and “Stop and Go: Acupuncture and Tire Service,” (man, this place has everything!) not to mention the “Meat Market” and other great stores.

The two days on safari were great, with our guide being very knowledgeable about every animal that we came across, and both of us not knowing enough to have a clue if he was just making things up. The lions were in mating season in the crater, providing an educational experience for all, and we saw hippos rolling over in their pools and noticed that zebras are probably the fattest horse-type animal around. Elephants, giraffes, and rhinos, not to mention impalas, gazelles, and enough baboons to take over a small nation all were in attendence, among many others, and the sign at our hotel was kind enough to advise that all doors should be locked to prevent the baboons from getting into the rooms.

We ran into some other climbers on safari whom we had met at the previous hotel, who told me that my decision to not go to the hospital in Moshi was a good one. Their daughter had been taken there for bad blisters, and her fear had been that they would lance her foot with the ballpoint pen they were using as an examination tool.

The most facinating part of most of this was the driving. Traffic laws, if they even exist, are payed no mind other than the fact that they drive in British fashion on the left side of the road, and our guide seemed to have gotten his gas pedal stuck somewhere between the ranges of “really fast” and “absurd fast.” Carreening through the streets and dirt paths and up and down mountainsides and along the tracks in the parks, we found that turn signals are used for turning, passing, to indicate others to pass, and otherwise totally at whim. Horns are used with equal impunity. Most people drove as though they were in a U.S. convoy in Iraq, where you drive like you own the road, only in Tanzania they don’t have a .50 caliber weapon mounted to the top of the vehicle to enforce that fact. I was most frequently found cowering in my seat with my hands over my eyes.

As we returned to the airport to make the final leg of our trip, I uncovered my eyes long enough to look out the window at some of the shops and scenes, and to converse with my friend. I was in the middle of a sentence about an elephant when I was silenced by observing a bakery out the window, which on either end of the title had pretty dark red swastikas painted as decorative measures. This did, of course, inspire some lovely discussion between my friend and I about what exactly was being baked there, or at least the fuel being used, as well as other off-color comments not for the easily offended public. Our guide, misunderstanding us, was curious if we wanted to stop. While my friend was all for it, I mentioned that in my case I had probably better not, since I wanted to keep any gold fillings and precious artwork intact.

Only one part of the trip remaining, our trip to the spice island of Zanzibar off the coast. How anything could get more interesting than any of this, I am not sure, but it should be fun to find out.


Ongoing Travels

Filed under: — lana @ 2:31 pm

So we learned that mountaineering is a little more challenging than one would anticipate, particularly on a recently injured lower extremity and particularly for one who hates the cold.

So we signed out for our leave after having to redo leave forms because since the forms were submitted early to prevent problems, the Army prompty lost them to create new problems. We milled about in airports and on planes for the better part of two days to arrive in the evening hours at the airport about 45 minutes from the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Immigration and checks there were… interesting. Get in a line, pay your money, get your visa. If you have nothing to declare, get your bags and leave the airport. That was about it. No, that wasn’t about it. That was it. Coming from the super-stepped-up-security world of the West, we were facinated by this procedure (or lack thereof).

The first view of the mountain was in the dark, an ominous shadow out the window as we ventured to the hotel. Checking in, we got a key and instructions on where to meet in the morning and were sent to bed for our last night in comfort before the quest on the mountain. We also showered. Airports leave a strange smell on the traveler, and 36 hours of flights produces quite an interesting stench.

The following morning we met our two other climbers, an Aussie and a Finnish guy, as well as our guide, and were crammed into a van and driven to the gate to start the climb. It was there we had our first encounter with our collective nemesis: The Adventure Scouts. Some girl scout troop (really a troupe, as they reminded me of bad circus performers) from America had sold an awful lot of cookies over the past three years in their efforts to raise the money to venture to Kili to make the climb. Eight high school girls and each with a parent. They were apparently all in choir, later evidenced by their camp songs, which our guide did not hesitate to tell us he hated. They were apparently also in band, as one girl had brought her trumpet mouthpiece with her for the climb and was tooting Christmas tunes while we all waited for the various guides and porters to start our adventures. She almost didn’t make it past the gate, as sometime around the third verse of Jingle Bells the Australian and I were already devising ways of making her eventual demise look like an accident, even after the mouthpiece was found in very uncomfortable places.

And so we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. For three and a half days, we climbed and camped. Some very beautiful scenery and very interesting times, each night camping further up the mountain and each night plotting the elimination of the Scouts, who we met up with for the first three nights at campsites. Luckily, they were taking an extra day, so we were not to summit with them. We also had lovely meals, made by our non-english-speaking cook, and played the fun guessing game of “what will dinner be” as we saw what was left over from lunch. Cucumbers and oranges at lunch? Orange-peel pancakes and cucumber soup for dinner. It was a lovely time, though my ankle was the size of a small melon by the time we reached our final campsite before the summit.

Summit night was, of course, the most fun. By fun I mean fun for anyone who was not on the mountain, but had some vantage point far away where they could watch us make our way up some of the steepest parts of the mountain in below freezing temperatures while we are thoroughly miserable for six hours or so. I recall in my delerium that someone mentioned to me at the peak, “Wasn’t the moonrise beautiful?” and that I told them I had no idea, because I was staring at my feet wondering how to convince them to continue moving, not staring at some (insert colorful phrase here) moon. The Australian and the Fin, both with longer legs and more windpower than I, made it to the summit about half an hour ahead of me, having broken off because the Aussie didn’t properly pack for the cold so he had to keep moving in order to not freeze. As we passed them on the way to the peak from the summit, we gave them quick hugs and the exchange between myself and my Finnish friend went something like:

(meet and hug)
Me: I just need to make it a little higher. I just want to get to the top.
Him: I just need to make it a little lower. I just want to get off this mountain.

No one took any pictures of the ice glacier or the beautiful views. Quite frankly, at that point, no one cared enough to go rummaging around for a camera or to stand still long enough to take a picture. We got to the peak, with my travel buddy and my guide both working hard to convince me that this wasn’t a whole lot of (insert series of colorful words here), which is what I kept mumbling to them, and that I shouldn’t just turn around and go find myself a good (insert colorful word here) rock to sleep under.

The way down was almost as interesting as the way up, as it turns out. It seems that in the cold, my foot had gone numb, but as the sun rose and I began to make my way from the peak back to camp, I noticed that it was starting to regain feeling and that the feeling it was regaining was feeling I would rather not have. Normal people take between two and three hours to get from the peak back to camp. I took the better part of five and a half, about a quarter of which I spent on my butt trying to slide my way down the steeper parts of scree while the assistant guide looked on from his perch on a rock. He found it most entertaining. I got to camp and informed my friend, who had been napping for about an hour already, that I had no idea how I was going to get off the mountain, because if I took off my boot I didn’t think I would get it back on. I in fact did take off my boot, and both of my feet were a mess. I wrangled some sneakers on after he looked at them and said, “uh oh” and wandered off to find our guide.

Our guide, upon seeing the condition of my ankle, which was blue and the size of a small continent, and my toe, which was multi-colored and not the shape one normally thinks of when they picture the word “toe,” decided that I would not make it the remaining two thirds of the way down in such a condition. He found another guide and the two of them carried me, piggy-back and protesting, half of the way to the next camp, where they met with some porters carrying a stretcher. The stretcher was two sticks with some canvas held on by what appeared to be thumbtacks. The Australian took a picture. I had a few colorful phrases for him.

They got me to the next camp and found a wheeled evacuation stretcher. As I signed into the camp in their medical book, I noted that several entries were for malaria. I scratched my mosquito bites as I continued reading to see that the prognosis for most of them was “not good” and “very bad.” The overseer of the camp wrote next to my entry “not good.” I told him I would rather not have the same prognosis as the malaria people, if it was all the same to him. He shrugged, scribbled it out, and wrote “bad.” I was comforted.

The wheeled stretcher was a contraption devised in the late 1500’s to be used as a torture device. At least, so it appeared. It was a metal grate, which they put a sleeping mat over for me to lay on, with one large wheel at the bottom set on shocks that don’t absorb anything. There are handles at the front and back. They loaded me on and set off at a run. By the time we reached the next camp, I had a headache and they realized that they should probably tie me down (with orange twine acquired from I have no idea where) to prevent me from bouncing off (again). The Australian took more pictures. I taught him a few new colorful phrases.

They only dropped me twice on the remaining trip, running down the mountain bouncing their way over steep steps, logs, and rocks, with my guide looking at the wheel and alternately mumbling something about how the shocks don’t seem to be working and that the metal seemed to be splitting. They got me down the mountain in about four hours, running almost the entire way, and trundled me onto the back of a red cross truck, which I had to convince to just take me and my fellow travelers (who had followed us down at the breakneck pace, more out of concern that they might miss a fun photo opportunity than any real heath concern) back to the hotel instead of to the local hospital, where my images of the malaria-ridden not-good types loomed.

And so new memories have been born, and new colorful phrases passed between the continents. My foot is still colors undescribable to common man, and someone who saw my toe pointedly mentioned that I should “get that looked at.”

A day at the hotel pool before safari should heal everything nicely. And so the adventure continues.


Army Medicine

Filed under: — lana @ 8:09 pm

The joys of medicine under the delightful watch of the Army. Free health care, and by and large some very good medical specialists and rapid service, as well as ready appointments and free perscriptions. Motrin by the bucketful, and I am talking the 800 miligram variety, and a lot of water-drinking.

What I really appreciate is the quick-diagnosis practice. And by practice, I mean what they appear to be doing. They make random guesses and feed you pills, and then figure that if they do it often enough, eventually they will hit the jackpot and get it right.

Tragically, this sometimes befalls at my expense. Let us take, for example, my recent run-in with the wonders of the medical staff within the Armed Forces.

To clarify, today was actually the day I saw the good doctor. You know, the one who had a clue. Or, at the very least, a reasonable guess.

Now, since our little incident back in September with the cars going a little fast on central Iraq roads, my ankle, which got snugly entwined with the M16 holder that no one in their right mind ever uses, has been a touch on the sensitive side. Something along the lines of weight-bearing, turning, and overall being of any use to me. So finally I decided that maybe my supervisor was right in her assessment that it was time I see a doctor, preferably before any fun Fort Bragg four or more mile fun runs. I don’t know who ever thought of running four or more miles as anything with the word “fun” anywhere nearby, but that person needs to be found and subsequently made to pay for their sins. But I digress.

So about two weeks ago I went to see a doctor. This is, of course, about two months after the initial injury, where I was told by a doctor who poked at it once or twice, told me he was a reservist, then said there was little he could do but wrap it up and give me some Motrin. He told me to follow up when I returned to my base. Unfortunately, that was right around the time everyone decided to launch operations, so I never did make it to any sort of follow-up appointment. That made the doctor’s job a little more challenging, especially since paperwork on deployments tend to get a little mishandled (i.e. go missing). So she took her best guess and said it was probably badly sprained and said I should see a physical therapist to fix it, handed me a profile and, of course, another Motrin perscription, sent me for some x-rays, and told me to have a lovely time climbing a mountain in a few weeks time.

So today I went to the physical therapist. Now, in all fairness, the first doctor had no equipment and was just poking my foot to see where the pain was. The second doctor had no idea what the first doctor was thinking, nor could she really figure it out two months down the road. The physical therapist, however, seemed to have some experience with this, and actually touched the offending ankle, wiggled the foot around, and happily discovered exactly where it was that I was feeling pain. He could have found that out had he asked, but was much more excited to just poke around while I attempted to wriggle out of his grasp.

Final assessment: the bone had been orginally fractured, which is superb because that means that my improper care of such an injury has led to the development of just enough scar tissue to cause me significant discomfort for what will probably be the next three months. Good, solid buildup of fluids and the possibility of arthritis. He gave me a brace, a rubber hose, and some exercises, told me Motrin is for crybabies, good luck climbing a mountain because, in his words, “Altitude and cold? Together? Remember, this is your bright idea, not mine. Good luck with that,” and sent me on my way. The brace makes it look like my calves go straight to my feet (for those not familiar with current lingo, those are nicknamed “cankles” and are commonly found on some of our portlier guests waiting in line at amusement parks and malls).

Thrilled to bits with the medical care as provided to me. Bits and bits. Now if you will pardon me. I have a rubber hose to hook around my foot so I can spell out the alphabet with my toes…


Food and Fun

Filed under: — lana @ 10:56 am

Well everyone is back, so it is time for the formalities to begin, of course. The annual brigade dining out was this past week, which saw everyone in their most formal uniform milling around a hotel banquet hall pretending to be nice to everyone they can’t stand for the sake of the spouses. With my husband still being gone, I crashed the party with my brother-in-law, a Marine. The looks and snide comments were most entertaining for everyone, I think, and he had a lovely time watching how the Army does things.

The drinking was most entertaining as well, with almost an entire company arriving already having indulged in a significant portion of alcohol, and the sergeant major must have been drunk when he referred to me as a “great NCO,” because I have never heard him mutter such things when sober. The colonel repeated himself in his speech, the slideshow saw unexplained skips and delays, and the skit contained Playboy magazines and a blow up doll, though I have little idea what was going on at the front of the room, as I was sitting at a table towards the back where I could get into the least amount of trouble possible. I didn’t have it as lucky as some, who, with names at the bottom of the alphabet and seating being done alphabetically, plus the fact that they had overbooked by approximately 100 people because we had the promise of a four-day weekend for those that purchased a ticket, the extras were seated in a downstairs hall where they had their own bar and could watch the proceedings on a screen instead of being monitored by the brass sitting at the head table upstairs. After the dull parts, most of them made their way upstairs to attempt to buy the colonel shots of Jack Daniels or duck around to the smoking bar area.

After such adventures, with us eventually leaving as my Marine date admitted that though their uniforms look very nice, they make it rather difficult to complete tasks such as breathing and eating, we topped off the weekend with a trip to Charleston with a friend who has been out of the military for almost a year now. He regaled us with his tales of contracting work, and I recounted the number of days I have left in the Army before I can go and do a job with a little more thanks, a little more respect, and a lot more pay.

Two years, four months, and two days.

And counting.


Save the Soldiers

Filed under: — lana @ 6:52 pm

As we were driving back to post this weekend after adventures in western North Carolina (the Biltmore Estate, by the way, is 44 dollars admission… to see the house owned by the super-rich Vanderbilt family. Ah, capitalism… we took a picture of the sign and left with our 44 dollars safely in our pockets) we saw a sign that read “Fort Bragg Military Reservation.”

My first thought was of what I considered a reservation, which is a protected land area, where the animals can roam free and are monitored by park staff.

My second thought, immediately after the first and somewhat in a panic, was to try and see if the military had placed a tracking tag on my ear or perhaps implanted one in the back of my neck.

Come see the soldiers in the wild! Tent space is still available on range 61, all mobile campers and vans are restricted to the wooded area behind division headquarters and the artillery range at the southern end of Long Street. Please do not feed the soldiers, and if you see a soldier displaying unusual behavior, report it immediately.



Filed under: — lana @ 8:55 am

Another motivating day in the U.S. Army is upon us. Really, another motivating few weeks in the U.S. Army is upon us, because every day is a motivator for the average soldier. I tend not to ramble on about politics or the merits of the war or any other dull academia-style conversation, but there are a few things in the Army that raise little alarm flags and make me attempt to figure out just exactly how many days I have left (two years, four months, 12 days, and a wake-up, pending stop-loss, for those who might be interested).

Today we will have a discussion about one such thing: the rank and reward structure. We will begin by making the statement I must have heard a hundred times over the past two and a half years, “This is not college.” No kidding. A phenomenal observation, usually made by those who have been in the Army since they were 17 and have since moved up to a position where they “know,” largely because their rank says that they know. Some have degrees, but most have never been to college for any length of time. Not saying anything negative about correspondence courses, as I have taken several myself and I admire those who find the time and motivation to do them in a hectic schedule, but they aren’t really college either. But I digress. I am aware that the Army is not college. First of all, in college, if you know something, you are encouraged to say it, and to discuss it, and to learn if you are right or wrong. This is something that admittedly shouldn’t always happen in the military, but if I am not in the process of storming a hill, I might like to know exactly why this tarp has to go on that HMMWV, which already has a perfectly good tarp on it that I spent the past half an hour installing and now have to remove because I have to put this tarp, exactly the same in every way, on that truck, and that tarp has to go on the truck on which I had just begun installing this tarp.

Another difference between college and the Army is that in college, if someone received a good grade, they were being rewarded for excellent work (at least, in most cases, and in the other cases, well, that was better discussed in bitter and vindictive conversations over drinks at the bar where rumors are abound). In the Army, on the other hand, you may or may not be rewarded for excellent work. In fact, you may be rewarded for doing mediocre work while those below you do excellent work, or no work at all but you have something on your collar that demands a higher award. Sure, there are the select few who receive the award they deserved, but I wouldn’t bet the farm that every Bronze Star you see was awarded for merit, or you might not have a place to put your cows at night.

Another old adage of the Army is that “This isn’t the corporate world.” Another no-brainer. First of all, in the corporate world, we would all be making a lot more money and wouldn’t have to get things sewn onto our outfits at our own expense. Also, in the corporate world, bonuses and raises are not awarded based upon how far up in the company you are (though they are usually a percentage of pay, so it may appear that those that earn more get a bigger bonus, but we won’t get into the political discussion of capitalism here). They are awarded based upon, once again (and sadly in many companies, only in theory), merit. In the Army, however, a Bronze Star will be kicked back because the person does not rank high enough to receive the award. They could have saved eighty Iraqi babies from a firebombed building, but by and large, that person will still get a pat on the back and an Army Certificate of Achievement. Maybe just a Certificate of Appreciation (what am I, a mortgage?). Perhaps just a Certificate of Participation. Most likely, a pat on the back and a mumbled “Good job,” at least if you have a decent leader and they warned you first that they were going to touch you.

Someone might want to sit up and take notice of things like this. The statement here is one that should actually concern people, and make those considering joining the military pause a moment before they put the pen to that contract. Soldiers are sitting in foreign countries, or in some cases returning from those countries, who have put everything into their mission. They may have found a hundred enemy weapons, which saved a thousand lives, or they may have developed more information for their higher command and analysts than anyone else in their company and possibly in their battalion. These soldiers, because they are a specialist or because they were perceived to have wronged someone somewhere at exactly the wrong time while that award was sitting on someone’s desk or because the moon isn’t blue or because it is not the alternate Tuesday of the 13th month, are being denied what they deserve so an officer sitting in an operations center somewhere can get a higher award. Sure, someone thought that I was causing trouble (Me? Never…) which two months later was cleared but at the time my brigade commander had to mull over the higher awards, one for which I had been submitted. Does that negate the fact that I outproduced every soldier and in some cases entire teams within my company? Is the award for how much they love me, or for what I did to help the war effort? Were it for the former, they might give me a MAK, Military Ass Kick, but it is not for the former, per regulation, though who listens to those outdated things anymore? And how about the fine gentlemen still overseas, who have found more weapons caches in their Area of Operations than anyone else not just in their battalion, but in all area battalions and possibly in their own brigade, all based on their ingenuity, instinct, and self-motivation, but because some of those soldiers are specialists or privates, they receive a pat on the head and instructions to go back out and risk their lives and find another. There are hundreds of examples. I’m not bitter about my own issue; it’s not like I intend to make a career of this and quite frankly I wear an award-bearing uniform so infrequently that I have to brush the dust off every few months just so I know that I can find it should it ever be needed. Lack of bitterness, however, does not confirm or deny the nausea that might be produced at tomorrow’s awards ceremony.

The moral to today’s lesson is that no, this isn’t college, and it isn’t the corporate or “real” world. This is the Army. I admire those who deserved the awards they received, and thank them for working their hardest. I admire those who did not receive the awards they deserved, because I know what they have done for their fellow soldiers, their companies and higher, and for the war effort. And as for the rest, well, I’ll just take my Certificate of Participation and know what it means to those who were there, because it was for them, not for the Big Green Machine or for some shiny piece of pseudo-metal, that I strived.

Powered by WordPress