Monday, March 29, 2010

A Taste of Iraq

I haven't had the opportunity to eat in a local restaurant or at an Iraqi's house yet, although I hope to before I leave. However, I did get to eat some authentic Iraqi food the past few days. On Thursday, two friends of mine went to an Iraqi restaurant that is off base. They had leftovers and shared them with me. There was shaved lamb, Iraqi pickles, something like pico de gallo, sautéed peppers, a rice dish, and, the staple of any Iraqi meal, pita bread. We made kebabs, aka sandwiches, with all the fixings. Fantastic. One of my friends, Sara, kept tearing off pieces of bread, picking up lamb with them, and then putting hummus on top. Delicious, but she kept giving them to me and pretty soon I was stuffed. Although the DFAC food is good, this was wonderful and a much appreciated change of pace.

I was invited by the same friends to join them for lunch at their office yesterday. Sara is well known for being a fantastic cook. She was born and grew up in Iraq before moving to the US. She started cooking Saturday night and finished about 1pm Sunday. The spread she laid out for the seven of us there was of Thanksgiving proportions. She made leg of lamb plus lamb meet for kebabs. There were two different rice dishes, potato curry with meatballs, tomato and pepper salad, hummus, and, of course, bread. We finished with traditional Iraqi chai (hot tea). This was by far the best meal I've had here. She did all this with only a two-burner hotplate and microwave. Amazing.

So I'm certainly not hurting for good food over here. It's a good thing I'm working out regularly.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Front Lawn

You thought I was joking before when I said I would talk about my front lawn, didn't you? Nope, I even have proof:

Okay, so it would get me kicked out of any homeowners association in America, but at least it is green. So much of this place is brown, gray, or some variation of both of them. There is concrete everywhere, such as the T-walls that are at the top of this picture. People paint their unit symbol or other designs on them just to break up the scenery. So something green, anything green, is worth celebrating. The area around the base is not nearly so brown. We are located in the breadbasket of Iraq. The surrounding area is all farmland. One of the most popular crops in this area is grapes. I've been lucky that I've been able to fly off base in a helicopter, so I've been able to see all the green that surrounds us. Here is an example of what I'm talking about:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dodgeball: A True Old Dog Story

Yesterday we knocked off early from work to spend some team building time hurling rubber balls at each other at high speeds. Or as it is more commonly known, dodgeball. Over 20 of us squared off on a basketball court with about 10 balls. Being a believer of leading by example, I was promptly hit by a ball in the first game, thus making me the first person eliminated. Adding injury to insult, I jammed my thumb when I tried to catch the ball. Thankfully it was on my left hand, so I was able to spend another hour being pummeled and occasionally pummeling someone else (don't worry mom, I didn't hurt anyone). It was a lot of fun and quite the workout.

After the adrenaline started to wear off, I realized my thumb was swelling up and really frickin' hurt. Another guy and I went to the chow hall for dinner. I put together a salad and sat down to eat it. Only one problem: the salad dressing is served in those individual-serving foil packets. Try opening one without using your left thumb. Not so easy, is it? After a couple of minutes of wrestling with it (because I'm too stubborn to ask my buddy for help), I finally got it open just enough to squeeze the dressing out. The time since then has been a lesson in evolution. (Sidebar: I'm a Christian but I believe in evolution. I believe it is God's hand at work.) I now truly appreciate how important opposable thumbs are. I've struggled with getting dressed, reading a book, being a Eucharistic minister (think about wiping the chalice with the purificator), and numerous other mundane tasks. I think working out tomorrow morning is out of the question. At least until my thumb turns back to a normal human color and has most of its former functionality. Despite the thumb, I had a good time at dodgeball and would do it again (once I forget how the rest of my body aches too).

I'll close this entry asking you to remember the Duranso family. Al Duranso--husband, father, and grandfather--passed away recently. The Duransos lived down our street when I was growing up and are related to us on my mom's side of the family. Having lost my dad, I have an idea of what they are experiencing. I also know that I was comforted by the love and support we received from our family and friends. So I ask that you keep the Duransos in your prayers during this difficult time for them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Hope everyone is having/had a wonderful St. Patrick's Day. I myself had a great day. I woke up at 5:10 to join my friends for a 5K run the base was having. Unfortunately I didn't get a t-shirt, but I had a great time anyways. The eight of us who went to the run together went out for breakfast afterward. When I got back to my room, I goofed off for a little bit before going into work late. Nothing special, good or bad, happened at work. At the end of the day, another guy and I did a radio interview with a woman in the Florida Panhandle for a radio station in Iowa. If you figure it out, let me know because I was confused. We had a good time with it. We talked about how the State Department, Army, and Air Force are working together to work with the local Iraqis to make this area better. I look forward to hearing how it turns out. I'll post the link once it's available online. So even though there was no beer (green or otherwise) involved, it was still a very good St. Patty's Day.

For those who didn't see it on my Facebook page, I stole this from Fr. Chuck's blog, the priest at my home parish in Alexandria, VA, and he got it from a mutual friend of ours.

Paddy was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn’t find a parking place. Looking up to heaven he said, ‘Lord take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of me life and give up me Irish Whiskey!’ Miraculously, a parking place appeared. Paddy looked up again and said, ‘Never mind, I found one.’

Monday, March 15, 2010

Holy Cow, Yes It's a New Blog Entry

As my time in Iraq winds down, I thought what do I wish I had done during my time here. I decided it was reading and writing more (I'm feeling pretty good about the amount of arithmetic I've done). So in order to be more prolific (seeing as how I haven't written in almost 2 months, this paragraph already qualifies as "more prolific"), I decided I shouldn't wait to write an epic but instead write shorter pieces more often. Here is hopefully the start of something.

The big news today is I submitted my 2 weeks' notice to the general. No, this doesn't mean I'll spend my remaining time in Iraq kicking back at the pool drinking Mai Tais. Although that may be good preparation if my next assignment is Hawaii. What it means is I told him I need to quit one of the two jobs I've been doing for the past 5 months. I've been stressing lately that I've been messing up times two. If I tried to concentrate on one, the other suffered, and vice versa. So I did poor at both of them. The general told me I could quit the one job when he gave me the second one, so I only have my own stubbornness to blame. The rest of the day went great once I had that load off my shoulders. I also feel a lot better about my remaining time here.

I still plan on writing about the rest of my African trip. If nothing else, it'll be something to remind me when what's left of my memory is gone. Until then, I'll write about deep, introspective topics such as my front lawn. Until next time, cheers!