Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Travels in Iraq

Today I was granted a temporary pardon from my cell to experience what life was beyond the wire. A little apprehensive about what lie ahead I prepared myself for the worst, (which I seem to be good at) and joined my comrades for the day’s travels.

Our mission was to first go to two FOBS’ for material and the return one of our soldiers who had come to visit us for a short time. As we left the gate I began to absorb what life spread before me. As I had said before, the land somewhat resembles the Gulf coast with its palm trees and brackish water. Most of the homes I saw were of mud brick and stucco, almost like those you would see in the southwestern United States. There were some more modern structures that were in disrepair but pretty much the same building materials. Arched entryways beckoned one to enter into seemingly innocent structures surrounded by brick walls and iron work. A plethora of shanties built from whatever was available and the traditional tents of the nomadic tribes that dot the lands as they move from one area to another to graze their sheep, goats and cattle.

The land in some areas was open plains crisscrossed with hastily dug canals to divert the water to raise crops of herbs, spinach, clover, thick stalked onions and a type of lettuce. Some areas were being prepared for the planting of corn and cotton. The water table being just a few feet underground makes it possible to grow various types of produce, yet when the standing water evaporates it leaves behind snowy patches of salt. After so much accumulation the farmers must move their fields until the salt can be removed or naturally taken away and nutrients replenish the ground.

Livestock was typically sheep, goats and cattle. They would be herded to areas of grass which grow plenty in this area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, the cradle of civilization. Along the way I noted poultry and ducks, and even some very large turkeys. I noticed one that must have stood at least three feet tall. Thanksgiving may have some fresh bird instead of processed and canned meat by product.

As we ventured further east the palms went from patches to groves. The grass became a vibrant green between channels of water that sprouted cattails that stood over ten feet tall. The highways are somewhat traditional four lane highways that are in somewhat a state of decent repair and heavily traveled. As we move down the avenues cars pull to the sides of the road to let us pass. Those who do not are flashed with headlights and gestured to pull over. When that does not work the turret gunner usually has an ample supply of rocks to get the attention of the drivers who then promptly move aside. Due to IED’s the convoys travel down the direct center of the road to give maximum distance from the sides of the roads, pretty much road hogs.

My attention was directed to large earthen hills that were built by Saddam in the four cardinal directions surrounding Babylon. I saw one large hill that was incomplete (the East hill) and the South hill that a beautiful Palace was perched atop. Saddam was to have a palace in each direction of Babylon and connected to the ancient city by tram. I was unable to view the city in which God struck down the tower of Babel and the people were punished by talking several languages. I hope to be able to make this trip; hopefully I will have a camera by then to give you a glimpse.

Onward south we came to the city of Hilla, which I learned upon returning that a car bomb had killed over 120 people and injured several more right before we came to the city. It was a crowded and heavily traveled city with businesses in almost every crevice that afforded any room to display wares. Cars lined the sides of the roads awaiting fuel stations to open to purchase petrol for their vehicles. I was told that people will wait anywhere from three to four hours to three to four days. There has been a lack of oil products available to the civilian populace since the war. Some people sat on the sides of the roads with gasoline in various containers they had purchased the day before to sell at highly inflated prices. Think about that next time you wait for that one spot at the gas station next time. The streets were crowded with all types of conveyances from cars and trucks to buses and tractors. I was surprised to see a late 70’s model Trans Am parked at what could pass for an apartment building. Trash was strewn about everywhere, buildings were in disrepair but life goes on. People would wave at us and we would return the courtesy. Children would wave to us in hopes of candy and other sweets; unfortunately I had none and felt bad. But in order to satiate them I would have to had a very large truck completely packed with the sweet concoctions.

We arrived safely at FOB Lima and conducted our business and made our way to FOB Duke further southwest. As we drove the landscape turned from palms and grass to desert littered with small tumbleweed scrub and dotted with a hardy grass that the nomadic peoples herd their livestock to graze upon. Great stretches of road led to the horizon miles away into the sky. Tents of nomads dotted the landscape with a few mud brick structures close to clumps of small trees that had found sustenance in the arid desert. Unlike where we are stationed just a few decades of kilometers away the air was dry and warmer. The dust stirred as we whipped from asphalt to dirt roads to reach our destination. After we arrived we met out party we made to lunch. Afterward I browsed the local vendors on post. One had scores of rugs, machine and hand made. I found one beautiful tapestry I would have loved to have purchased that was handmade in Persia. It was made from cashmere and silk, the asking price was $3000. Sweetheart, I am still looking, if I had the money it would be on the way home!!!

Soon thereafter we made to our vehicles to return to our station. The sky advertised signs of rain and soon it began. First the wind whipped up the dirt reducing visibility until the rains forced it back down. The air was chilled and heavier rain started with hail. We were able to make our way out of the storm which was still in its fury lashing the parched land with lighting and thunder that rivaled artillery fire. Soon we were back in the bounty of greenery from which our journey started.

Now back in my bunk I resolve myself to the chores of the oncoming day and hopefully the promise of more peaceful travels of this strangely beautiful and deadly land in which I temporarily reside.

Remember daily what privilege you have been given and never take anything for granted. No matter how bad the day or situation seems, be brave and smile. Against the storm lies the rainbow, hope and promise is always there. Keep a full heart and a welcome smile; you never know when you may be entertaining angles.

God speed and blessings to all

Babe, have a wonderful day and thank you for being such a wonderful and loving friend.

Hello from Hell