Back to War

Deboarding into the dark, the dusty air carries the all too familiar scent of dust laced with traces of gun powder and thick exhaust.

I don't want to be here. My nose is bleeding by the time I walk from the plane to the warehouse/trailer that serves as the terminal. Because the sand is so fine, just breathing, it cuts the inside of my nose, which had gotten quite comfortable with fresh, American air. Hunkered down on a cement floor, soldiers sit all around me with circumstances more challenging than my own (and gear twice as heavy).

First miracle of Baghdad, a helo. All missions were cancelled and I was told I'd be arriving back to the IZ sometime in the middle of the night. Argh! The tears wanted to burst out, but I knew I'd look like the baby I felt like and there is no one to coddle me here.

I decided I'd walk to the helicopter desk and ask if I could get manifested. Please God, please The quick response was "Yes, you can go. I'll call you shortly" Woo Hoo! That would put me back in the IZ before dinner was over. The end of this journey was in sight. And I was reminded in this miracle that this is where I'm supposed to be. And now I'll be expedited returning. I know Afghanistan is going to be even harder and I'm still prepared for it, but mentally it's hard to shake back into accepting this season of my life.

Flying over the Red Zone still gives me butterflies. The army helicopter pilots look so cool. Their vigilance makes me ever grateful for my freedom.

When my helo landed, I called my friend Yousef, who is a driver in the IZ and he picked me up within minutes.

When I walked into 406, my amazing roommate greeted me and I was happy to "be home". The Italian Embassy was having a pizza party that I decided to fore go (And I am so glad I did, waking up the next morning to a puffy face that gave away the fact I'd been on a plane for 48 hours made me glad I'd skipped the sauce and slept!)

Crawling into my bed, I felt comfortable. I'd forgotten about this homey, loving oasis I have when I leave the stresses of work.

The adventure reconvenes tomorrow.


3 days in Jordan.

As I was flying out of Baghdad, my friend sitting next to me smiled and said, "Ah, did you leave it all behind, Beth?" No, I couldn't say I had. I planned to check out of the stresses of work, but I hadn't been able to let go, even deboarding in Jordan.

My friend Sam picked me up from the airport 5 minutes after I landed & took me to his house to meet his wife, sister-in-law and beautiful baby girl. After a delicious breakfast we were off to the dead sea.

The landscape was breathtaking. At one point I stuck my camera out the window to capture the horizon, as I pulled my arm back in to look at the shot, in the playback I saw sheep. And then a shepherd! I had been looking at the skyline & in front of my face was a bedwin herding his sheep.

Wow. Still there are shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. I had no idea. They're called Bedouin's. It's true.

The dead sea was amazing! It is the lowest point on Earth, so your ears pop a million times on the descent to the water.

I tried to dive in, but you can't, the water is so salty you must float. It's a cool weightless feeling-just bobbing around like a cork. I watched the sun begin to set from the water & when I felt sufficiently exfoliated, retired to the pool deck with a huka & a cup of tea to watch the lights come on in Israel (which is across the water)

I am on vacation

And from this moment of relaxation, it only got better.

Next day in Jordan: Petra-one of the wonders of the world. It was incredible. It's a city in the rocks; where cave men dwelt. Jaw dropping. I must see all the wonders of the world!!

A picture can not do it justice, but I will post some soon for your enjoyment.

Jet set to NYC next. My first walk down 5th Ave was overwhelming. So many things, lights, people, familiar modern city smells, it took some moments alone to digest where I'd come from that morning! (8hr time difference) What made my eyes water most was just being free to walk the streets, say what I wanted and look at whatever, however I wanted. Freedom is priceless. If only 5th Avenue wa$ too...

After the most wonderful Thanksgiving yet with my family, a Bucs game, 2 photo ops with POTUS, SNOW, a Sunday morning well spent at CLC, family, friends, a lot of laughs! a missed flight allowing for 4 extra days vacation, shopping, all my favorite meals, more snow! and countless memories with a handsome beau in DC, I drug my heels and headed back to the desert.

A Quarter of a Century Reflection.

I've matured 25 years today.

My roommate Therese and I are both scorpios, my birthday today, hers is Wed. We had the most memorable birthday party. Over 200 friends came out to celebrate by the Palace pool, dancing, toasting champagne and laughing. Under the disco lights of the Rotunda it didn't feel like Baghdad. The play list was party perfect! My friend Nadia had send a decadent chocolate cake and all my Tamimi catering friends personalized a sweet yellow cake and through out a hot spread of wings, egg rolls, and pita chips (which are my fav!)

Three girlfriends hopped behind the bar and served up Baghdad Breezes and a plethora of other spirits to keep the crowd smiling and shakin' it on the dance floor. Dave played the Happy Birthday tune on the Bagpipes which quieted the party for our champagne toast. To which T & I had tied and curled purple, black and ivory ribbon to each plastic cup--to give it a little something extra.

A few Ambassador's and Deputy Chief of Missions attended, and as I chatted with the Commanding General's secretary, I had to excuse myself "to schmooze an Ambassador" who had just walked in, she stopped me and said, "Working your own party, Beth--that says a lot about you and the job you're doing. It's very good." At that time, I said, did you see the Arab League Charge? And she said, "Oh, introduce me, the CG wants a meeting before he leaves town."

As I walked away from her approaching my friend, a foreign Ambassador, I realized that it did say a lot. My circle of friends has elevated. I remember staring out the window of the East Wing as my colleagues boarded Marine One thinking, how can they just get on a helo with the President?! I know he is just a man, but I could not imagine being so close and not being starstruck. I have learned that responsibility matures you.

Coming to Baghdad I knew I was climbing a few rungs on the ladder, but I did not dream I would be a GS-15 and Chief of Protocol at 24 years young. At a quarter of a century, looking back it all feels surreal.

I am trying to savor every minute because I literally do not know what to expect next, but time flies and if it just keeps getting better, than WATCH OUT WORLD because I'm only 25!!! People are going to start having to say, look at her now because I really can't imagine what's next--

Now, I've had 8 extra hours to think of what I've learned over this past year and I've postponed making phone calls to my family and best friends who I knew would request Words of Wisdom. I have learned so much this year and it truly has been a year of the Lord's favor in my life (Isaiah 61) it took me all day to articulate it in a simple quote.

My Words of Wisdom

I've learned to walk by faith and not by sight, not to worry about tomorrow because each day has enough trouble of it's own. It's okay to ask questions, even ones you feel like you should know the answer to--most times the person using the term or acronym doesn't even know what it stands for, so you look like the smarter one requesting clarification. And, the best things happen when you have no expectations--including relationships--and those are the best kind!

Party preparations and making the playlist.

You Have to See it to Believe It

In case some of you are sitting on the edge of your seat to see what the NYT was raving about, hehe... here are some pictures!

State flags lined the staircase and wrapped around the 2nd and 3rd floor balconies in the order they were admitted as states and territories. The stage showcased an Iraqi and US flag on either side of the State Department seal. Red, Blue and starred gossamer bunted one side of the atrium and the opposite side projected a 15x17 CNN stream of election results. To the left of the screen was a map of the US colored in red and blue with an explanation of the electoral college in English and Arabic.

Renaissance catering prepared ornate fruit displays and edible arrangements along with an Iraqi and American buffet. The cake speaks for itself.

6 days 'til my birthday

11.5.08 Election Day Celebration went well. Actually it went supercalfragistigaspealidocious. Over 300 bodies fit into the venue that would supposedly mas at 300. So it was packed!

The NYT said:
U.S. Envoy Hosts First Event at New Embassy in Baghdad (NY Times, Nov. 6)

BAGHDAD - The vast, new American Embassy in Baghdad, which cost well over half a billion dollars, has not yet officially opened. But the ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, welcomed about 250 Iraqi officials, diplomats and dignitaries for a preliminary glimpse on Wednesday morning in what was described as a party to celebrate the 2008 American presidential election.

"I'm delighted you could join us for the first event we could have in our new embassy," Mr. Crocker said in a brief address. But he also sounded a note of caution to Iraqi officials who might have been hoping for rapid changes in American leadership at a time when Iraq's government is entangled in negotiating the details of the security pact that sets the conditions for a continued United States military presence in Iraq.

"Our president today is George Bush, and he will be our president for the next two and a half months," Mr. Crocker told guests gathered at the four-story atrium of the main embassy building, which is in the heavily guarded part of the capital known as the Green Zone.

If the security pact, known as the status of forces agreement, is not signed before Dec. 31, when the United Nations mandate allowing United States forces to remain in Iraq expires, American troops will have to halt operations in Iraq.

Yet the embassy, built like a fortress, suggested a degree of permanence to the American presence here that at least some of the Iraqi guests seemed to find comforting.

"The size of this embassy and the number of employees who will occupy it are a sign of the American government's commitment to democracy in Iraq," said Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister. He did not remember the details of the original lease agreement for the land, he said, "but it was a very long lease."

A few feet behind Mr. Zebari, a waiter served green-tinted fruit punch out of a silver fountain. A cake the size of a cafeteria table, with a State Department seal drawn in shiny black icing, anchored one end of the room. Scenes of President-elect Barack Obama's victory speech were projected on a wall and, on a buffet, an eagle had been carved meticulously into the side of an upended watermelon.
Since 2003, embassy officials have worked in offices housed in what had been the Republican Palace of Saddam Hussein, which is in another part of the Green Zone.

Some of the staff members have already moved into their offices in the new embassy compound, and the rest are expected to move by the end of December.

The Republican Palace, a symbol of Mr. Hussein's power for many Iraqis, will then be used as an Iraqi government building, said a Shiite member of Parliament, Hasan al-Shammari of the Fadhila Party.

The election reception was held on a relatively quiet day in Iraq.

However, a car bombing on Baghdad's airport road killed four people and wounded nine.

MY DECORATIONS MADE THE NEWS!!! Who would've ever thought such time and energy and planning could go into a blurb like this. Not me, but it did feel nice to get distant mention.

Yesterday in our staff meeting, the Ambassador praised the success of the event TWICE! Two times he said, Beth, Great Job. Thanks for the event. Yayayayayayaayy!!!!! It made it worth every ounce of energy. My friends were chiding me, the Ambassador praised you by name twice, write that down! So, of couse, I am!

If you care to read Crocker's remarks, you can find them here

I'm falling for Fall in the desert

So much to catch you up on.

First, I have not had time to write and remind you that November 1st means it is a mere 16 days until my birthday (Nov 16) and typically not much would keep me from a reminder as important as celebrating the day of my birth, but the 11.5 Celebration is back on.

Yes! It's true! And as much as I would like to say I am happy about this fact, morale is low. At every meeting post-cancellation there is a key player who just doesn't feel like participating. It's never the same person, but the bad attitude is contagious, so please say a prayer because the party is back on and I want it to be safe and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

One good thing about planning for an Extravaganza that reduces to a mere Election Day Celebration is that you've already planned on a HUGE scale and so a large scale celebration leaves breathing room. (If that is a blessing in disguise, I didn't appreciate the emotional roller coaster, but a few evenings off was nice--including Oct. 30)

Halloween was a very fun weekend. I was the Queen Bee.

(See the Birds and the Bee : )

Friends met at my apartment and we had a great driver esquire us about the IZ for the evening. Yousef was in my FACT driving class that I took where we were RAMMING cars. (There were 3 people plus and instructor to a car, and Yousef was in my car) In Baghdad, there is a service called motor pool, and it's like a taxi service, you call and they take you where you need to go.

(Ladies, "Dorothy" and Yousef)

So the Statue of Liberty, Amy Winehouse, Dorothy, the chicken, a Greek goddess, a cereal killer, a sexy Yale Revolutionist, Hillary, Bridget Jones, Marilyn Monroe and Bee keeper and a bumblebee went out in Baghdad. First a tent party and then to the British Embassy for a Black tie Masquerade Ball that we busted in "fancy dress". It was a blast. And my Ambassadorial photo count for the night was 3.

First, in the afternoon a group of high ranking Embassy staffers and Ashley and I went to the German Embassy for their Independence Day Celebration. This was my 3rd trip to the red zone. Ash and I had a beer with Christof, the German Ambassador, the Minster of Foreign Affairs Zebari, and Her Excellency, the Minister of Human Rights. It was that cool. I also ran into some friends I had met at my first mission to the red zone when I went to a party at the German Embassy in the summer.

Then I finished up my work for the day and got in my bumblebee gear. We ran into the Danish Ambassador at the first party and then I danced my feet off with the British Ambassador. Very Fun. See below for my Halloween Wall of Fame.

The next day I somehow was signed up to pass out candy to the soldiers in the DFAC. "A whole group of people were getting together to take pictures by the pool and pass out candy" When I showed up, per my colleague's prompting email to all parties involved, I was surprised to find I was only one of two. So Foxy Brown and I made out rounds boosting Morale and Welfare around the Embassy. And at least giving everyone a good laugh--including myself!

Per the Subject Line:
So it's November now and the temperature is beautiful. Not the weather per say, because it is still extremely dusty, and it's been raining--which although the fresh water from the sky is nice there are no drainage systems here. And the drainage systems that were in place have been cemented shut because terrorists planted bombs in them. So, when it rains, it is a mud pool.

Also when a cool breeze blows through, you can see it coming towards you. All you can really think is, "that sucks" watching the dust tornado whirl towards you and there is no where to escape it except for a shower at the end of the day. Since the temperature has dropped I don't get sweaty, but I still get dusty every day.

However, the dust is norm and you deal with it. The temperature is what is so enjoyable, it's the strangest fall I have ever felt, the air hits a high of 76 during the day, but the sun is still hot, so in the sun it feel glorious. I crave afternoon runs (hopefully after 11.5 I will get to take them again). Apparently it will be this pleasent until February- when it gets cold, to a high of 40 degrees.

My favorite is the fall moon. Last night I walked on a errand to an outside office as night was falling around 1745 and I caught sight of the moon, a perfect bright crescent that had just risen over the palm trees. It was so glorious, my soul wanted to explode. I wrapped up work and beelined home gazing out the shuttle window at the moon until I reached home. I had dinner outside with a friend in order to enjoy the night and before I knew it, I looked at the moon that had now turned red as it slipped out of the sky.

The moon disappeared! 1900 there is no moon in Baghdad!

I was totally paranoid after just watching the movie "The Objective" (horrible acting, but the Afghanistan setting drew me in) about UFO/ghost type war fare in the Middle East, when the moon disappeared I was telling myself not to overreact.

It turns out tonight, the crescent moon was back in the sky, even a little thicker than last night. Apparently the moon sets here.

Anyway, a fall moon in Baghdad under a cool sky is really amazing.

ring ...ring... "Protocol, this is Beth"

You can get a hold of me by calling (240) 553-0581. Wait for switchboard & then dial 567-3981. This is my apartment. My phone is not next to my bed, so please remember I am 7 hrs ahead of you, if you call in the middle of the night, I'm going to have to get out of my bed and walk across the room to talk : /

You can call my cell phone from your cell phone by dialing 011-964-0770-443-4468 and I'm sure astronomical long distance charges occur, so please don't spend you money this way--keep sending postcards!!

After a brief hiatus, I started my afternoon runs again. How you wonder with all my Extravaganza planning?! It's been cancelled.

Yes, I too was shocked considering the extensive amount of blood, sweat and tears I've poured into planning (Ok, no blood--but for hyperbole sake imagine if) not to mention the former Chief of Protocol came TDY from Main State to aide in the execution of this celebration.

The hardest part of this is not disappointment, if the Ambassador makes a call I am on board with it, he's been in this business for more than a minute, the hardest part is going from 115mph to a cruise speed of 55mph. It's weird. Whoever was praying I would get some rest, the prayer has been answered! I might get a day off here friends! Now, I'm not going to count my chickens before they hatch, but my 86 day bender may have come to an end. Insha'allah.

Singing in the Rain

It's raining today. Yesterday a dust storm blew through that was miserable. I was covering my face with a scarf like a makeshift hijab trying to make it home. It was cloudy and grey and I was thinking it felt like rain, but of course it never rains, so I wouldn't have expected a change in elements.

It's grey today and I want to curl up in my satin sheets and watch a movie, but I am planning the extravaganza, so in instead I went out to sing in the rain.

The glass is half full

Some days I walk to work smiling, a beat in my step, listening to good tunes on my ipod, the weather is good, it barely smells like dust, my sinuses are clear and I think Baghdad is not a bad place, if all my friends would just get over here we could continue stabilizing this country and we would have fun at the same time.

Then there are days when the weather breeds misery. My eyes and throat hurt because the fine sand has cut all orifices I need to breath, I have slept barely 4 hours because I am burning the candle at both ends trying to stay on top of the never ending work load, wishing I had time to go to the gym, eat, socialize and relax with my friends, and I dream of coming home and think NO ONE SHOULD COME HERE, IT'S TOO HARD.

But, no matter how many times my stream of consciousness struggles with the negative, I would not trade this experience or cut it short. My mind always comes back to the fact that I am safe, healthy and happy. I've made a handful of good friends, and even though my beloved girl friends have moved on from Iraq, I still have a wonderful friend down the hall who is supportive and listens to me vent and is always up for any adventure I conjure up.

And, complain as I might that the grass is greener on the other side, I like being busy. And when I'm not busy, I don't know what to do with myself, so I join more organizations and over commit until I am busy again. That is my lot in life: a busy bee. The life of relaxation and luxury is not for me. And that's not unfortunate. I look forward to enjoying time to relax, though inevitably I plan my down time before it arrives.

I have the best job in the Embassy. I plan the time lines of events for the Ambassador! I've decorated his house, I spend time with his wife, I manage a household staff, except for his dog biting me, I can't complain.

I party with foreign Ambassadors and I am planning the BIGGEST CELEBRATION KNOWN TO BAGHDAD! WOOOOO HOOOOO 12 days to go ...

Also, there it is also T minus 23 days until my birthday. Can you believe I'm going to be 25?!?!

Thank you for the postcards and carepackages! I've been coined the girl with "the most beautiful hair in Baghdad" and I'm running out of room on my bulletin board for all the love you're sending me from home. THANK YOU!!!!

I found the Spa

On Friday morning I went the spa with a girlfriend. We shook the dirt off our feet from the off road walk into the single wide trailer known as Dojos Doughnut Shop and apparently they also offer salon services. I got a deep tissue massage and a manicure. Total money spent $70 with extravagant tip$ compared to what the services cost. $40 for an hour and a half massage where a Filipino lady jumped up on my back and basically beat the stress out of me.

When I felt toes curl under my butt I lifted my head to see what was going on my back and she pushed my face back into the pillow and says, "Carry me!" When I felt her toes curl under my butt cheeks in a massaging fashion any chance of relaxation was over. You know how I feel about feet. The last thing I would ever want is to have a strangers toes curl under the hand towel barely draped across my derrière as my 'sheet'.

I have decided I'm not a fan of the deep tissue, but the manicure was fabulous. I'm not sure the simple manicure tools have ever been cleaned, which caused pause for a moment, but then, I'm in Baghdad. If the worst thing I come home with is nail fungus, I'll survive. Luckily though, no fungus in sight!

New story
Flash back to my first year of work out of college on the hill. I knew then I wanted to go to Iraq and I had a meeting with the Director of the International Republican Institute (IRI). I sat down with her, told her I wanted to go to the Middle East and listened to her suggestions. This weekend I the amazing opportunity to host her to dinner at the Ambassador's house. When I greeted her at the gate, she reached her hand out to me and said, "Hi, I'm--" as I said, "It's nice to see you again," and she gasped as my face found it's way into her memory, "--yes, it's nice to see you too! When did you leave DC?!" I told her I'd been here 3 months, she asked, "How did you get to Baghdad?" We chatted about the supernatural resume that is being built through my life and she looked at me as I introduced her to the Ambassador, and she said, "It's great that you made it out here."

When I told the Amb that I had met Judy when she took the time to offer me advice on coming to Baghdad three years ago and it was such a treat to meet her again in the IZ, he chuckled as he said, "That is fantastic. That is really fantastic." His smile will forever be frozen in my mind realizing maybe for a second that there is no feasible explanation to how I am standing in his house, and yet there are a gazillion connections that put me here.

One note to self I mentally made and need to write so I don't forget in the future: When you meet someone who mentors you or offers advice on how to reach your goals, make sure you write to them and tell them when you achieve your goals. So then, when you run into them walking in the reality of your dreams, they will know to expect you.

Pretty cool!

In news of work, my good-for-barely-anything-Assistant resigned and before I was forced to start breathing into a paper bag being totally alone in Protocol, an angel from main state, who is the former Chief of Protocol in Baghdad, came TDY to help me plan the Independence Day/Election Party/Dedication Celebration Party/Extravaganza of the Century. She is amaaazing and I am learning so much! Though I have rescinded my title of Chief to her, TDY, I am actually learning to be a pro instead of doing my best and holding my breath.

Life's good again, and it's actually shaping up that after Nov 5 I could get a day off. Insha'allah (God Willing)


Three weeks from today is the Embassy's Independence Day Celebration/Election Results Party/New Embassy Compound Dedication Ceremony. On November 5th the fruits of my labor, sweat, tears, angst, sleepless nights and lack of personal balance will commence with the raising of the Garrison Flag in front of the Chancery.

It's 2100 and I have decided I've had enough of the guest list for the evening. Though Friday AM is my deadline...

Let me explain a little more, when I say the fruits of my labor I mean in recent weeks I have worked through days where the fruits I get for a snack have literally spoiled next to me. Sweat. My sweat has dripped across the New Embassy Compound on countless walk throughs in 107 degree heat as we scripted the event, scratched the plan, and started from square one again. Yesterday and today, I took my tape measure out and measured the massive sand lot where the reception will be held. My black shoes are now gray.

Tears. I've done my best to hold these back in professional settings, but when you work in a compound, at that time of the month when ladies tension is rising it is a PAIN to work with them. Geeesh! I have never been surrounded by some many temperamental, bipolar adults in my life. Frankly, I did not think working environments like this existed, but apparently the term 'grown up' means nothing here. I would never think of blogging about the disrespectful, insubordinate, immature, flagrantly obscene, gossiping, lying, dramatic, lazy and ignorant adults that I deal with every 30 minutes of the day. Luckily I have an amazing room mate and bff down the hall that listen to me vent and continually make me laugh, cook soul food and bring me mountain dews mid day to take my mind away for a few minutes.

I am so looking forward to a massage at home! Tonight My wrists hurt from typing so many guest lists/seating cards/menus/Scenarios/invitations and emails. For a split second I imagined carpal tunnel and realized that those split keyboards are essential if you type this much!! That is a first for me, I hadn't understood until this day. (Sis, my scavys are popping out I am so stressed : )

I have been getting tangled in my sheets in the night. I am having Protocol nightmares. The most recent was a favorite fairy tale turned around. I was at a house and the bears were saying, Goldilocks, this is too hard, this is too soft, this is too hot, this is too cold, this is too big, this is too small, that is too high, that is too low as my mind was spinning, my smile barely intact trying to get the details just right.

I am longing for personal balance. My afternoon runs have been on hiatus for the past 2 weeks while I am consumed with the Independence Day Celebration/Election Results Party/New Embassy Compound Dedication Ceremony (yes, that's seriously the title because no one could decide on just ONE thing to call it. It's everything! It's an EXTRAVAGANZA! Whenever you say it, you have to do spirit fingers** *~*Extravaganza*~*) I haven't been to Bible Study or church in 2 weeks. Thanks Beth & Heather for sending church CDs, I love listening to them before bed, and feeling a temporary fullness in my soul.

I voted last week! And though I am not turning liberal by any means, my 2nd fav musician (2nd only to Amy Grant) may have coined Iraq, so in closing some words from The Boss:
In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin out over the line Whhooaaa!
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
Its a death trap, its a suicide rap
We gotta get out while were young
`cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

The Sky is Blue today!

The sky was so blue today, I had to take a picture. I walked slower today and meandered my way to work the longest routes possible. The weather was simply gorgeous! It's reminiscent of Florida winters. I have not learned Celsius (Sorry Mrs. Shaffer) so I can't tell you the temperature, but it feels like 81 degrees with a breeze.

The mornings have a bit of a chill. Not like Autumn. More like an atmosphere completely devoid of sun, having the warmth of sunshine creep into the day. By my afternoon run time, the refreshing breeze will carry thick dust into all open orifices, but in the morning and evenings, the weather has been quite pleasant.

This is a picture of me the day before having some laughs with Maria.

Bye Bye Birdie

Tonight was a farewell dinner for my dear friend Maria who has been one of my strongest allies here in Baghdad. While becoming friends, she has mentored me and encouraged me listened to me and prayed with me. It is going to be an interesting season without her.

I made another good girlfriend when I first arrived and the three of us bonded quickly and spent a lot of time together. After the quickest 2 months of my life, Reagan’s tour ended and now Maria’s tour has ended.

I am hopeful that God will send me another friend to run to when I need to vent, someone to decompress with, someone I can confide in, and someone who makes me laugh.

Anyone? Any takers? It’s really fun here!!

Speaking of fun…tonight went to an Iraqi restaurant for dinner to celebrate Maria’s last night. As the fifteen of us were enjoying our time, talking and laughing WHOOMSHP

The most dreadful sound.

Every set of eyes around the table grew wide for a second.

And then, conversation continued.

My stomach had dropped to the floor, so as I took a deep breath, and looked at a friend who has recently arrived we locked eyes for a moment and I shared her alarm. I sat surrounded by friends and colleagues including armed service women and men who have lived through the worst here. In the spring, you couldn’t even walk outside the mortar attacks were so bad, so they’re more inured to the initial panic to which my body was reacting.

As I calmed my nerves with a deep breath and forced smile. My wide eyes gave me away. “Was that your first mortar?”
I said I had heard a car bomb in the distance my 2nd week here—“but not this close, huh?” and then the conversation continued and we went back to sipping chai.

You shake it off and life goes on. No matter what happens, you must shake it off and life goes on. Military members do it everyday, and I am grateful and in admiration every day for those who have protected our country and freedoms in the past and present. Some days, I pass so many in uniform I forget to tell them thank you. Please thank the ones you see back home for me. We’re at war and I live in the most targeted area in the world. They have instilled the peace that I am fortunate to enjoy and they deserve our best.

Let me tell you what a mortar sounds like. It sounds like the earth being sucked into itself and it carries with it the realness that you could’ve been sucked into the earth too. For an instant life stops and all you want to do is be next to the people you love the most and ensure that it is well with your soul.

So all this in an instant.

And of course I am fine, unscathed as was my party, but a mortar landing in the IZ is a reminder that it’s necessary to stay alert.

The peace is fragile here.

I appreciate your support and thoughts more than you will ever know.

And in case you are trying to call me, my 914- phone is gone. I have an international number that will cost you an arm and a leg unless you have a calling card and…can you even buy those anymore…?

My First Tribal Exchange

Last week a lovely Iraqi acquaintance stopped by my desk to ask me a Protocol question. I saw this interesting sparkly bracelet on her hand and I asked, “Is that a watch?” Her eyes opened wide in excitement. As she reached her wrist towards me she stated with great pleasure, “Yes, it is a watch. Do you like it?” I swallowed as I replied, “It is so unique!” At that, before I could blink, she took the watch off her wrist and thrust it towards me as she said, “Here.”

As sheer panic spread across my face, I remembered training class… and ‘ol Jerry and how he told us that if you compliment an Iraqi they will give you whatever you like. Because of the tribal system they have no problem with generosity because it is expected to be returned for another favor.

“Here, it’s yours.” She said.

“Oh, no…that is so generous, thank you! But no, I cannot take your watch off of your wrist…uh…ah…uh…how will you know the time?”

“It’s a gift!” and with that, I blushed as I accepted my new watch.

I racked my brain thinking, Beth! You knew about this. AND IN CLASS, WATCHES WERE THE EXAMPLE GIVEN!! Many Ambassadors and visiting diplomats from DC would go to dinner and they would be complimented on their Rolex and would immediately be prompted to give their watch away. After a few times, they learned not to wear jewelry or only wear cheap watches.

However, the Embassy is so Americanized, I don’t withhold compliments here because most local hires are Jordanian or Lebanese.

Well, I as I contemplated this and thought what will I do, I remembered that I’d put my lovely, two-toned Anne Klein watch in my desk drawer… [the day I went to the bazaar and bought a $10 Rolex.--It would’ve fooled you!-- I was excited to wear it, so I dropped my watch, in my drawer and immediately dawned my new *bling*bling. The next day when I came into work an hour late, I realized it doesn’t keep time, so now it just sits in my room as a $10 fashion accessory] …I knew what I had to do.

I walked toward her and said, “Here” as I extended my hand holding the perfect two-toned watch I searched years to wear, “It is a gift.”

I saw the same look of panic in her eyes that I had felt moments before.

She said, “No!”

I said, “Yes, you must take it. You gave me your watch, please take mine. Whenever I look to see the time I will think of you fondly.”

She took my watch and said, “I will do the same, thank you.”

My first tribal exchange.

As she squeezed the skin on her wrist in order to close her new Anne Klein watch, I could not help but catch the light flicker of glitter reflecting off my computer screen. I looked at my new sparkly watch and glanced at the time on the bottom of my computer screen. It keeps time!

Not an hour later, one of my assistants came to my desk smiling and said, “Bet, what phone you use most?” Confused, I said, my Iraqna because it has better reception. (You know I am always dropping calls when I call home on 914-) He said, “May I see your phone?” Uncertain of what to expect, I handed over my phone. He turned his back to me, and when he turned around I had a new cell phone charm attached to my phone.

A stuffed puppy.

I was speechless.

What a surprise. Astounded, a hysterical smile beamed across my face as I thanked him.

I could just imagine the Ambassador looking at me on my phone with a stuffed puppy dangling from my chin.

So, here you go. I could not make this up.

I truly enjoy this puppy. It makes me laugh out loud as I walk through the halls and he hangs out of my suit pocket, smiling at co-workers in the hall. Not too many people have noticed, or at least mentioned the dog. Two agents referenced my dog bite when they saw it, which gave me an even bigger laugh.


I woke up this morning without the desert sun blazing through my blinds into my eyes. I thought it was odd, but assumed it was because I was up 15 minutes earlier than usual. ha! It was actually because a sandstorm was blowing through. By mid-afternoon the Earth was orange. It was like walking on Mars. People kept murmuring, welcome to hell.

However, even though the world was orange today, it was not to hot--though comparatively, I choose hot. When it's dusty, if you smile too long, your teeth are covered in dust! blah!

Today was another long day. I think I've aged about 3 years in the last two days. I will update you more on the details towards the end of the week.

Oh! A funny story. I tried to call my mom tonight and dialed her work number and the voice that answered said, "Boonsboro High School" I started laughing and couldn't hang up, I said, "Mrs. Moore?" and she said "yes...?" and I told her who it was and she laughed and said, "don't you know your mom doesn't work here anymore?" haha! My fingers just remembered dialing the number.

It was a good time to tell her that I work with another BHS graduate. Small world, eh? Two Ambassador's here that luv H-town Suns games and Krumpies do-nuts and a fellow BHS alum.


The Ambassador hosted a farewell dinner for the CG last night. It was the biggest Vanna White moment of my life when dinner ended and I walked the gift across the dinning room to present to him. I was in sheer awe at how I got where I am. It has been a privilege to work in Iraq under Petraeus's command, it is safer here now. He's a good humored man, and gave his final words in a football analogy. The war has been a hail mary, but the surge was the down field catch that was the play of them game. Now we're 3rd and goal, but every time we look up it seems the goal post has moved farther back.

The busiest week of my life

When you're the boss, no one tells you what to do. It was a rude awakening this week when I internalized all the stress that comes with that. Though the boss is the decision maker, no one helps in the decision making. BIG SHOES! As I'm learning to walk in them, I keep my chin up but my desk is covered in post its from the snow storm last week of "Can you do--" requests which I would hurriedly scribble down on an assorted pack of post-it paper. It really gives my desk color!

You shred everything here, because you never know who is going through the trash. In my two months here never has the paper shredder jammed, but I jammed it. With post its. It looks like a party of green, purple, pink and manila confetti spit up all over the floor by the shredder. Remnants will remain until we move out of this Palace, just like Christmas icicles, you can never seem to get them all picked up, inevitably in August you can find a stray the vacuum cleaner has missed 100 times.

Speaking of moving out--I am the move coordinator for our transition from Saddam's Presidential Palace to our New Embassy Compound NEC. I already live at the NEC and it is a fortified area that will include, housing, work space, the DFAC, a liquor store, the Green Bean, and the gym. It quite resembles a prison. There are high walls with a chicken wire border, and security that takes 10 minutes-minimum-to enter the compound. So, very secure!

Anyway, I saw my new office, which is quite plush. Two windows! Despite the hassle of moving, I love organizing and I also love my new office and so I'm looking forward to the move. It will be quite an experience to compare working in a Palace to working in an office building. And I'm not sure how the cabin fever will be since it's about 45 steps from my apartment to work. The world may get very small very quickly!

Also, I'm back on the ball.

All Hail the Chief

Welp, big news this week. After being A/Chief of Protocol for the last month, I found out this week my boss is not returning and I've been promoted to Chief of Protocol for the duration of my contract. Will I stay in this dust bowl past January? I don't know. I've decided to stop making plans for myself because as the Proverb says Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. (19:21)

This past week has proven to me that he is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 colors and emphasis mine : )

See the chart below for my new orders.

I have also decided not to get my panties in a bunch at 0900 when inevitably there is a calamitous crisis, by staying cool, calm and collected, I've realized that by 1500 the crises was averted and I've received a lot more respect for staying calm and keeping a smile. Amazing Grace!

In the world of weather, it rained today. It was thundering so loud yesterday and amidst the smell of dust, the carried the scent of rain. No dice though. What did roll through was a dust storm (I heard) I was at my desk all day, and though I have a fabulous purple office, no windows. I heard it was disgusting though.

Today, when I heard the thunder roll, I got up from my desk and went outside! It was barely sprinkling on the West side, so I ran across the Rotunda and it was raining lightly on the East side.

My afternoon run was very dusty. I had sand on my teeth and lips and in my eyes and hair...and got caught in a few raindrops!! (like 4, but still, you have to celebrate the elements here)

Me at a recent reception, putting on the finishing touches.

Wanna date?

Dates grow on palm trees, which are plentiful here. This week I tasted my first date and after looking past their poo like color and softness, Iluvthem!

Apparently, if you have 2 dates a day you will stay healthy always! That's how people in this region have stayed healthy for so many centuries.

If you have not tried one because of what they look like, I highly recommend you suck it up and try it! They are so sweet and delicious! The first bite I was overwhelmed that something soo sweet grows on a tree. (And my favorite tree, by the way!) It just shows you that even God likes dessert! What an awesome creation!

A double date with Coffee.

The darker brown ones are the ripest and softest. When you put them in your mouth the sweetness oozes out. They're so soft you don't have to bite them. You just smush them in your mouth and pop out the pit.

I was hesitant to try the dried dates, they are over a year old. You peel the skin off and they taste like fruit snacks, but the real deal, au-natural!

Dates can be green (texture like a cucumber, the least sweet) red (does something weird to your tongue) yellow-brown (almost ripe, getting sweet) and brown (sweetest and most enjoyable)

Jury is out and the verdict is in ... dates are delicious!

Thank you, America.

Last night I attended a reception at the Adnan Palace to celebrate Turkish Armed Forces Day.

Adnan Palace was Saddam's son, Uday's palace, it's inside of the IZ.

I walked into a room of about 70 military men from all over the world. Flashes started going off and as my eyes adjusted from the flashes it was quite clear I was the only woman in the room. It was one of those cliche moments you dream you've showed up to a big presentation naked or something. I took a deep breath and put on my smile. As I scanned the room, I knew about 5 people at the reception. It didn't take more that 30 seconds for a colleague to approach me, but those 30 seconds seemed to last an eternity.

As I listened to the Military Attache recount the significance of Armed forces day. I looked at the crowd I was standing alongside and tried to figure out how in the world I got to this palace.

Pushing aside awkward feelings of being the only woman in the room I decided this is what it feels like to work in a male dominated field. If I could make it through this reception, I could make it in this international arena.

A Ukrainian, an Iraqi, an Italian and an American sit down for dinner ... not a joke! I got the best seat in the house. The men who rounded the end of the table where the funniest men at the reception. Not surprisingly one was an Italian! You've read my reviews on their Embassy and my growing dreams to move to Italy -- last night simply continued cultivation.

My company was not simply diverse, keep in mind they are all Commanding Generals or Defense Attaches of their respective countries. The Iraqi I sat next to told me I remind him of his daughter and that I should remember him like my father. He looked at me and said, “Thank you America, Thank you, America.”

Across the table, the General said, "Look at us, we are from all over the world and we are sitting together. Before, the Baath party would’ve cut off food to your family and had you hung for trading secrets with foreigners. It’s only been 5 years, and look, we are having dinner together.” As he spoke his eyes watered with emotion, and it the most significant moment of my time here so far.

The food was delish too!


Another extreme week in the 'ol Iraqi. I would tell you about the exciting events I've planned and executed with extreme poise (for my lack of training) but alas, the marker board has been erased and rolled onto the next week and it is so hard to remember all the details.

My pillows here are pancakes, so I ordered 2 new pillows online that are amazing! They are down temperpedic pillows and as my head sinks into them it's like floating into a dreamland cloud. I cut most of my evenings short this week and tried to be in bed before 11pm just to lay on my pillows. My motivation for getting out of bed has significantly reduced because it is so hard to lift my head up from the pillow. (It's that good) Maybe if I could strap it around my head and secure it in some fashion, I could make it to the gym in the AM. So- far, not happening.

Luckily, I got a shipment of XS ( so I am flying vitamin B!!! The thought of going to the fridge for an ice cold XS is what has detached me head from my pillow for the last 5 days.

However, to assure you that I have not idled into severe laziness, I have taken up lunch time jogging with my friend. We run about 2 miles in the dead of the afternoon figuring that if we can run 5miles in 114 degree heat, then how much more can we run in a regular climate. (We're working up to 5 ... ) The first day, we were seeing spots, but 2 weeks into training, we're really improving and I crave that time away from my desk. Subsequently my tan is finally coming along!

There was a Distinguished Visitor this week ... and I was the Protocol POC. Though I did not have contact with the DV I did have the secret secret schedule which made me feel vv important.

I also managed to get my car towed this week. Ha! You'd think that in Baghdad of all places I could stay friendly with the traffic officers. Apparently not. Luckily no parking tickets are distributed here (that I know of) but you CAN get your car towed.

The story is that someone had parked in my space, so I took the next available space. At 2100 when my friend was helping me carry out my bulky boxes of newly arrived pillows and XS and to my SUV, the car was gone. "You've got to be kidding me!"

Turns out the tow requester is a Director whom I had bailed out earlier in the afternoon, when refreshments had not been planned for an Iraqi Minister. Heh! See who throws together tea and crumpets for you next time Director.

It took me and entire day to track down where the car had been towed to. Starting at 8 am I talked and walked and asked and smiled and walked to an fro throughout the Embassy and my assistant walking to and fro outside the complex carrying the clicker hoping for a "chirp" from the alarm to reveal it's current parking location.

Not wanting to admit to the car towing and risk the ridicule from the boys, I finally humbled myself and went to the top security for help (I didn't think anyone knew, turns out, everyone did) We went to the tow locale and the car had been put into the shop "b/c something was wrong with it". I told them Yes, the ignition is loose and I have to start the car in Neutral--once had to have a local hot wire it for me--but it's a Ford, so it's going to run, so please give me back my car.

They told me they would service it for the next two weeks.

I told them, I needed a rental.
To which I received the most hysterical stare.
There are no rentals in Iraq?

After a bit of persistence, I was turned over the keys to an up armored suburban until the Ford is fixed. AND TODAY!!!! I got my car back! HOORAY!


I have been the A/Chief of Protocol for a week. I only made 2 mortifying mistakes (instead of sending one invitation, I emailed a 75+ distribution list ... turning red at the thought of myself ... I quickly learned how to recall a message, so probably only 60 or so saw my mistake. Oh, well, the more the merrier at a party right?)

Here a a few highlights from last week.

I got fresh cut flowers!
The Czech’s brought 2 huge bouquets for my boss and I to thank us for our all our work with a project I just finished up. It was the most wonderful treat! There really are NO flowers here, so this is the most precious commodity I have received. Apparently the Czech Ambassador’s wife has a garden. My bouquet is green and purple with white lilies. The other bouquet was yellow carnations and red flowers (I don’t’ know what they are) .

Also, I bought 2 plants in my apartment. They are asparagus ferns, they’re staying alive OK … I’m saying “God bless you little plant, grow and prosper” when I mist them, so hopefully they will live! They also only cost $3 total, so they're like a goldfish. Their names are Fern and Spear. Spear is living ... Fern fading fast.

Plants, like flowers and grass, are not easy to come by here, but since I am the Chief of Protocol and it is a priority for the CMR to look well kept, for representational purposes we get plants through Iraqis in the red zone.

Last week, I took my first mission to the RZ. It was exhilarating. I was one of three principals in a 5 car envoy with tanks at the front and back maneuvering to the German Embassy for a reception welcoming the new Ambassador. Pretty Cool.

This is me returning safe and sound in my PPE.

The afternoon reception was followed by an intimate dinner at the Italian Embassy. Oh! Man! The Italians know how to live --and eat --and drink! This is the most normal atmosphere in the IZ that I have experienced. First of all, they have grass! The Embassy is smaller and there are patios and it just looks and feels like an oasis from the surrounding desert.

The evening started with wine and cheese in the back yard. Delicious cheese that came from Italy! I took off my shoes and stood around in the grass and just let my senses take it all in. Two Ambassadors at our Embassy are from Mercersberg! (No joke!) They love H-town Sun's games! We had quite a bit to laugh and talk about. Plus they are UVA grads, WA HOO WA!

I was seated at the head of the table. (So cool foreshadowing on my life! 'In sha allah, God Willing) We started with a palate cleansing salad meat and cheese plate, followed by the best spaghetti of my life, not to saucy, not to dry. Then mashed potatoes and some kind of meat ... all I remember were the real, home made mashed potatoes. Then dessert: dum da da duuummm Chocolate mouse. Let me just say, I have had this thing the US calls "chocolate mouse" and what the Italians made was something totally different. It was like a rich, smooth, full chocolate blend of ice cream, gelatto and clouds. Heavenly. (PORK, I wish I could've snapped a photo!)

Each course of the meal was served with a different glass of wine and then dessert liquor to really bring out the flavor of the foods. So 6 slowly consumed glasses of wine later, I know why they call it spirits. We were all in good ones!

Then they brought out chocolate truffles that have fortunes written on the inside. I had the only set of eyes that could decipher the small writing, so I was passed each Ambassadors fortune and too the liberty of adding 'in bed' to the end of each fortune. Everyone loved it and laughed and laughed ... !
If you gave me all the kisses in the world, they would still be too few in bed.

On Friday I slipped out to the pool for 45 minutes and it was my first time to lay out. I wish I had more time to relax like this, it was great. Felt like vacation for a moment.

I took a late lunch to do a little shopping at the Bazaar (mostly rugs and jewelry) and stopped by the Crossed Swords Memorial to take some pix.

These "speed bumps" are helmets of fallen soldiers Saddam killed. Gross. It felt very weird.

Thank you for all the post cards and care packages! It is so wonderful to get mail here, I feel so special. And, if there's anything you need from Iraq, don't hesitate to let me know!

Dusty Sunset

Today was the first evening I have seen the sun set. It was beautiful.

Good Eats

President Talabani invited me to dinner at one of his palaces. Not just me, three offices that have aided his staff and country, to say thank you for our hard work. Though I've been here just a month, previous colleagues have worked diligently and I've had the opportunity to join in reaping the benefits.

The pictures are not of his residence, just one of his entertaining palaces inside the IZ.
Iraqis put on a spread! This is my favorite meal thus far, it's called quzi (sounds like coozie). It's a baby lamb on a plate of sweet rice (rice with raisins) and french fries.
This is a white fish, fresh from the Tigris. Pretty good. I was a bit wary of eating from the Tigris, but I got my fair portion. I had picked just a bite and put it on my plate, when one Iraqi sees me and says, "Bet!" (not many can pronounces the 'th' so I am Bet to a lot of people, and Elizabeth to others because when they get very confused over Beth, I offer, Elizabeth and they say, Oh, oh, Elizabeth, pretty name : )
"Bet, where is your fish?"
"Oh, I have some," I say. (looking at my picked portion the size of a quarter)
"No, here is your fish!"
--and before I have a chance to protest 3/4 of my plate is full of fish!

Dinner was lovely and it was a great experience. I'm sure it will not be often I get to dine at the President's palace!

There are a lot of activities here and I've been making the most of them and have not had a chance to get bored.

I saw the movie '21' at the palace movie theater. It's basically a home theater in the basement. Movies play every night at 7:30 and 10pm. I caught the early show with a friend and it was comfortable. There's a popcorn machine there, the chairs are comfortable and overall it's pretty normal.

There is a Chinese restaurant here in the IZ called Freedom Chinese. I went there for lunch. If I had a food blog* I would not give it a good review.

There are no egg rolls or egg drop soup or General Tso's chicken or chopsticks or fortune cookies. (what do you go to a Chinese restaurant for?!) It was also over priced and since there is food flowing like a river at the DFAC, I probably will not venture to this restaurant again.

What I ate: sweet and sour chicken, which was chicken bites in a sweet glaze (not the usual deep fried chicken puffs you pour the red sauce all over ... mouth watering...) and beef and egg, which was good, just nothing to really write home about.

haha! Though you see I am writing home because it is at least a story, no?