Third Time Is a Charm
My third time in a police car, I was able to drive. We received a bunch of vehicles for the Iraqi Security Forces that we had to deliver. We had close to 30 vehicles, not including our HMMWVs and truck, to bring back all the drivers. It took most of our company. The convoy was impressive, and although we could not use the sirens or lights, we still got quite the reception from the locals. It must have been a sight seeing all the Iraqi police cars being escorted by military vehicles; on top of that, it was the soldiers driving. At first the kids were not sure about waving. Then they laughed.
Of course there was a catchI ended up getting tied up handing out keys and lining up vehicles, and I did not realize the last car left for me was a "hooptie" police car with manual transmission. Being from Boston with traffic, I had not seen the benefit of having a manual transmission, and my total stick time equated to about 30 minutes in a minivan in Kuwait, about an hour in South Dakota, and a couple hours in my high school parking lot with my then little brothers getting seasick in the back seat.
So here I am in a police car, in Iraq, the 32nd vehicle in a 34 vehicle convoy, locked and loaded for battle and trying to "look good in front of the guys." Don't get me wrong, I paid attention in physics and shop class, I just never developed the patience for the clutch pedal. Aside from stalling once when the convoy bottlenecked in the entrance to our destination and pulling a NASCAR maneuver on a turn where we leapfrogged the "gun trucks" to block traffic, I think I did well.
Life is not too bad on the camp. We have ten man tents with power running in them and most of the comforts of home, except the bathrooms. (I heard a rumor there are work orders to put seat belts in the porta johns. Something about sweating so much at 160 degrees that you slide right off the seat.) Our tents also have fans and A/C. The problem is that the canvas radiates heat. Our electricity is powered by diesel generators that are frequently breaking.
So let's do the math. It is 140 degrees outside, diesel burns at 800+ degrees, and the electrical load on the generators all cause the generators to overheat and shut down. When? The middle of the day, of course. Solution: Don't run the A/C during the day, according to the officers running the camp. That might make sense if you work in an office that is not your tent from 9-5 and can come back to your tent and cool it off in the evening; however, my tent is the office, and we do patrols at all hours of the day and some times sleep during the day. It is amazing how fast your body can produce sweat going from 140 outside to 160 inside a tent. Instant saturation. We are working on a few solutions, like multiple generators that cycle on and off to allow cooling. There are also 18-wheel trailers that are supposed to be full of ice for us to keep water cold on patrol. We were joking about it today: "If the Vermonters disappear, just look in the ice trailers; we will be in there playing cards in T-shirts."
I guess Saddam made the paper recently. Someone took photos of him bathing in his underwear and published a story about it. Well as I mentioned before, everything is related. I am sure the intent of the photos is to contrast Saddam as a dictator to his life now. Unfortunately, many Muslims see this as Americans humiliating Muslims. In addition, the false reports of mishandling of the Qu'ran in Guantanamo and the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses all affect us here. We spend hours trying to gain trust and support of the local people, who have been under a corrupt dictatorship and told lies about Americans, all to be undone by some media spin. I enjoyed having the media representation here last month where we were able to give our personal account of what is going on, but sometimes I question the motivations of the media and hope they understand the impact.
I had very difficult and stressful negotiations the other day. I was trying to work a few angles with the ladies. But I got the cold shoulder and was worn down by relentless requests for goods. We were trying to negotiate the release of soccer balls and toys in exchange for getting the kids to eat granola bars and brush their teeth.
Although it is the most exciting and rewarding thing we do here, it is also one of the more challenging things, trying to constructively hand out toys, food, water, and supplies to the kids in town. It is hard to not get caught up in the moment and lose sight of our security, trying to balance talking (or trying to talk) with the kids, taking pictures, ensuring security, and keeping the kids from climbing in and around the vehicles. It is also sadthe more we give out things, the more they expect us to give things. We have even had boys throw rocks at us when we ran out of things to give. The kids have caused fights over balls, and other kids will run and hide things and come back empty-handed as if they never got anything.
I feel for these people living in such poverty, corruption, and oppression, and now in a period of instability. I wonder if the habits of the kids extend to the adults. I fear we may be creating a welfare state and end up throwing more and more money into the country, only for them to expect more and more. We are trying to reconstruct Iraq, maintain cultural sensitivity, and minimize use of force and collateral damageall under the watchful eye of the media. Unfortunately, if we do the right thing, our presence here goes unnoticed, but if we do the wrong thing, then we end up an international incident via a court martial for a "bad shoot" or via another improvised explosive statistic.
The view here is amazing. The way the tan sand and blue sky contrast each other and being able to see for miles puts things in proportion, reminding me how small we are and how big the earth is. There are no windows to look through. Open air outside and no windows in the tents. Sometimes I lose track of time while I am working in my tent or when we watch movies. Walking out of the tent and stepping back into reality hits you just as bad as the heat. Having to remember where we are and why we are here. I lose track of time because it is the same thing everyday. We may run different missions at different times, but the task and purpose are the same. The days and weeks run together. I find myself intentionally finding ways to break up the day or week by doing something different or changing eating habits, going on more missions than usual, or not sleeping the same hours.
In fact, the only window I have to look through is on my laptop. My "digital looking glass" helps keep me in touch with the "real world." I am really not fond of the phones here, maybe because of the satellite delay, but I think I am afraid someone will hear loneliness in my voice. So I rely on my laptop to stay connected. Listening to music, watching movies, or even writing email and stories helps pass the time. Being able to reach across time and space instantly through email and instant message reminds me of how small the earth is, going "through the looking glass" to touch people back home.posted by Scott | 20:43 Baghdad time | © 6.06.2005
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Feedback from readers: 1
nice to see your weblog.i,m a physician from iran.would u send me more photos from iraq and its people?