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…?