PLEASE EXCUSE MISTAKES – Typing on a screen not much bigger than a postage stamp with a VERY slow internet connection….
So. I made it through my first working day in Iraq. I am sitting shivering under the AC in my porta-cabin bedroom (better than a freight container) in the International Zone in Baghdad. I’m eating chocolate and smoking to keep me awake as I successfully managed to skip a whole nights sleep en route…and still managed a pretty productive, exciting and moving work day. Spending a whole day with a group of Iraqi’s is amazing and I stand by my opinion that I have yet to meet an Iraqi who wasn’t polite, caring, and well…just lovely. Enjoyed a hearty lunch of flat bread, hummus and vegetables amidst lots of laughs. Exchanged war stories with the team who are looking after me – and had a trouble free road trip through the red zone (putting body armour on WAS like riding a bike). More from me later, but for now some pictures and an account of my journey here…written en-route.
ON MY WAY
I am typing this on a rather oversized apple screen in a business class lounge. I feel a sense that a certain number of my lonely privialged travelling companions might be looking over my shoulder, but a have no choice. A Nomadic blogger must be true to her trade and get on with the job in hand. The BC forum recently discussed business class travel – I can say that this experience is so far no different from others – the rooms is full of uptight white men in suits. Me, in my sparkling shalwar kamiz headed east probably puts me in the sore thumb category, but oh well. The most exciting thing about this place is the array of magazines for the taking. I am stuck between The Spectator, Economist and the New Statesmen )which is lurring me on the front page with an Afghan story. I MUST pick up some newspapers for British friends I meet in Baghdad – it’s like an unwritten law, you take papers to people in war zones. Like pencils for school kids in the developing world. By the time I have scopped up the freebies in this airconditioned lougne my carefully packed hand luggage will weigh me down I know it. It is already biting into my shoulder every time I pick it up. I am actually gloating from the fact that I have everything I need for a week in Iraq in hand luggage only. I imagine I may tell a different story this time next week. What strikes me as VERY odd is the last time I entered Iraq (by road from Kuwait three years ago), I wore my desert boots, combat trousers and laboured with a heavy back pack full of essentials. A whistle. Spare water bottles. A compass. No – I wasnät in the military, but I was very serious about spending time on a military base. Talk about overly prepared – spot who took the briefing TOO seriously. Not the best kit for meeting Iraqis I grant you – but luckily (or not) I didn’t meet many of those, so I was well camoflagues amongst my post-conflict non- Iraqi colleagues. This time, after three 8yes three) pinot grigios in the business class lounge, I will take my whitsle and compass free bag on board a business class flight bound for Baghdad. No spiral decent in a Hercules for me. Hopefully I will be taken to the heart of the city and spend the week with Iraqis. No combat trousers in sight. I plan to dress like the woman I am and gte my job done in a way that will inspire, enthuse and share skills. Unfinished busines this. Its the ripple effect, but a good one this time.
So enough, my flight is being called. Enough of this luxury, time to board. I NEED to get sleep. For I have a mere three hours on the ground before I start work. Inshallah the connection will work!
ON MY WAY PART TWO
So the wine worked. I am very drowsy and hoping that the pulsating of this beast of an aircraft and the warmth of its business class belly will lull me to sleep. It’s 20 hours door to door from my English village home to my temporary base in Baghdad. I start work just hours after I arrive, so I NEED to get some rest. Trouble is, I have just clocked that I only have 2 hours and 40 mins left on this leg of the journey. And I still have a swine flu form to fill in (as does everyone, I hasten to add – I am no nomadic carrier). MaybeI have enough time to catch a film and then doze? But they haven’t even delivered my dinner order yet, so not much chance, I think. I think there is a Tom Hanks movie about death row in 1935 called Green something that might tempt me to close my eyes. I will give it a go. Nuts juts arrived. And some coke lite. I am breaking all my rules today. Alcohol, caffeine, gassy drinks – All not good for the aging nomadic digestive system. Still, the bald guy sitting opposite me is qwaffing the wine. His glasses are so thick they look like they are hurting his nose as they rest on it. Big white towelling socks and he starts with fright everytime we hit turbulence. Don’t blame him for the wine.
I am missing my kids terribly at the moment. They have been in Hungary with their dad (who’s GF is part Hungarian), whilst I have been renovating and rehearsing and nursing in France. They are as I write this mid air back toEngland, so our planes may have passed in the sky, sadly I will have to wait a little longer before I see them. The day after I get home, we are having a party to celebrate our wedding (yes, I have sadly left behind my husband of less than three months too AND his two girls who are over from France. Sigh). I did get married in real life, not just on Twitter, so I my juggle with domesticity and Nomadicity is very real. Still, back in the day, I always said that house-wives would do a much better job of clearing up the streets of Basra than young male (foreign) soldiers with guns. So let’s hearing for post-conflict peace building mums.
To absent friend and family. And Tom Hanks. Here we go.
Another airport lounge another country. It is at about this stage that I forget which country I am in. I always think there is little more disrespectful to a place than to merely transit. I am judging this place by it’s tacky chandeliers and leather sofas. And furniture. Lots of furniture. The lounge is rapidly emptying and staff are turning chairs over on table – but at least I have a sofa. Although I’m not the slightest bit tired yet, just as well – I am sure that the constant droning announcements in a foreign language will keep me on my toes. Funny how even though no English is spoken I can still tell than names are being mis-pronounced.
STILL ON MY WAY
Hey-up, I think I have just managed to get connected to the internet on my little notebook. I gave up on the lounge Dells which offered little in English and I couldn’t find the letter i on the keyboard. Ah not so good – I only have 34 minutes remaining in battery life and I don’t hold out my chances of finding a UK plug socket here. Just had a chat with a man heading to Jeddha whos daughter wants to work for the UN. Nice guy – he showed me where the wine glasses where. I always feel uncomfortable helping myself to food and drink in business lounges. I might get used to it though.
Sigh. Manyhours stretch before me. Laptop dwindling. No book to read. Just Private Eye and a pile of papers on media regulation and human rights issues in Iraq. You can only take in so much. Maybe I will set and alarm and try and rest…I did see a sign for a “rest room” but fear they might mean lavatory.
So glad I spoke to my daughter this evening – all bright and bubbly from her holiday, it will be great to be back next week – and Im am sure the adrenaline and excitement of being back in Iraq and having lots of work to do and things to talk about will make it speed by.
PS – The Green Mile film was actually pretty good. Although I missed the ending!
OK, I am delirious with tiredness now. I only have 15 mins left of laptop battery and I have read the evening standard. This vast place has emptied out now and only three flights are showing before mine but its still hours away. I found out that the rest rooms were what looked like three dentists chairs separatedby curtains. Very odd – I didn’t fancy spreading out to sleep in there. Just spotted a couple of contracturs surely headed for Iraq. Sunburnt and shaven headed, burly men with the standard ID POUCH ROUND THIER necks, probably with Operation Iraqi Freedom on it. They think they are being ironic. I suddenly feel overdresses in my outrageously ornate black floaty shalwar covered in gold beads. I fit in VERY well with the decor in here, but how will it be arriving on my own into Baghdad airport? No doubt I will hit a wall of heat.