April 17, 2007 My dreams have changed. I sleep deeply, but the images are harsher than usual, they’ve got an expressionistic slash that’s not typically there. Last week a suicide bomber attacked a cafeteria in the Green Zone and killed several people. I saw it on CNN and had to turn it off and leave the room. All this back and forth, there are days when I have a hard time keeping track of my own life. Two years in Peace Corps, two years at grad school, one more year in Lithuania, one more year of grad school, three months in San Diego and three months in Malawi. Now out in front of me - 12 months in Baghdad.
June 9, 2007
Flight was delayed out of DC because of thunderstorms. Missed my connection to Jordon, so spending the night in a hotel near the airport in Paris. Feels strange to be in such a renown city before plunging into...
This means that I have to take a commercial flight into Baghdad instead of a military flight. I don’t want to think about it. The last couple days of training in DC we learned how to ram a car out of an ambush and watched too many violent videos of American soldiers being ambushed with IEDs. In the worst, an armored HUMVEE with a top turret slowly rounds a corner on a highway. We're told to watch the concrete divider where a shape charge is hidden. The video plays in super slow motion. The charge goes off and there is a moment between the start of the blast and when it makes contact with the vehicle. It looks like a piece of golden broccoli is growing out the side of the divider. From it's core emerges a bright straight finger of light and plasma that stretches gracefully toward the HUMVEE. The finger passes through the side armor effortlessly and there is a pause while it fills every inch of the interior with its touch. The vehicle bulges out like a balloon expanding and hot liquid begins to squeeze through every joint in the armor and body panels. The top turrent is the only opening so the pressure finds its passage there. A perfectly vertical geyser of plasma erupts straight out of the top. The soldier on the turret gun is lifted skyward. Frame by frame he flies higher into the air like a diver in reverse. He's so far above the HUMVEE I feel vertigo. The body and the flames wrap one another and dance ever further up when the instructor pushed the pause button. He was using the video to illustrate some detail about the dangers of moving by ground in Baghdad. It was too much for me. I put my face down on the table as he cued up more.
26 Ed met his wife in China. He was a Marine she was in Foreign Service admin. They had two sons and a failing marriage. Ed was the responsible parent and it killed him to be away from his sons for a year.
41 B Ugandan private security.
Mr. Lee runs the chowhall for KBR.
May 15, 2008
Another sandstorm hit. It’s completely dusted in again. It’s horrible.
Sandstorms here aren't like the ones in movies. The wind doesn't pick the desert floor up to snap it out like a bull whip. It's more like a surprise sneeze. A little gust of wind and a squint of the eyes is all it takes to raise the deserts’ infinite hills of talcum powder into the atmosphere. Different diffusions of red and brown roll in like fog banks. It’s like being swallowed slowly. How long will take for the billions and trillions of tiny particles, finer than talcum, to find a gentle landing? Last year they only lasted a day. This year, because of the drought in Iraq, they last for days. It sticks to the TV screens. It coats nostrils and sinus cavities with a thick crust. It fills the windshield wipers until they look like they’ll droop like old eyeballs. It fills the carpet, and turns the floor of the shower red. It sticks to the walls. It lays gently across the soap bar. It creeps effortlessly through cracks. It spews through air conditioners. It invisibly grips every thread of the bed sheets waiting with sly joy to crawl onto tired faces. It explores every crevice of the body with grimy curiosity. It creeps through skulls into the consciousness where it smoothers patience and salts imagination. It's in everything. It's everywhere. It creeps and curls and corkscrews and connives its way into every crack and seam in life. It turns the world red.
April 13, 2008
It’s an Amman flight day. They only happen twice a week and most of our incoming people arrive inbound from Amman. On some of these flights we’ll have as many as fifty people to organized and move. The flight came in six hours late. As soon as we got everyone inside the receiving room and seated, the power went out. So I yelled my shpeal in the dark with the jet engines roaring just beyond the doors.
"Hi everyone, I’m the rep from Sully Compound, I’ll give all the civilians a briefing! First thing, please don’t leave this room until you have your I.D. card back. If you leave without your card no one will track you down to return it. If you need a military helicopter, the desk is straight across this hall under the sign that says helicopter desk. There is a DSN and VOIP phone line just outside the door immediately on your left. The bathrooms are out the front of the building, break right on the wooden path. The luggage yard is straight out of the building between the tents, then break hard right and it will be right in front of you. For the shuttle bus that goes to Slayer, Striker and Liberty, continue in the same direction until you hit asphalt. At the corner is a small wooden structure, that’s the bus stop; the bus comes once per hour on the half hour. Are there any DOS, USAID, or Federal affiliates here…"
I picked up a guy who just came in from Kartum, Sudan named Francis. A young guy. I walked him across, and then we took the van back over to pick up his suitcase. In the car I asked him if he had a family:
“Yes, I have a wife and two children. A boy and a girl. And you, do you have a family?
I said, “Nope, no family no wife.”
“And what do you do with the money you make here?” he asked.
“I’m paying off debt. I finished my education a couple years ago, so now I’m paying the loans.”
“Ah, yes. I seeeeee.” “Have you always been a soldier?”
“Oh, no sir, I’m not a soldier. I’m an artist really.”
“Artist is very broad, it’s a very broad term.”
“I’m a filmmaker really.”
“Ok, I see, I seeeee. Can I give you some advice? We are all going to be old some day. We are young now, but we are all going to be old some day. If you have children, when you are old they will take care of you. If you have no children, then when you are old it will be very difficult.”
“I can see that.”
“So you should find a nice girl, one with a good character and after one or two years you should marry her.”
“I’ll definitely think about that.”
When we got back to the compound I showed him how to lock his body armor and helmet together and attached it to his suitcase so no one walks off with it.
88 One of the human tragedies that unfolded daily in Baghdad was the large scale labor abuse. The pipeline that has fed impoverished men from S. Asia into middle eastern petro-nations was tapped to support the logistics in our war. The chain gangs inside our compound were supervised by Air Force cops.
92 This is a Porta John that we rented in case we had a water system emergency and lost our bathrooms. No one used it in the 21 months I was there. I photographed it because it struck me one day that it made more money for a day's labor than the Nepalese men working in our compound. I got the invoice from the service and it made about 30 percent more than a man doing labor for 12 hours a day.
93 All the men paid in the range of $5,000 to get these jobs. Brokers in S. Asia recruit out of the poorest villages. The men put their farms up as collateral to loan sharks who charge %30 on the loan. The bitter irony is that I learned the rules of human trafficking by reading docs off the State Dept and DOJ's website. Our compound was run by the State Dept and DOJ. They all looked the other way.
95 These men were our cleaning crew and worked for the single worst contractor I had contact with: Prime Projects International. They have no idea what the employees names are, they only know them by numbers.
March 1 09
I feel severely sleep deprived. The construction on the hard cover over the trailers has been going all day every day for a couple weeks. It's already loud here but add concrete saws and jackhammers to the airfield noise. Plus I’m trying to sort things out to mail home. I’m absolutely worn out tired.
March 9, 2009
Tonight is a bad dust storm with a little fog and rain mixed in. The rain has lots of dirt in it. I’m desperate to leave. Desperate. A rocket hit an area outside the base. Big one.