It's A Wrap

The past 3 weeks have been some of the fastest of my life. The first two, not much to report. Angelina Jolie came to town, the Embassy got grass (sod-the Iraqi way), we had 2 or 3 HORRENDOUS dust storms (which left me praying that Aug 5 would be dust free so I could get out), my roommate took an R&R and I was packing and going through the intense and ridiculously thorough checkout process. All 3 other admin people in my office went on R&R, so I was the Acting Chief of Staff for the past 3 weeks and doing the work of 4 people. The Embassy definitely squeezed every ounce of work possible out of me, but it feels rewarding to go out on a high note. It will make the next few weeks of vacation more savory.

I'm about to board the plane for Jordan. I have a lot of pictures and final thoughts to publish on my blog which I'll post soon. It is surreal. When I disembark the plane in Amman, it will sink in that this tour is complete--but until then, I'm not going to jinx myself.

This is a picture of the Deputy Rule of Law Coordinator presenting me with an award at the farewell my office threw for me on my last day.

T-28 days

I woke up early this morning to chat on the phone with PA...a late dinner date last night caused me to end our conversation early and I wanted to catch up with her.  Dinner last night, let me tell you what I made.  Grilled steaks with garlic, mushrooms and tri-colored peppers, fresh spinach doused with lemon juice and garlic, a simple side salad all accompanied by some yellow rice T had left on the stove for me.  And whiskey.  I've come to really enjoy a slow glass of cold whiskey.     

So after eagerly opening my eyes this morning, I fought the urge to crawl back into bed and decided to grab my laptop and a cup of coffee from the Green Bean.  I walked outside to a dull day.  The air is covered in dust.  And as I sit on the Promenade feeling the cool morning breeze, the horizon in front of me, which usually showcases large hotels across the river, is white.  

I have less than one month left in my tour.  I spoke at length with my boss yesterday over coffee and he offered me the opportunity to stay OR return following my extended trip around the world.  Some minutes here have felt like real life, others a break from reality.  Still other experiences have been surreal and larger than life.  As I sit still reflecting on what I'll be leaving here the sun rises a few more inches in the sky and I'm sure the temperature rises a good 3 degrees...

It was 122 yesterday.  And about 1530ish a dust storm blew in.  We're expecting crappy weather through the weekend, which makes me appreciate the sunny skies that accompanied the weekend--and the opportunity I had to sun bathe at the pool.  I am getting golden, and though I have just a little sun poisoning on my thighs, it was worth every bead of sweat, baking poolside, waiting for the Vitamin D to bring a healthy glow to my face. 

My last few weeks will be busy, most senior staff in our office are taking their R&R vacations, and I will be the Acting Chief of Staff, managing the office functions and interpreters.  

The sun is rising now and every minute gets a little hotter, though there is still a cool breeze which will last until about 0800 and then the breeze feels like a hair dryer in your face.  Ugh, and since it's so dusty, it's hard to walk anywhere without your eyes stinging.  The dust makes it overcast, so you don't need sunglasses, but I wear them anyways to keep a little dust out of my eyes.

This weekend, I went to the British General, Broun's house for his farewell dinner, which included reeling.  I'm getting better at reeling and enjoy it more now that I can spin around the room a little faster.  Christopher, the British Ambassador was the best dance partner of the evening, and as we tentatively planned the next game night, we discussed our schedules and we realized that we would not see each other again.  When he said, "goodbye Bumblebee" alluding to the Brits fabulous, Halloween, fancy dress party I had my first pang of separation from this place.  

I will miss Baghdad.  I'm sure I will return to this country again and will look forward to seeing what circumstances bring me back.  Leaving the people will be semi-easy.  Most of the good ones have left which make departing easier, but the ones I will leave behind I will lavish with postcards from the places I go to next.  As I'm typing this my coffee sits next to my new computer, and I wonder if it is a bad idea having liquid so close...I've made a mountain of napkins, justincase but think I will pack up my writing for now and get ready for work.

My camera broke last week, but I'll try to get some pictures from friends to post so you don't forget what I look like.

4th of July

DFAC Decorations

Cake. Beer. Sno cones. Baghdad String Benders.

And the elusive dunking booth...

NO one could hit that red bulls eye until I got in the hot seat and then EVERY person, girls, guys, everyone dunked me. It was pretty fun.

After the dunking booth, and my shot at a few games, my camera broke : ( which is unfortunate, but my camera had a good run, I've had it for 5 years ) this could limit the amount of pictures I post for the next 34 days.

There was a dodge ball tournament, swimming races, a movie in the pool, 3 point shoot out and volleyball tournament. I had to take a break after watching team Dominance come in 2nd to go deliver toys to some children.

Two years ago, the Rule of Law Coordinator (RoLC) started a tradition of going to the HJC and delivering toys to the Judge's children. It felt surreal and foreign to be surrounded by so many kids. I have not seen so many kids in over a year. I enjoyed my time and the kids were really excited. The minute I arrived though, I started thinking about all the things I wished I would've brought--nail polish, hair brushes--fun girly activities that break any language barrier.

After the HJC, we went to the Marine House for the volley ball tournament. We had a by into the 2nd round, and then we played the team that was the u
ltimate champion. It was a pathetic loss, but in our defense, the team has Ugandan Olympian players, so that being said, we held our own.
Two teammates, Dan and Jesse as we watch the Ugandan Olympia team bump, set and spike.   We were soberly preparing for our quick demise.  Well, I was having a BL


Vice President Biden valiantly made his way to the IZ last night.  He was to arrive at 10AM, and half of the Embassy showed up to greet him and hear his remarks, but due to another dust storm (we've had an ongoing dust storm for 4 days now) he was grounded.  So the meet and
 greet was rescheduled for 1900, but the dust was still thick into the evening and on helos were flying.   Finally Biden said, if the Ambassador could get through to the IZ, then I can.  Let's take a convoy.  So a little after 9pm he arrived to a group of about 150 Embassy and military.

Ambassador Hill introduced him and VPOTUS gave a 15 minute speech thanking all of us for our work in Iraq.  And though many think Iraqis over, it's not, the work has just
 begun....notably he "promised on behalf of President Obama to give us all everything and anything we need to succeed"

(At this point...all I can think of that we are lacking in our $billion compound is an outdoor pool.  sigh.)

Biden also said that "with a little help from God and good neighbors we can turn Iraq around and the world around."

He was a pleasant guy and he posed for pictures and spoke with everyone who had come out to see him.  I must admit at 10AM I had better things to do, but by 8:30 I was on my 3rd TV movie and decided I needed to get off the couch.

A few people passed me around the Embassy and said, "we miss you, Beth, in Protocol"  the microphone support guy who has become a good acquaintance asked me if I missed doing all the set up for VIPs....I didn't.  

One story I've forgotten to tell is that we get free beer here.  And to think, I always thought heaven would be cooler.

hahaha. Just kidding....there are no streets of gold here--there are brick sidewalks that destroy your high heels.  Anyway,

Free Beer.  During the superbowl the military was allowed 2 beers.  After the super bowl they didn't know what to do with all the unopened beer, so after months of deliberating, they gave it to the Embassy.  I don't know exactly how much beer this is, but I can paint you a picture. There is a storage room, floor to ceiling stocked with beer, and an island in the middle that leaves only a path large enough for a dolly to move around the room.  There is also a connex box, like the size of a railroad car, filled top to bottom with cases of beer.  

Now that it's summer, the beer was about to get skunked sitting out in the heat, so the Embassy has decided to give away the beer.  And they can't give it away fast enough!  Whenever you have an event, going away party or recognition ceremony, you can request up to 15 cases of beer, that they chill and deliver to your party.  Cold beer delivered is real service, and it's all ABEA (American Embassy Baghdad Employee Association) volunteers.

On top of the free beer supply we currently have, the military also get 2 beers on the 4th of July, so we're expecting another mass supply of beer this month.

Everyone that came to see Biden had a "VP" put on their hands and got free beer at the Baghdaddis (The American Club Bar). So my boss, my friend and I stopped in for a beer on a way home from meeting VPOTUS.   Such is a day in Baghdad, friends.

Victory Day

June 30, 2009
There was a lot of talk leading up to June 30. For the past 2 months is been questions of "what will happen when Iraqis take over?" In the back of the minds of most the fear was that there would be a lot of incomings to stuff it in the face of the Americans that they wanted us out.
When I passed back and forth through the Embassy compound on Tuesday, songs, music and marching could be heard 360° as if there was singing coming from every mosque in every direction. It is what I imagine it sounds like when the Pied Piper led the parade through town.
Behind the singing and music, were exclamatory shouts in cadence with the marching of the parade. Later, I ran into a friend who is one of the CG's top advisers and she said, "It was incredible. We did it. Six long years of working for this and the Iraqis are standing on their own. It's bittersweet of course," she said with a laugh, "because they forget that it was the Americans that enabled them, but they've done it!"
The media portrayed a strong sense of Iraqi Nationalism and though this included cheers that the 'occupiers' have vacated the cities, I smile thinking that it was the Americans that gave them the freedom to say what they want to say. And though I imagine there are many who have sacrificed limbs and our whole country sacrificed the lives of friends and family, our 1st Amendment is Free Speech, and to see this country unified and free is indescribable.
In celebration of Iraqi National Sovereignty Day guards decorated the checkpoints with any and all decorations they could find. Mostly Christmas decorations--there were metallic, snowflakes pasted on Humvees, tinsel, garland, ribbons, bows. I had to pause to capture the scene. (Later a security officer came up to me and said, hey Beth, was that you taking pictures of the checkpoints?--which you're not supposed to do--I fessed up...and he said, yeah, we thought that was you. They'd had seen me on camera. whoops)
I was out and about driving through the IZ on the 30th and every day since. It's been safe and sound. The fragile peace that surrounded the city when I first arrived has strengthened. And though terrorist threats still lie in wait, responsibility now falls on the shoulders of a sovereign Iraq.

A Sight I haven't Seen

Tomb of the Unknown Solider

Before Ash left we wanted to check out one of the monuments in Baghdad. This monument, dedicated to soldiers who have died without their remains being identified, is located adjacent to the Crossed Swords in the IZ.

From the sky this part is supposed to look like a helmet.

So Ashley is gone. But,surrounding his departure were countless festivities which the pictures below highlight.

T made one last dinner which was home made pizza. We got a projector and had a slide show of her Tokyo trip and then watched a movie on the big screen.
Hey, Mario, I'm makin 'apizza pie

Ash had gotten us kites to fly for some fun and we were down to the day before his departure and praying for some wind the next day so we could fly our kites before he left. I made sure to mention that our prayer had to be specific for a little wind, because if it was a windy day, there would most likely be a dust storm.

The next day, there was a perfect breeze and we flew our kites at lunch. Which was very fun! All these people were passing, ooo-ing and aaah-ing at our kites. It's an great activity you kind of forget about. We few them for about 20 minutes before my Barbie kite crashed and broke apart.

Here's Barbie flying!

So it was a great day for flying kites! But then the wind did not stop and the worst dust storm Baghdad has seen in 40 years blew in. By the evening when you walked outside you were covered with a film of dust, even on your eyelashes!!!!

This picture is the hallway of the 4th floor of an apartment building! The dust had drifted up to the penthouse suites.

The next morning it looked like snow. There was an inch of dust covering everything outside. This picture is the hallway outside my door, on the 4th floor, so just imagine what it looked like on the first floor!

The last 2 weeks have been a bit slow at work. One morning I spent making a tooth.

Our Chief of Staff had emergency dental work done at a military FOB, and to welcome her back, my boss wanted to do something special. I said, what about a card, and was immediately tasked to come up with something creative. I laughed out loud as I cut this tooth out of cardboard, that our whole office signed, thinking what a great job I have.

A startling wake up from the weekend

I was shaken awake this morning at the sound of a rocket exploding. Imagine being sounds asleep having your most amazing dream ever and someone shoots a firecracker off next to your ear. Your whole body lifts off the bed.
You would think I would've gotten up for the day, but after getting away from the window until the "all clear" sounded I crawled back into bed and easily drifted back to sleep. I was glad to know that I am still operating on "orange" or an elevated level of awareness, but I slept through calls from my siblings and nephew having the time of their life at Sonny's weekend bday party. (I was laughing out loud listening to the messages...but it was 4AM your time and didn't think you'd be awake for my return call sis)
You think being woken up by a rocket is scary?! You should see the new scarecrows! haha ha!

Yes...that is a little bit of grass you see there

You can see this little guy is not doing his job of keeping the birds away

Another weekend in Baghdad

Just finished a nice game of volley (Ashe went easy on me on the tennis courts).
It has been a nice little Friday. Slept in this morning after a late night luau. Got up and went to the pool with two friends. Liberty pool is one of the remaining camps in the IZ. It's the epitome of a private club house pool. This was Saddam's son Uday's pool house. There is a huge tension tent that gathers in three pinnacles covering a small portion of the pool area. There are two kiddie pools. A triple slide so you can have races! A 50 meter lap pool where a diving pool and high dive platform branches off out from under the shade into the sunshine. There is a fourth swimming pool with a 5 meter diving board, great for can openers and watermelons, under the diving board which is in the center of the pool the depth is probably 12 or 14 feet, my ears always pop when I swim to the bottom, and there is a steep incline to a 3 foot shallow end on each side of the pool.

We took the basketballs from Ash's Easter basket and played catch for a while. There is something about catch in the water, whether the pool or the beach, it is always so fun and everyone wants to play. After we were throwing the ball around, another friend joined in and soon the military guys were playing catch off the diving board with a football. (I would've gotten in that game, as I am a pro from Rohrersville, but the guys couldn't throw a football to save their lives and I wanted to save myself the embarrassment)

I went into the office for a few hours. Work was interrupted by IED in the Tigris. After work, I played a little tennis and am now off to watch The Big Lebowski with some friends.

to be continued....

We had organized a Lebowski party and made pitchers of White Russians. About 14 of us gathered in the common area of one of the apartment buildings and hooked up a projector and Bose speakers and threw down. It was a blast and a great start to the evening.

The movie was followed by a party at Mac's Place, the Marine Bar. I like going to the Marine Bar because they have games, pool, Foosball, always a dance floor, and this time: Rock Band. So, of course I tore up the base.
Saturday I went to the Czech Embassy for a Crystal show with the Protocol officer who took my place. It was nice to get out of the compound and see all my diplomatic corp friends, but with the increase in IED, I don't want to go out in the redzone any more than I have to. However I did purchase a nice piece of crystal, which may have been worth the risk! The crystal show is on display in a few more cities in Baghdad and I'll get it sometime next week. If I remember, I'll post a picture. It really is delovely.

We Nailed It!

The Deputy Chief of Mission, Ambassador Butenis, left post yesterday. At her farewell party, I aided my boss in presenting her with a commissioned portrait of her dogs.

We totally nailed it!!

She was holding back the tears of joy! It was so amazing!!

How did I get this idea? God!

My boss mentioned, we should get the DCM something for her farewell, and I had this brilliant idea to give her a portrait of her dogs in front of the crossed swords. I went to take a picture of Arturo, Stanley and Tilly, and Muslim, a very accomplished artist produced this work!

At the reception, during the Ambassador's farewell remarks there were 3 or 4 jokes about 'her dogs' so the stage was prime for presentation!

Best part was, when she was hysterically excited, my boss said, it was Beth's idea. (which was so nice, because I totally went out on a high note with her)
I was ready to come home last night, big time. Chilling after work, I flipped on the tv. (We have a lot of channels here, and I rarely watch tv, so I find it very frustrating because I don’t know the channels) But, after an episode of Sunset Tan, I wondered what domestic drama I was really missing out on?

I went out to dinner with two girl friends at a new restaurant in the IZ; I had the special. Then met up with a small crew and watched Adam Sandler's Zohan movie (Hysterical movie which solves the crisis of conflict in the Middle East. If only it were so simple as “makin’ silky smooth…”) Suffered through heartburn from the special...though I'll probably go back to the restaurant because there's a new special every night.

I attended the monthly FWP (Federal Women’s Program) Meeting at lunch today. After our business meeting, the FWP coordinator moved about the lunch room asking, “Can I return anyone’s tray? Anyone? Anyone? I live to serve! [and with a smile] Really, I was a waitress in college”

A documentary of Women in the Military was shown, the motto, Ready*Willing*Essential. A female Colonel spoke and reflecting on the advancements women have made she said,

“Women want to serve & they will find a way to serve.”

I shoved back deep tears during this documentary, thinking of the myriad unsung heros and for the 1st time in almost a year I felt proud to serve.

Freedom is not free. It never has been.

This week OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) hit especially close to home and my heart has been hurting

Sadaam's last standing monument (back & front)
Which is adjacent to the triple C-I (below) The Central Criminal Court of Iraq, where the big terrorism crimes are tried

My, my it's May

So what is new?

For starters, if you are worried about my safety after recent news releases, you will be happy to hear that “As of May 12, 2009 there are no reported cases of H1N1 in the country of Iraq.” So apparently, I’m in the safest place I can be to escape the “pork flu” which my Muslim friends, who abstain from pork, jokingly refer to it.

Security is tightening up and though tensions are on high alert, there is no cause for alarm. I’m safe and sound, happy and healthy and making the most of my last 90 days here.

I extended for the summer, but am planning to come home in August. A lot of my friends have departed, and so I’m making new friends, but all the new names are getting hard to remember!

(me thinking about extending)

This weekend was an especially fun filled weekend of birthday parties, tennis tournaments and farewell BBQs.
Happy Birthday Monica & Ash!

I met the new Ambassador, Hill, last week at a security briefing. (Nothing serious, just reminding us to always travel with a buddy : ) As I was exiting, I passed by right in front of him and the crowd ahead of me stopped. It was one of those awkward moments were you are closer than normal to a person, and you make eye contact and there is nowhere to go.

So I said, “Hello.”
and he replied, “Hello”
and the crowd in front of me hadn’t moved, so I said, “I’m Beth Zentmeyer”
The Ambassador said, “what?!”
And I repeated, “I’m Beth Zentmeyer.”
He extended his hand and said, “Oh, oh, nice to meet you.”
I said, "Nice to meet you too."
And then the crowd started moving so I walked along.
He didn’t really know what to do with himself. Interesting first meeting, haven’t run into him in since.

Happy Memorial Day!

In honor of Memorial Day, we had a ceremony around the flag pole, which is flying at half mass.

The Ambassador was reading a speech, and the new Chief of Staff, realizing he would have to turn the page, walked up onto the flag platform and stood next to him, awkwardly reaching out as if to take the paper from him. The Ambassador was ignoring him, trying to get through the speech, and when it came time to flip the page, the guy reached out to take the top page from the Ambo.

However, the speech was stapled together and so he almost pulled the whole packet of papers out of the Ambassador’s hand, while the Ambassador tried to hold onto the cordless mic in his other hand.

After about 4 pulls between the two of them, the top page ripped off at the same time the microphone ricocheted back onto the Ambassador’s chest, which created a high pitched kick-back squeal of the mic.

The Ambassador continued reading, and the Aid stood there awkwardly throughout the remainder of the speech. When the Ambassador flipped to page three, he tilted his body slightly away from the guy to keep from another pull apart.

I exchanged glances with the friend next to me, but no one else seemed about to burst with laughter like I wanted to at the hysterical scene. This was followed by an intense and respectful moment of silence.

As I said the Lord’s prayer, and prayed protection for all our soldiers fighting, I was filled with more sober emotion standing at the base of the flag pole. Recapping the friends I know who have bravely fought in battle and looking up at the colors flapping in the wind remembered all it took to raise the flag on January 5, 2009.

It is such feeling of accomplishment to see those colors waving in the clear blue sky.

And man! The weather has been mild. Hot. And occasionally dusty, but there has been a pleasant breeze that continues to blow through that we are all holding onto into the evenings, enjoying the last of spring before the sweltering heat arrives.

I have 70 days left in Baghdad, I’m enjoying each moment.

Baghdad from a helicopter

Some pix of Jerash while sightseeing in Jordan. I was most impressed with the size and preservation of the ancient Roman city.Me climbing on the Arch of Hadrian

Did you know this city was built without any cement?! You can put a coin (or a key) under a column and the column will sway in the wind!

Roman Solider Re-enactment