Happy Halloween!

From Never Never Land

The party here was Thursday night. We started at the Italian Embassy, they were throwing a pizza party. Their Embassy has moved locations, but they have an even bigger back yard, so maybe 200 people were lounged on the lawn, either by the bon fire, or waiting in line for a slice right out of the brick oven. (of course, when you have wings, you fly to the front of the line and choose your toppings)



And then it rained. But luckily I brought my umbrella. Really the highlight of the night might have been the fact that out of 200 people, I was the only one in a costume. Bright green and glowing; wings, the whole nine yards. It was a Legally Blond moment, but just because everyone else were being Halloweeners (aka not in costume), it didn’t spoil the fun.

We loaded the shuttle around 2200 and headed back to Bagdaddy’s for the Embassy Costume party. Everyone was dressed up here, it was a pretty awesome party.

On Friday morning I woke up to the smell of dust permeating the air, and the pitter-patter of raindrops mixed with rolls of thunder. When I couldn’t stand the smell of dusty mud anymore I got up for breakfast and enjoyed the rain sitting outside and writing letters to home.

I’ve seen it rain in Baghdad before, which is a really big problem for the city because of a lack of drainage, but this was the first really good storm that lasted a whole day. Since it never rains in Cali, I remember the last rain storm I was in was a summer storm in Maryland this July. JZ picked me up from BWI and we had an Oscar worthy breakfast, and on our drive home it stormed.

Just enough to cool off the air and leave that “fresh, just rained” summer scent for us to enjoy while running through the park. After the storm here, the clouds rolled away and the air was the cleanest it’s been in months. Walking outside into the sunshine, I was overcome with familiarity. I can’t pin point what exactly was so familiar, or which particular feeling it brought back, but it was enough to remind myself, I’ve been here, I’ve done this, I can do it.

Last night I passed by the Cornish, which by the way I hate this nickname for the patio, where some acquaintances were set up with wine and cheese. They brought out plates, silverware, even a table dressing to enjoy their food, drink and time. We joined them, and the conversation quickly turned into plans for a “reunion”. I remembered I had had a reunion with my best buds on Party Island. (Is there anything I haven't done here?)

I'm taking tennis lessons. My awesome coach says I'm a natural. I left out the detail that I've had summer lessons for a dozen years of my life and am still pretty much a beginner, but he seems assured I'm picking it up just fine. My cross court shot is almost perfected. My other venture to pass the time is dominos. (I just learned the actual game, not set them up in formation to tip one into the other) Series score currently stands at 1-1.

Forever and A Day

So I’ve been here for 3 full moons now. And it feels like forever and a day. T left on R&R and I really hope she comes back! (No, there’s no reason that she wouldn’t except for vacationing to Tuscany, falling in love and never leaving. My fear. And dream. Ah…the olive oil, Liz) I realize my blogging is not full of as many anecdotes as I’d like, but truthfully I feel like I don’t have much new to say. Life on the NEC (New Embassy Compound) hasn’t changed. And work wise, if you look at this blog from last October I’m doing something comparatively less exciting now.

But here are the highlights of this week:
1. I finagled a hot water kettle, and can now have tea in my room.

All of the SDA apartments come with a fully loaded kitchen, dining area, couch, loveseat and full bath, but the Embassy has separated contractors and cordoned them off to the East End. The 8 barracks here are windowless, two story efficiency apartments. Mine is wet, aka, I have my own bathroom, and you can see the pictures, it’s nothing to complain about. But, I did want a blender (to mix my Zuddha shakes) and a hot water kettle for hot lemon water, tea & instant mac & cheese (to balance the cleansing, of course).

I put a simple request for a blender and was denied! I put in a request for a hot water kettle and I was denied! I put in a request for a loveseat and I was denied! Denied! De-NIED! Deee-Niiiied!

State employees & the Third Country Nationals (TCNs-that come here to do warehouse and administrative work for a third of US direct hire & contractor salary) to the Dept live in an SDA and have an infinite amount of furniture, kitchen utensils, and all other appliances at their request, but the State Department will not support the East End for simple amenities. Hmpff!

But, I got a blender, and a hotwater kettle, and an extra easy chair. I can’t tell you how, but it was a highlight of the week--and breakfast, since I’m starting each day with a Magic Mushroom Smoothie and evening, as I’m sipping chamomile, writing to you and reading before bed.

Yes, it’s the little things.

2. I dined at Giolli’s, the new 4-star Italian restaurant –opening soon- in the IZ.

It was delicious!!! This is so tacky, but I will tell you (no friends here, remember T is on R&R) the bill for three of us totaled over $300. It’s a $52 price-fixed menu, yes I know, more than the OG but it’s the new-not-even-opened-yet-4-star-restaurant-in-the-IZ I had to try it because I have to do everything there is to do.

The food was amazing-save the veil-there were moments that I found myself lost from the conversation because the bite in my mouth was so savory I couldn’t think about anything else until I swallowed and washed it down with a sip of Italian red. The rumor is the restaurant will have a 17,000 bottle wine cellar before the grand opening. The wine was ooo-la-laa-amazing.

Now the veil was the fourth course, and the gentlemen I dined with finished theirs, but when the cameriere recited the menu for the evening, all our mouths began salivating thinking of veil in a something, something reduction sauce with capers served alongside….so we were all reminding each other to save a little room after the antipasti (with fresh cheese, cured meat, arugala, mushrooms, eggplant lasagna and bruschetta!), the diced tomato eggplant pasta, savory lamb, and unlimited assorted flat bread basket, olives and multiple dipping sauces. So the veil comes and there are no capers, just small purple olives, eh, and the meat is too tough for my taste. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t the best course of the night and it'd been built it up in my mind.

Then for dessert, the tiramasu was one of the top 3 I have ever eaten. I dreamed about it the next afternoon.

The restaurant is clean, modern and tastefully decorated. The walls are painted soft greens and reds, the chandeliers sparkle and rod-iron wall art hangs authentically to decorate the rooms. We took a tour through the downstairs and grassy courtyard which leads to a new guest house/hotel. There are cozy hide-away rooms off the dining areas furnished with plush couches for cocktails and conversation. When this place opens it will be hard to get a table. Not only was the ambiance, musical soundtrack and meal worth every dollar, this is the new IZ, and as Giolli's opens and brings big business it's a tangible victory.

Oh, how did we get reservations? I made them via email earlier in the week, but when we showed up, and no Saad, who I'd been corresponding with, worked at this restaurant. Apparently, and much to my surprise, there is another “new Italian restaurant in Baghdad” which I discovered once we were seated and I texted a friend who was also planning dinner at the Italian restaurant, I’M DOWNSTAIRS and received a reply THERE ARE NO STAIRS IN THIS PLACE!

I made a reservation at another “new Italian restaurant in Baghdad” outside of the IZ. But not realizing there could possibly be two, I was so adamant with the maitre d' that I had been emailing through the week and had even received an email two hours earlier confirming our reservation, that we had in fact reservations, they apologetically, albeit confused, led us to our table. Later we laughed and toasted to the power of the bluff.

3. And I met an Ethiopian. Though I’m embarrassed to say, all could think about was Starvin’ Marvin. It was so sad. A seemingly nice guy, and I could barely keep from laughing at loud at the South Park episodes engraved in my mind. I had to practice all my self-control not to go on a South Park montage in my mind.

As my flow of consciousness continued I couldn’t help but think of the cultural norms that shape our personalities, morals and ideals in the West. And how much more conservative is the side of the world I live on now. Would we have a difference culture if we didn’t have shows such as South Park?

Then the Ethiopian asked if I missed home, and I didn’t hesitate to say yes. The table, 3 of us eating fruit as a mid-afternoon snack, seemed to all lull a moment at the thought of home. And then E added, but it’s winter, so at least you are not missing the cold, and I said, well I live in California. Both of my comrades dropped their fruit and their jaws as they ooooh-ed & awwww-ed. Ah, California.

I miss it a little. mmmmmKAY

Packer Way

This week marked my last day in the Consular Affairs section. I’ve moved into Classified space and am officially now, the Deputy Knowledge Management Coordinator. My two big portfolio pieces are SharePoint training (heard of it?) and getting the Embassy trained and utilizing a new contact management database.

I will conduct a lot of computer training classes, as well as develop and chair a policy committee for standard operating procedures, policies and guidelines for the contact database system moving forward. I led my first training today, and my second will be tomorrow. I didn’t notice any of my 3 pupils eyes glazing over, & wrapped training in exactly the hour slated, so far so good!

Also notable is that my supervisor, the Knowledge Management Coordinator, is awesome. A real go-getter; energetic, organized, smart and happy to have me in the office—which feels great.

A sweet, satin care package arrived in the mail with the September’s Vogue. Immediately my eye starting twitching and I wanted to come home to shop, buy and wear my winter wardrobe, but alas, I will settle for the PX. (I pass by every-other-day and buy a greeting card or pack of gum to satiate my shopping fixation) The one item I don’t need is gum: if I gave up eating I couldn’t finish all the packs on my shelf and scattered between purses. It’s the little things isn’t it?


IZ Shots

Oh, today I thought I’d just take a drive around the IZ. What do you think of my new ride? It’s hot—no freakin AC, but I can drive where I please.

And my body guards.

My new friend Em is out of the IZ tomorrow. It’s that time of year when you meet a kindred spirit and their tour is finished way before yours. Oh yeah, I accepted a promotion.

I start on Sunday and will be here…’til February-ish. My new position is assisting in creating a historical record of the war. The office is Knowledge Management Transistion, and I am the Deputy Knowledge Management Coordinator. I manage knowledge isn't this awesome? Who else would the Ambassador have wanted, right?

9.11.11


I did remember.
I just didn’t blog about it yet. Twas waiting for the pictures….so now I will tell you that at 12:01 on 9.11.11 two friends and I flew y’all some flags over the Embassy. It was dark, quiet, cool and breezy and that cool breeze stood the hairs up on my arms each time the flag hit the top of the pole and service members surrounding us saluted.

10 years ago I was sitting in Dr. MacManus’s state and local politics class at USF. It was a 9AM class, so by 8:50 when I was trekking across campus, I had no idea what had happened. As class wrapped, I checked my cell phone to 4 or 5 missed calls from friends who were panicking for their family who worked in the Twin towers.

We grouped at my Holly Apt and glued to the TV waiting and watching the glaring imagines of the plane strikes in NYC, and the 2nd town crumbling to the ground. And I remembered my mom had scheduled a Washington DC field trip that day! As the news of plane crash in PA rolled across the tv screen, I thought of my sister in Lancaster, and we sat in shock. We listened to DMB, just waiting until the phone lines cleared enough to reach our parents and relatives and get the confirmation that everything was ok.

My friend Alison was in panic mode longer than anyone, when her cousin was called in to the ER hours later. Two men had been found face down, one wallet between them. One was dead, one was in critical condition and her cousin was called into identify her husband. Thankfully, her husband turned out to be the man in critical condition and he survived, the man lying next to him, a stranger, dead.

Later that afternoon we met other sorority sisters in front of Cooper Hall where news reporters where now camped interviewing students because of Professor Al-Arian, a USF religious studies staff member who was charged with training the terrorists how to fly--in Tampa.

The rest of the afternoon we took cover in a friend’s off-campus apartment, wondering if MacDill AFB would be another target.


As we flew the flags, my friends and I exchanged stories of where we were, and who we were with. Mike, the muscles in the flag flying operation is a New Yorker, he was the solemnest of our group, but it was touching to share the anniversary with a friend so closely affected.

And then the day went on, without any IDF, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I stayed with T, just to be with a friend, and while there was no IDF, I returned to my room to find that the sewage system had exploded overnight. Thank the good Lord I was not in my room for that!!!

I can happily report that I lived another 9.11 unscathed. I love you all for your thoughts, encouragement and prayers.

On Saturday, the last of my boxes arrived, Ahamdillallah (God’s good!), and inside was my Sonicare sonicare toothbrush charger! Dynamic cleaning action is back!

The 1st week I was here I had only about 15 seconds of juice in my brush, and for the past 2 weeks I’ve been manually brushing—as if I’d gone back to the stone age. Last night I got a powerful 3-minute teeth cleaning and it really made me smile!

This weekend went too fast. And now I’ve been back in the ‘ol Iraqi one month. One month down, one to go. There has been talk of promotion this past week, which would mean a slight extension, but I haven’t signed on any dotted lines yet. Insha’Allah.

Friday night I went to a pig roast, which at the 11th hour was demoted to a chicken BBQ in order to adhere to cultural sensitivities at an NGO inside the IZ. I knew a few people and met a few more, but it was boring. Everything is the same here, but the people are much less interesting.

On Saturday I skipped off campus across the street to see Tom, we commiserated about how much we miss Tampa and normal life and then proceeded to take out our stress chipping golf balls off the roof of the former Baath party headquarters. And I continued to self-medicate by shopping in the haji shops.


(this is the building we were on traipsing on the roof of)




But the real highlight was brunch. Baked eggs in a vodka tomato sauce.
Oh.my.gooood-ness. So Savory. And this meal moves into the top 3 that I’ve ever had in Baghdad.

The recipe came from Smitten Kitchen http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/09/eggs-in-tomato-sauce-contest-winners/ And while we added zatar-a Lebanese spice with our bread, salad and olives, and vodka in the sauce (hey, it’s the weekend) the outcome was similarly scrumptious. I suggest you try yourself when you need a weekend pick-me-up meal better than you will buy in a restaurant.

Labor Day

Best news of the past three weeks! A Zuddha cleanse arrived! T & I start Sunday, and I’m so looking forward to getting rid of the toxins that have accumulated over summer.

What toxins? Besides the DFAT, (T's clever nickname for the DFAC, short for the Dining FACility) which try as I might to stick to the salad bar and healthy choice line, I could not avoid the tortellini…3 meals in a row; the UK Embassy has been notoriously entertaining. We made it over for a Skool Disco party, where the attire was school uniforms.

I returned later that weekend for a jazz performance by the LIGHTNING JAZZ PROJECT, where Moet bottles were popping!

It was a great performance.

Then, as a former “Whisky Chick” I was invited to a whisky tasting here at our Embassy. Neil taught a group of about 18 the difference between the Islay, Highland and Speyside whiskeys through a series of tasting.

I had two favorites by the end.





I’ve been laying low the past week, enjoying two days totally off over Labor Day weekend. I made it to the “beach” which is code for the pool here.






Here are some pictures of my trip out, hotel in Amman;
morning after Iftaar feast, poolside; Starbucks at Queen Alia Airport (AMM); and me in my PPE gear (and shirt from Martina, thanks girl :o) traveling from BIAP-Baghdad International Airport-into the IZ.

Home sweet home

I was tempted to get homesick today. Talking on the phone with my mom I got a little emotional, but managed to pull it together before putting a huge damper on her day (I hope). I’m sure it’s just all the dust….

Right as I hung up with my mom, Joel Osteen’s encouraging email of the day came through. The word was: For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

I got encouraged. I am back in Iraq for another pivotal time in world history. Are you seeing in the papers the notice of troop withdrawal the president had intended for the end of this year? It’s all in negotiation: the exact draw down date and what that will mean for the intense amount of support the US government and military have functioning here 24/7; it’s all happening here.

By the end of the evening, I was counting my blessings with T as we walked together. I am so grateful for all the support and encouragement I’m receiving from family, friends and former colleagues. Even leaving at a moments notice, my boss in LA wished me well. With love, support and prayer, what more could a girl ask for?

Still, there’s no place like home.







Though you may find it equally hysterical that my home away from home address is at the corner of Pennsylvania Ave and Hollywood Blvd, like some paradoxical intersection of former seasons of my life.





Below are pictures of my humble abode.



The Simple Life

It was one week ago today I re-arrived to Baghdad. Feels like it’s been much longer, because it’s the same old, same old.

Crossing paths with a familiar face, there is a pause, gasp, reaction, “You’re back!” warm embrace, familiarities exchanged. And I’m walking away with this surreal neutrality that not much has changed.

I wake up, head straight to work.

The first 3 days I woke up early, showered, dusted on light makeup and instantly wondered why I’d spent so much time, when in my 8 minute walk I was melting, beginning to sweat and covered in a light layer of dust. So, by day 4, my routine is popping up out of bed in time to brush my teeth and walk to the bus stop.

From here I ride the shuttle to the entrance of the redzone and escort the Iraqis who have appointments to the US Embassy Consular waiting room as they begin their immigration visa or passport process. Later in the morning and early afternoon I escort them back off the Embassy grounds, and ride the shuttle back with them as they exit the green zone.

<< Ooooph >> as I type, the sinking sound of the earth swallowing itself echoes in the distance. I live in the “East End” apartments now, and the Duck & Cover alarm isn’t activated, so there is no annoying siren telling me to “duck & cover, move away from the windows, take cover and await further instruction.” In a way, it’s nice not to be alarmed.

But back to the simple life. The DFAC (dining facility) hours have not changed. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served like clockwork. Baghdaddy’s the Embassy bar is open for business on Thursdays and a more low-key Friday night. Saturdays the Embassy is lazy is a quiet, and Green Bean Coffee is open for a casual cup of joe. Sundays, the wine club meets. And intermixed of course, each outside entity has staked claim to various nights of the month for LaDiEs NiGHtS and themed parties.

Skool Disco is coming up at the UK Embassy, and I have the perfect outfit. Try as I might to avoid any social scene, there is not much going on besides the who’s who and what’s what at all the locations you have to know someone to get in to. And, yes, it feels nice to have my name on the list. So I participate :o)

Oh, by the way, we’ve gotten the “All clear. All clear. All clear” so not to worry. (I can hear the intercom vaguely from outside.) (Now, if I can hear a speaker through cement, do you think my living structure is securely hardened? Insha’Allah)

It’s a simple life. Minus the threat of loss of life, the routine is predictable. (And how ironic that in my early summation a rocket has landed somewhere nearby.) Amidst constant change, predictability really fosters a routine. And when you have a few thousand people on the same routine, it becomes a rather simple life.

Life is Good Today

Tonight, hanging low in the eastern sky, in the soft yellow glow I saw the man in the moon. Yes, it seems like there are men everywhere!

I had dinner tonight with a pretty amazing man though, my sorority sister, Melissa’s husband.

It was so nice to see a familiar face, and laugh about the monotony of DFAC food & how it all tastes the same. After we ate, we sat outside the promenade in front of the PX. There were a few groups enjoying BBQs around us, playing some great tunes from Sublime to Sweet Caroline.

When Toes filled the background of our conversation, I interrupted to say, “I like this song.” And Tom said, “I’m forgetting that I’m in Baghdad right now. It’s so normal.” All along the promenade are mist machines, drizzling a cool, refreshing fog amidst the 120° heat. Nothing looks normal, nothing tastes normal, nothing smells normal, but chatting with a familiar face, and good tunes blasting through the iPod carries the fa├žade of normalcy.

Speaking of smells, I started my first day of work today. I’m working at the Embassy in the Consular Affairs section escorting Iraqis through the visa application process at the Embassy. It’s much different from my last job here where I ran around, graciously, like a chicken with my head cut off throwing parties, receptions, and greeting the Government of Iraq (GOI). I am working with the people. And it’s not a desk job!

I love it! Yes, it’s hot, but the hours are good, and I will be speaking Arabic in no time, I am sure of it. (I practiced my numbers counting out loud and got all the way to 8 today…)

But, back to the smells.

When I touched down at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) on Sunday, the heat wasn’t the first thing I noticed; it was the smell. The dusty air carries tobacco from chain smoking and hooka mixed with the sweet smell of chai and body oder. Put all this on a shuttle bus, add 30 people, children, and the dousing of cheap cologne and perfume, and you’ve got the worst part of my job.

Tonight at the gym, I brainstormed that I would carry a sack of lavender with me, and tap into an anchor and calming scent…not sure if that will clash with all the other aromas or not, I was also thinking, maybe febreze and I could spray down the seats on the bus. I passed by the PX yesterday afternoon, and wanted a nice scent to spray around my room. Sometimes the array of choices in the scent department gets overwhelming, but my eyes fell on a spray bottle of “lavender, vanilla + comfort” and I was sold.

Do you know what comfort smells like?

I can’t describe the scent, but sitting in a familiar place with a familiar face tonight was comforting. Even on the other side of the world, it’s a priceless piece of normalcy that is strength.

So day 1 of my role in Operation New Hope is good today (thanks for singing it Zac Brown Band: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWcr4Sa4LKk&NR=1

Yee Haw

I flew into Baghdad today and have arrived to the Embassy safe and sound.

I have stories from the trip that I will post soon, but until then, wanted to spread the word that AAaalll izzzz weeellllll (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1q6wz_eTDBU&feature=fvst)