A picture's worth 1,000 words

With my buddy Ash out of town, my roommate T and I have been making the most of life here in the IZ. Which means hosting parties. Birthday parties, dinner parties, cocktails, ladies nights, Lebanese dancing, ect.

Hooka and sparklers

Amidst the social events, I've been busy planning Ambassador Crocker's departure. He gave final farewell remarks to a captive audience: all Embassy employees. There was good food, cake and a photo line.

The lady in the blue jacket is the Deputy Chief of Mission, now the ChargĂ© d’Affaires, a.i. Patricia Butenis. My Protocol responsibilities include logistics for her meetings and events as well.

After his farewell, I dashed away with my roommate for an overnight trip to a nearby camp, Victory, for an early morning meeting. Victory is a base that operates out of Alfaw Palace. It was funny how much I missed working in the Presidential Palace. I had almost forgotten the awe of walking into a Palace every day. After the meeting, which was an intelligence brief, coordinated by one of the CG's staffers, we did a little sight seeing around Victory.

A view from the roof of the Palace. This was an old game club where Saddam and his cronies would get-away. The lakes are all man-made. There are Palaces all around these lakes.
Me and T on top of the Palace.

Me, T and Joe, our tour guide for the day.

The helos are landing at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) which you can see in the distance. We hung out on the roof for a little while taking in the view and watching planes take-off from the airport.

Inside the Palace, this is a gift to Saddam that turned into a photo op.

Saddam built a type of playground park that has now been coined Bed Rock, because it's reminiscent of the Flinstones. We visited and hiked around.

Bed Rock sits on the water facing a Palace...now a bombed out Palace.

We had a cin-a-bon picnic at bedrock. You can see we're rebuilding the destroyed Palace.
Me and T

Around Camp Victory, are a few other Camps, Liberty, Slayer, Sully... The slogan made me long for the Redneck Yacht Club. (Shout out to Mary and Scott!)
There is a recently built gas station! It's been a while since I'd seen one of these. We decided to stop in for a fountain soda and found all kinds of fresh fruits and frozen meats that we stuffed into our backpacks and carried home.
Gas Prices

Hopped a helo in the afternoon back to the IZ. It was too dark to take photos on the way out, so here are some views of Baghdad from the sky.

The Presidential Palace, former American Embassy headquarters where I used to work.

Happy V-Day!
We invited a few of our girl friends over for a Japanese Valentine dinner.
T cooks and I bake. Keep scrolling for dessert photos

That's the update for now. I'm just in preparation mode waiting for Senate confirmation on the new Ambassador. Thanks for your prayers and encouragement.
Once again, my address has changed:
Beth Zentmeyer
Unit 2066 Box 66
APO AE 09870-2066

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

Except this time it was not the Hills...it was the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Baghdad http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheraton_Ishtar

The first event the Emabssy has held in the Red Zone! The Ministry of Culture in conjunction with our Embassy hosted a concert for Peace and Friendship in honor of Ambassador Crocker.

I managed the guest list (aprox 1400), final set up of the stage, traffic flow patterns for arrival and departure, flowers, VIP seating and the meet and greet of VVIPs. I spent the day before in the redzone at the Sheraton praying that everything would go as planned, on time, safely.

The stage was built for this event; satelite via Iraqi contractors.

VIP Seating

The Concert was also an art exhibition for local Iraqi artists. It was one of those typical weekend affairs that we take for granted, proving monumental for Iraqis and U.S. partnership with the Government of Iraq (GOI). Though unfortunately the Minister of Culture got sick the night before the concert, two of the three Deputy Ministers attended, a few other Ministers and a handful of Diplomatic Corp, along with many students and local Iraqis who filled the seats. I estimate almost 500 people. SUCCESS.

This is the sculpture I fell in love with. I did not buy it, but one day when I have a home I will track it down, Insha'Allah

Performers. An Iraqi band.

Dancer Troupe.

It's hard to explain what going into the redzone is like. Anytime we leave the Green Zone (GZ or IZ-International Zone) we have to wear helmets and kevlar (ballistic) vests, so not only are you traveling in a thick convoy, but you also stick out like a soar thumb in mismatched, heavy gear. I plead to remove my helmet asap because it's often embarrassing. You're traveling in a city where 300,000 people live. They operate everyday as usual. Sleeping, shopping, cooking, living; and here I arrive in an armored motorcade in a helmet. "Hi!"

As you swallow the fact that life as usual is ongoing outside of the security of the IZ, there is this intense looming threat. As movements are made, PSDs and DS agents are calling out on the radio, "that guy's texting someone" "3rd floor balcony" "what's he doing?!" "look on your left" which keeps my adreneline gushing and my heart pumping a zillion miles a minute. I breath a sigh of relief when we safely enter the IZ. I always return ever more appreciative for the security detail & military forces that map the course ensure my safe and sound return.