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 (http://www.xsblast.com/default.aspx) 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?

* http://www.porkandbeansmoo.blogspot.com/