Best Regards from Baghdad

My One Year in Iraq

The End is Near

July 1, 2007 - As I am in the last month of my tour, I am excited, nervous, anxious, stressed, sad yet optimistic. . .  Do you remember when you were a kid and it was the day before you started at a new school?  Do you remember how if felt?  The excitement (new books! new binders! new backpack! new, freshly sharpened pencils!); feeling nervous (what will my new teacher be like? who will be in my class this year? what will the classes be like?); anxiety (will my friends be there? will they still be the same? will there be any new boys/girls?); the stress (will my mom wake me up on time? will I miss the bus? will I find my classroom?); the sadness (summer is over!); yet optimistic (it's all new!  there's so much to discover!  people to meet!  friends I haven't seen all summer!)  Well, that's just about how I feel right now.

Unfortunately, insomnia has hit me in between the eyes yet again.  I am exhausted, yet my brain races as I try to sleep at night.  What should I pack in my air freight? What should I give away?  Have I done everything I need to do?  Made my plane reservations, country clearance?  Did I get my orders yet? What should I mail first and what should I keep to pack in my suitcase?  Oh, I have to clean out my desk; I have to get the computer help desk to make a CD with all my personal files; I need to delete old e-mails; I need to save some e-mails just in case.  I need to pick up a few gifts and mementos at the PX, or at the Al Rashid.  The logistics are absolutely mid-boggling.

And when I'm not thinking of what I need to do, I'm thinking about the reunion with my family.  What will it be like?  Will the kids go to the airport with my husband or wait at home?  Oh, and we're going on vacation to Costa Rica after home leave.  Who will take care of our dog, gecko lizards and our fish?  Can we get someone to housesit?  Maybe so-and-so would do it.  What doctor's appointments do I need to make when I get home?  Should I go for the soft contact lenses?  What am I going to do with all the stuff we put in storage?  Should we do some sort of a barbeque when I get back?  What should we cook and who should we invite?  Where is that darn cooler that we used to keep beers in when we did barbeques overseas?  Has my husband put up the portable shade/gazebo yet?  Will it be too hot to ride my bike?  and on and on and on and on. . .

Finally, I get up and write list upon list.  It helps to ease my mind.  Then I take a sleeping pill, lay in my lumpy bed and hope for sleep.  I put in my ear plugs and listen to my heart beat reverberate off the soft foam, steady and powerful, 60 beats a minute like clockwork.  The sounds of the whomp, whomp, whomp of the helicopters flying overhead are almost drowned out by the boom, boom, boom of my heart. 

And slowly, slowly, I drift off as the drone of the air conditioner seeps into my brain and finally turns off the million and one random thoughts that are trying to push into my consciousness for attention.  I sleep and dream of my husband's kiss and the roughness of his mustache against my face, my children's hugs and the smell of their necks, the feel of our dog's fur under the palm of my hand and the slobbery kisses he will give me and the weightlessness of a tiny baby in my arms and all the things I miss from home, knowing that soon my dreams will become reality once again.

Things Get Tough

July 13, 2007 - This has been a tough week.  There is so much work to be done that I am totally swamped.  Earlier this week we had the worst mortar attacks since I got here; several people died.  The use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), including a bulletproof vest and helmet (which weigh about 30-35 pounds) is mandatory when moving outside.  That means that at lunchtime, we have to put on our PPE to cross the street to the DFAC to eat.  All outdoor activities are suspended; I can't even swim!  After 48-72 hours, the Regional Security Office will re-evaluate whether the risk is still high.  If so, we continue with the PPE; if not, we'll be free to move about again.  At a Town Hall meeting yesterday, the Management Officer offered to give out cots to anyone who wants to sleep in their offices - the Palace is a "hardened" structure; the hootches are basically tin cans.  From what I hear, about 30 people picked up cots.

Luckily, it will all change for the better when we move into the new Embassy, where there are apartment buildings.  Not only will the Embassy employees be more protected, but they will be one-bedroom apartments, with small kitchens, living areas and bedroom, bathroom, etc.  It won't be luxurious, but it will be better than living in a trailer.

I guess the bad news is that the mortarfire is increasing; the good news is that the Regional Security Office is doing all it can to take care of us.  Even better news is that my replacement arrived this week.  Now I can start wrapping things up, turning work over to her.  I'm starting to throw things out, give things away.  I've started to mail boxes to myself - to home.  I'm in the final two weeks of my time in Baghdad.  The end is near and the beginning of a chance to make new memories with my family.  Oh, that sounds so sweet!