Best Regards from Baghdad

My One Year in Iraq


October 10, 2006 - Since arriving in Baghdad, I've come up with some vocabulary that I think capture the essence of being here.  I share some of them with you:

BIBB - Because it's Baghdad, Baby! i.e. "We can do this unusual action, (even though we don't do that anywhere else in the world) under the BIBB Rule."

Club Fed - The compound.  After all, you've got the sand, the swaying palms, the karoake, the bingo night, salsa night, movies, country western night, belly dancing lessons, bodybuilding contests, etc.  In other words, we are entertained.

The Boardwalk - The raised, wooden walkway around the DFAC (Dining Facility).  Of course, our boardwalk doesn't look onto the ocean, but does have a nice view of the T-walls!

T-Gith - "Thank God It's Thursday."  Because our workweek is Sunday through Thursday.  And the "Th" versus "T" so you can differentiate between Tuesday and Thursday.  Of course, one of my colleagues prefers "So Happy It's Thursday."  (You can figure that one out, I hope!)

Gonzo Diplomacy - What we do here in Iraq, especially in the PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams out in the provinces), i.e. making things up as we go along.  Usually we use the BIBB Rule to back up our decisions.  After all, there IS no place like Baghdad.

Other -isms not my own/original:

BabyFac - The deli-style dining facility within the Palace.  My boss calls the main DFAC "Defaccio's" because it sounds so elegant.

And here are a couple of sayings I like to use:

"It takes courage to be an optimist."  (Ambassador John Hamilton, Lima, Peru circa 2003)

"Petens non Petetur."  ("It doesn't hurt to ask.")  Special thanks to Patrick Harvey, Latin scholar, for helping me figure out how to say this.  I've been searching for a translation for the last 20 years I've been in the Foreign Service!

"We make magic here, but we don't perform miracles." (My own original saying)

YOU Again???

October 11, 2006 - The other night at dinner, some colleagues and I were discussing some of the more difficult aspects of living in Baghdad.  One we all agreed on - and which we hadn't considered before coming here - was the closeness with our fellow Baghdad employees.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing.  If you like the people you work with, you can/will see them all day and into the evening.  You work, eat and may even share a bathroom with your co-workers.  They become your family.  And of course, we all know you can't pick your family. . .

So, if you like the people you work with, that is a good thing.  If not, it can be a bad thing.  And even if you like your colleagues, sometimes you just get tired of seeing them!  It can become very tedious not to have any "alone" time.  And after a while, what do you talk about?  Work!  I mean, you get past the "getting to know you" phase right away.  FSOs are notorious for doing what I call the diplomatic equivalent of dogs sniffing each other when they meet: "So, where have you served? Really? When were you there? Did you know so-and-so? Wow! I worked with them in such-and-where." and so on.  There are only two degrees of separation in the Foreign Service.

Then you get into the whole line of questioning about the family: where are their families, what are they doing, how do they like you being in Baghdad?  Next comes, "So where are you from" and the whole life story.  Then what?  You usually end up talking about work.  They aren't kidding when they say: "Baghdad - 24/7/365."  Which means we work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  Seriously!

If you're lucky, you will find people who enjoy the same activities that you do: reading, working out at the gym, a film buff, whatever.  But how do you keep the relationship from getting stale?  Maybe that's what R&Rs are for - not only to visit family and friends, but to see different faces, see different places and let's not forget, to eat different food. . .  So if you come to Baghdad, be sure to cultivate friendships outside your immediate section.  I usually eat breakfast and lunch at my desk, but at dinner I try to circulate a bit and sit with different people. 

Of course, I do have my favorite dinner "dates," but don't we all?  Unless/until familiarity breeds contempt, it's usually easier to hang with the crowd you know.   I graduated from high school a long time ago, but something about that whole cafeteria atmosphere brings me right back to days gone by - the insecurity of walking into a big room, picking up a tray, going through the food line and trying to see where your friends are so you can sit with them.  Do we ever really grow up?  Especially in a place like Baghdad?

VIP Visits

May 10, 2007 - The Vice President of the United States was here yesterday.  You can always tell when a DV (Distinguished Visitor) is coming to town.  You may not know who, but you know something is up.  Suddenly all the PSDs (Personal Security Details - the bodyguards, the Blackwater "dudes") are all wearing their uniforms (OK, just matching polo shirts, but still a uniform).  The Regional Security Officers are all around.  Strange men with plastic tubing coming out of their ears all over the place.  There are Mission Announcements that the Rotunda (main entrance) will be closed.  The pool is shut down (the DV rooms are pool-side).  There is a heightened sense of something in the air.  And even though the name and details of the visitor(s) is on a "need to know basis," word spreads quickly that something is up. 

I didn't meet the VP.  I did shake hands with the Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, and heard her speak during one of her trips.  I also ran into members of the Iraq Study Group in the Palace hallways while they were here.  Codels come and go and faces look vaguely familiar, but I'm usually too focused on what I am doing (or supposed to be doing) to pay much attention.  After all, when you're in the Center of the Universe, do you really take much time to look at the stars that orbit around?

The VP and his entourage left last night.  Before, during and after his departure there were extra helicopters in the air around the Palace, flying low and shaking our trailers with their powerful down-drafts.  Even my heavy-duty earplugs couldn't drown out the sound of their motors, or the slight "clink" of the burnt-off pieces of flares dropping on the roof of my hootch.  (The helos often set of flares straight up into the sky to distract the heat-seeking missles that might be out there, and then the spent shells fall back into the compound.)  The klieg lights from the helos penetrated the sandbags stacked up against my window and came in through the closed venetian blinds.  I knew they were on their way out of Baghdad, out of the war zone and out of harm's way.  The important people were leaving, and I stayed behind.  I snuggled down in my narrow bed, hugging my pillow and flattening myself up against the wall, grasping for sleep and wished them "bon voyage."

Red Shoes & Lipstick

February 28, 2007 - I firmly believe that every woman needs a pair of red pumps and a bright, red lipstick.  The red lipstick comes in handy whenever you feel down, or out of control or just want to make a statement.  I can still recall how my mother applied her red lipstick (Revlon Fire & Ice) without looking in a mirror.  It showed her self-confidence, her firm belief in her woman-ness.  In my mother's day, a woman (a lady!) did not leave the house without lipstick properly applied.  It was her "face."  I have carried on that tradition and part of my "Anne-ness" is that I put on dark red lipstick every morning before I head out to work.  No matter what is going on around me, I know that I have control over that small part of my life.  And I have finally mastered the art of putting on my lipstick without looking!

As for red pumps. . .  Someone who joined the Foreign Service at the same time I did told me that "Every woman needs a pair of red pumps."  I didn't understand why at the time, but now I do.  Red pumps lift your spirits and catch everyone's eye.  Wearing them is also a power "thing."  When I have on my red pumps, I feel in control.  People notice me.  I am woman, hear me roar.  Of course, mine are patent leather, so I also call them my "Dorothy" shoes and joke that when it comes time for R&R, I can save a lot of hours by just clicking my heels together three times and reciting "There's no place like home."  Of course, it doesn't work, but a girl can dream, right?  And red lipstick and red pumps means a girl can feel in control and dream the impossible - and sometimes, the impossible becomes possible.

So, ladies, if you have room, bring a pair of red pumps; and your red lipstick.  You're gonna need them in Iraq!