January 5, 2007
A NEW YEAR IN IRAQ
So the holidays have come and gone, and I am still here in Iraq. Still no vacations, still working. It was a busy time for us journalists, because there were so many events, celebrities, and surprise VIP visits. Over the holidays we had Carrie Underwood, The Sgt. Maj. of the Army Tour, and some of the former Chicago Bears visit us here.
The post employees did their best again to make the holidays as cheerful as possible and reminiscent of home. It is a little humorous seeing our foreign employees from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines try their best to decorate in the way they think Americans do, but they did a great job. There was one point when I walked into our Morale center, and had to just stop and be very still for a few minutes while I took in the sight of three elaborately decked-out Christmas trees. For a minute I had no idea I was in Iraq, I really thought I was in the States at a mall somewhere Christmas shopping. There sure is something about sparkly lights…
The decorations, lights and Christmas trees were out in full force - I even had (still have) a mini fake Christmas tree on my desk that some troop-supporting organization sent to us. All of the dining facilities have competitions against each other for the best decorations and food, so you know that you are going to get treated right on the holidays. The menu for Christmas dinner was quite the same as Thanksgiving, but this time Santa was in each chow hall spreading some cheer.
My unit had a nice little Christmas party on Christmas Eve which was really a lot of fun. We sang, played games and opened presents that our Family Readiness Group (basically all of my unit’s family members at home who talk to each other and organize things for us) sent over. I fell asleep that night watching “White Christmas” - you know, the old one with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Then in the morning, my roommate and I opened some presents sent by our families. Overall, I would say that Christmas this year was pretty normal, minus the location and the lack of family … but family is what you make it - I consider the people I live and work with my family for now.
The day after Christmas I got to go on a convoy into a nearby town where some school supplies were handed out - we do a lot of that here every week. Our soldiers do patrols and approach townspeople and leaders about what they are lacking in the town, and how assistance can be lent. If leaders are willing to cooperate, we will initiate projects such as improving schools (building additions, extra rooms, etc.), pouring concrete, creating/improving a water treatment plant, and helping out with electricity. These are jobs that are to be contracted out to local workers, providing jobs and boosting the local economy. So in essence, we are improving the surrounding areas of this base, but not with our own hands, with the hands of the townspeople themselves … just giving them a little boost.
Again, I love going out to these local towns. I am always shocked and amazed at how beautiful the land just outside this base is. The land is mainly for farming here, and although the people live in virtual squalor, it is beautiful to me. The fields, the vineyards with their twisted vines, mud huts with thatched roofs, and children running barefoot with dirt smeared on their cheeks and matted hair - it is amazing. The colors are so vibrant out there. Not just the colors of the land, but the colors of the people - little girls run from one side of the street to another, and all you see is a flash of bright orange of their ankle-length garments, and a glint of gold against their tan skin as their dangling earrings sparkle in the sunlight. It really is a sight to see.
A week later was New Year’s, and it passed with much less panache than Christmas. Although I had the day off from working, I had to work at night, taking photos of some of the festivities around the base. It wasn’t that great, and towards the end of the evening, I was quite tired and wishing I could ring in the new year asleep in my bed. Basically I was taking photos at a dance party, and there wasn’t anything really New Year’s about it, but it was ok.
Waking up to 2007 was a strange feeling. I have a feeling of loss; that I’ve lost a year of my life. At the same time, I know that I am doing something worthwhile here - at least that is what I hope. On the other hand, the fact that a year has passed makes me realize that I’m not that far from actually going home…something I keep in the back of my mind daily.
Happy New Year!