Saturday, July 17, 2004

Just Another Day In Baghdad

July 17, 2004

All it takes to remind me where I am is one event. That event occurred this past Wednesday as I was walking to work. It was 0920 and I was off in my own world thinking about what I had to do that day. Maybe I was thinking about home and wishing so much to be there. Perhaps I was complaining to myself about the heat and the lack of air conditioning. In any case, I was in my own little world. Then a huge explosion and consequent shake of the earth brought me back to reality. I don’t run for cover anymore. I barely even miss a beat. All of this violence and danger is commonplace to me now. This particular explosion was very loud and very close so I knew it was going to be bad. I thought I was going to turn the corner and see dead bodies lying everywhere. But as I turned the corner, I only saw a cloud of smoke not too far off in the distance. Then I heard someone on their cell phone say it was a direct hit on the convention center. I got a little nervous because that is where I was heading. I work in the Baghdad Convention Center. I worked the late shift this week and my first thought was that all my battle buddies are in the convention center. My plan was to walk to work but I quickly hopped on the shuttle bus so I could see what was happening. Sure enough, the scene was as I imagined. I couldn’t see any damage to the Convention Center and I didn’t see a lot of chaos. I only saw a Blackhawk hovering overhead and the military police scrambling to make sure everyone was okay. I still didn’t know what the explosion was. As I approached the checkpoint in to the Convention Center, I asked the guards if it was a car bomb and they said yes. I knew immediately there would be many casualties. I was relieved to know the Convention Center was not hit because that meant my battle buddies were okay. The car exploded next to the parking lot of the Convention Center. Shrapnel landed everywhere and the windows in the Convention Center were shattered. Eleven people died, none of them American, all of them Iraqi. All of them were waiting to get in to the heavily guarded Green Zone to either work or work out the details of their lives. Now they are dead.

It’s hard for me to understand this type of random and defenseless violence. It’s even harder for me to imagine that as I was gathering up the things I need to start my day, there was someone out there driving a car loaded with thousands of pounds of explosives preparing to end his life and the lives of others. What is it that makes some human beings volunteer to be a part of something that will better someone’s life, and then less than a mile away, there are human beings who volunteer to be a part of something that will end someone’s life? I will never figure it out.

Moving on now…I have to apologize in advance because I will continually bring up how hot it is. This week it reached 121 degrees. What’s worse is the air conditioning is off in the Convention Center and we are surrounded by very hot equipment that makes it even hotter inside. We have plenty of water but the refrigerators will not keep cool so we end up drinking hot water. No kidding. The water is not just warm, it’s hot. The fans we have just blow hot air in our face so it’s like a hair dryer – which is why we named our work area the ‘Consta-dryer.’ Pretty lame, huh? Yeah, we know but we just go with it.

The big news for me is I bought a bike this week. I ride it to and from work, just as I did when I lived in New York City – some of my very best memories. I bought it from someone for $40. It’s the ugliest bike you can imagine. It’s checkered and has a Circle K reflector light on it. But hey, this is Baghdad, who’s gonna judge me? I love it. Plus, I get to work faster on my bike than I do on the bus, so it’s all good.

Also big for me this week were some interviews I got with Senator John McCain and Senator Tom Daschle. They both called in to the radio station and I was able to interview them live for all the troops to hear. Our technology isn’t perfected but they went well nonetheless. I really feel it’s important for our elected leaders to talk directly to the troops through another soldier and not a high profile television or radio personality. With all that is happening politically, it’s nice for us to hear how proud the American public is of us and for our leaders to reassure us that we will be given all we need to successfully complete the mission. There are a lot of times that we simply feel we are forgotten amidst the political grandstanding. It is something I am trying to do more of – and that’s let the troops know they are not forgotten and they are just as important, if not more important, than the politics of this story.

So, there you go. I didn’t learn a lot of lessons this week but I accomplished a lot and that makes it successful. Plus, I made it through unharmed and I am one week closer to home. I made sure to make people smile, make people laugh, make people appreciate life. I slept, I worked, I laughed, I complained, I accomplished. It was just another week in Baghdad.

With Love,


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