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.