Saturday, October 30, 2010

No Man Stands Alone, But

I was a tropical island for Halloween.

This helps to prepare me for my first rest & relaxation (I leave in 16 days 5 hours) which will be



Zanzibar! ZANZIBAR.

I've already started taking the e-learning SCUBA diving course.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

After Lunch in Iraq

After lunch, in the kitchen at the office. Dirty dishes stacked in the sink waiting to be washed. Unread e-mails popping up one by one in my email box. The cleaner pulls me aside, points at my deep purple shirt (once was white – dyed with indigo by a friend’s mother in a village in The Gambia), points at her deep purple eye shadow. Next thing I know I’m tossed into a chair and my cheeks are being powdered and blushed – my lips are being stained red – my eyes are purplized. Our wonderful Somali colleague enters the kitchen to kneel and pray in the corner. After he prays, he tells me I look pretty.

Now I am back at my desk, reading my e-mails, and everything is the same. Except my lashes feels heavier with mascara, there’s lipstick marks on my coffee cup, and I’m smiling.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October Monday

Today the weather broke.  It rained all day.  The air dropped, now cold.  It is no longer summer.

Tonight the sky was soft and colorful.  The rains washed all the dust away.  Even the little ticky-tacky houses looked pretty in a way, in the pink light.  I spoke French in my French class and then came home and hung out with housemates for a bit, talking work and nonsense.

And when I finally dragged myself back up to my room this evening, I discovered that not only did our housekeeper (whom we never see, whom I've never met) clean my room and make my bed -- she made me a present.  My small pillow that I've had for ever, for my entire life, long ago lost all its pillow cases....  She sewed me one.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Vacation Day

There is not enough time to write on my web log. There is work SundayMondayTuesday and WednesdayThursday as well as FridaySaturday. Then I fall into bed exhausted. Sometimes I drink beer with colleagues. There is not time to write and not time to read.

Two weeks ago I took one weekend day off and we went up north into the countryside. We went to a 20-foot waterfall that may once have been natural but men came and poured down concrete and constructed metal stairs and railings and some of the railings rusted. It is a very popular spot covered by swarming Baghdad tourists. Purple plastic cowboy hats made in China were being sold by vendors along the steps. “They may have made a misstep with all the concrete, but they make up for it with the dangerous lack of rules,” said one of our friends as we scrambled up the algae-covered rocks beneath the hot sun, our feet submerged in the freezing water. At the bottom of the waterfall, beneath a metal framework that held picnic tables, men in white suits with rakes and shovels shoveled and raked silt or something from the stream. Don’t know why.
After that waterfall we went to an amusement park twenty minutes away on curving mountain roads. Because it wasn’t much past noon the sun was hot high up in the sky and no one except the foolish foreigners (us) were at the park. No lines. Rides sitting dead, keys turned switches flipped making motors spin just for us. The amusement park had bumper cars a Ferris wheel a spinning thing (with minimal seatbelts) and a rollercoaster with cars that you drive yourself – push the lever forward to go and back to brake. The rollercoaster cars circled on tracks dipping down through the mountain.

As we were leaving the buses pulled in. The sun was lower in the sky and the tourists from Baghdad had left the waterfall and were ready for a night of adrenalin in little steel cars.  

On the way back to Erbil we stopped at a second waterfall. This one is commemorated on the back of the 5,000 dinar bill. On the back of the bill it rushes powerful flooding water in the middle of wilderness. In real life there is concrete concrete and more concrete. In the pool beneath the waterfall plastic blow-up rowboats are rented (5,000 dinars a pop) and you slip out of your shoes and climb into one of the boats – oh a far cry from my Ndege-Samaki – in your long pants, long-sleeved shirt, the ends of your head wrap (if you wear one) dipping into the pool as your companion in the boat tries his best to row you beneath the freezing rush of water.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dreams and Schemes and Circus Crowds

Last weekend we went to the circus.
(As one does on Sunday nights in Iraq.)
There used to be a lion but they left the poor dear out in his cage in the July Iraq sun without water.
So no more lion.
There were still cats and a snake and two tiny hairless dogs.
But mainly there were acrobats and tightrope walkers and clowns and one amazing magician.
Which is the best kind of circus, anyway.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


This morning we awoke to a world blanketed in a fine layer of dust. It’s not as romantic as the first snowfall in November, but it was a change, at least, from concrete-concrete-concrete and cars.

Sandstorms here, when they come, are not accompanied by howling winds, gusts, mini-tornados. One of our colleagues was out late last night at the circus with one of our drivers and his two little girls. Our colleague told us. When the sandstorm came just suddenly everything was hazy – the moon was fuzzy and big – the sky and the concrete earth were the same color dark – and visibility was nill.

It just dropped on us as if from nowhere.

It’s not like Darfur – it’s not like Chad – my colleagues said. I once saw part of a sandstorm in Cairo but was protected by the mammoth city.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Somehow it’s the weekend again. I'm not sure quite how that happened, or how it didn't happen earlier. This does not mean no work. (There is oh so much work.) It doesn’t even mean no office. But it does mean sleeping in a bit.

It also means a morning walk through the park across the street where dozens of weddings are being celebrated and women in white gowns pose for photographs and children in traditional Kurdish outfits chase each other up ladders and down slides.

And it means a night out at the big ex-pat bar where you’re threatened to be tossed in the green pool if you don’t join in on the round of tequila shots being passed around, so you lick the salt, dump the Cuervo on the ground, suck on the lemon, make a face in pretend – and stay dry.

It means crouching down by cars in the gated community we live in to see the little kittens hiding by a tire.

It means swan boats and go-karts and sitting around chatting with friends, snacking on pistachio nuts that taste like Christmas Eve cocktail parties.

Well. That's all what it meant last weekend. This weekend it means working.