July 22, 2006 - So, here I am in Baghdad at last. I quickly settled myself into my "hootch" - the half trailer that I share with another Baghdad employee. Basically each person has one end of the trailer and there is a bathroom in the middle. As I went about unpacking, etc., I realized that the other person was travelling on R&R (Rest & Recreation) or TDY (Temporary Duty) or whatever, as I had the bathroom to myself. I plugged into the internet (VERY slow!), ironed some clothes (towel on the desk) and made up my bed with the sheets and pillow I had sent to myself beforehand. (EVERYONE told me that the linen and pillows issued here are grody, and they weren't kidding! Nothing matched and the pillow was lumpier than my home made mashed potatoes!)
Within about 48 hours and after starting to feel proprietary about my "hootch," the Assistant GSO (General Services Officer) came by my office to tell me that a horrible mistake had been made - my "trailer mate" is a man! Luckily, we also found out that he is in TDY until the end of the month and also luckily, a woman is moving out of a trailer about 3 doors down from me in a couple of days. So, I will move into a new trailer with a female roomate soon. Of course, my trailer mate will be there, so I'll lose the luxury of a bathroom all to myself.
There are two kinds of trailers here: The older, smaller ones that have a shared bathroom, but someone cleans the bathroom for you. Basically in the older trailers, you enter the (locked) outer door to the trailer, and there are three doors - the two bedrooms on right and left and the door to the bathroom in the middle. So it's a bit more private. The newer, larger trailers (like mine) have separate doors into the living areas, and each living/bedroom area has a door to the bathroom. I just like that set-up more.
The next page will show you pictures of my hootch (don't focus on the clutter) and also the alley where all the trailers are lined up. Not luxurious, but with a TV, a computer (slow internet, but it still has internet), and a fair sized bathroom, what more could you ask for? And my "hootch" is only steps away from the pool, self-laundry and the DFAC (Dining Facility - or mess hall for you old timers). And it's about 100 feet from the Embassy. I think I lucked out!
July 24, 2006 - Wow! What can I say? It's a PALACE (literally)! Everywhere you walk, there are crystal chandeliers, decorated/painted ceilings, gilt-decorated chairs, etc. Very tacky, but luxurious. In the main entrance, you can look up and see carved wooden ceilings, and there are several balconies (now closed off) that used to have screens behind which women could observe the "goings-on" in the huge receiving room below. Walking to the PX (Post Exchange) yesterday, I strolled past some huge statutes that had been taken down during the initial intervention. There are large fountains everywhere (most are not working). The bathrooms have bidets, gold-plated fixtures, marble floors and wash basins. The offices are sort of piece-meal. In my office, there are six desks in one room (no privacy) which was probably a bedroom, as there is a bathroom and closet attached. Some of the great halls have been sectioned off (walls, but no ceilings) into offices. It is surreal. When I look around and just imagine the money spent on this - a "guest" palace - it boggles the mind. Saddam Hussein, his family and friends, were living in such luxury while the common Iraqi citizen suffered.
One of the things I notice the most is that there are always people in the halls, day and night. The constant activity is amazing. And the days fly by because there is so much to do. Yet I feel like I'm in a time warp. I feel like I've been here forever, yet it's been less than a week. I come into the office in the morning and before I know it, it's 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. The military influence is very overwhelming, too. There are constantly helicopters flying overhead; there are men (and women) in uniforms everwhere. There are soldiers - not only US, but also from other countires - that roam the halls with guns, sometimes with their PPE/helmets, sometimes not. I get a lot of "ma'am"s from the younger ones. Makes me feel soooo old! But I know my younger son would love this - he's deeply into all that is military. And to be honest, I enjoy their comforting presence. After all, this is a war zone!
There is so much to do and the amazing thing is that everyone is so dedicated and serious about our job here. The FSNs (Foreign Service Nationals) are subject to threats, some have been kidnapped and killed because they work here. Yet they are with us. While it's hard for the Americans to be here, at least we are in a relatively safe area (the "International Zone" or "IZ" - NOT "the Green Zone," as "green" implies safe/go ahead.). But the Iraqis who work here face danger every day and every night; they lose their electricity (we have generators) and water (we have water reserves) and yet, they show up for work most days. It is a humbling experience.
In sum, there is no place like Baghdad. It is surreal. It is amazingly cool and yet scary. I try to keep a positive attitude (which is easy so far), but I have never experienced anything like this before.
July 27, 2004 - Well, I left my family 10 days ago and have officially been in Baghdad a week. Now I can say I've got "51 and counting." Meaning, I have 51 weeks out of my year left. Of course, it's only about six weeks until I get to go home on my first R&R. Normally, I wouldn't leave that soon, but my niece is getting married and I wouldn't miss it for the world! (Plus, I hear there is a special gift for the guest who travels the furthest for the wedding - ha ha!)
I woke up at 4:00 a.m. Baghdad time, which is about 8:00 p.m. EST. Ever since I got here, I have had a hard time sleeping - up several times a night to go to the bathroom (I take their advice to drink lots of water SERIOUSLY) and I usually wake up at 4:00 or 5:00. Except when I am exhausted and don't wake up early. I mean, my poor, middle-aged body is so confused!
Time has no meaning in Baghdad. There is always something going on. I mean, don't people SLEEP around here? There is a sense of urgency in everything we do. Even when I take my swim, I feel the pressure to finish, shower and get into the DFAC (Dining Facilities) before it closes. After dinner, I relax in my hootch, reading and watching DVDs. I just finished watching Season 2 of "Sex and the City" - maybe Carrie inspired me to write with my laptop! Only she is way sexier than I am and she writes about, well, sex instead of mortars and war zones.
By the way, I wanted to say "thanks" to everyone who has been visiting this website and leaving me messages on the "Guestbook" page. It is truly appreciated and helps keep me linked to the "real" world. For those of you with friends or relatives here, if you tell them to come to "the Palace" and go to the State Human Resources Office, they will find me there. Just have them ask for "Baghdad Anne" and I will know they (or someone they love) is reading my website.