Iraq: Skimmed Living

My parents keep complaining that I leave out a lot of details of what my life is like out here.  To tell the truth, I have been hesitant to go full disclosure because I don’t want to depress anyone or – God forbid – attract their pity.  But I will open up a bit, as requested.

I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty tough.  I mean, the WiFi absolutely sucks.  Back in the States it is so easy to take for granted fast broadband speed.  But out here it’s… bad.  I mean, imagine if you had to wait five hours to download the latest episode of the Daily Show.  FIVE HOURS.  Are you kidding me?  Each episode is only like 320mb, maybe 370mb tops if the interview runs long.  I’m pretty sure I could get it faster by manually blinking the binary.

But the main resolution I made on New Year’s was to smile more, and I’m sticking with it.  So with a beaming grin I bring you news of the greatest thing to happen to me this decade:



Now, let me take a breath and backtrack a bit.

I was feeling a little bummed on my birthday.  Twenty three years old and what do I have to show for it?  A great group of friends, loving family, Guinness World Record for my teenage exploits in the arctic… some might be happy with that, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was still something missing.

Let us add to this the fact that my lieutenant bailed to go to a conference at another base that day.  I had hoped to relax and take it easy, knock out a few reports, sip some chai with the Iraqis, and call it quits by supper.   But by 9 am I was juggling multiple requests for information from the command staff, putting analytical product after analytical product on the backburner as officers dropped more things in my lap… I was eating at my computer but drinking through a firehose.  I try to tune out to Leonard Cohen or Iron & Wine while I work to zen the office bustle, but I was forced to switch to metronymic techno for the sake of an efficiently paced battle rhythm.

In short, I was working way more than I intended.  I mentally checked out of this country sometime in mid-November; around then I pledged to not to work more than 8 hours a day because, frankly, it’s just not worth it.  We’re in the fourth quarter and Muqtada al-Sadr just intercepted General Austin’s hopeful hail mary.  All we can do now is let the clock run out on the inevitable. But I digress.

The 8-hour-workday was the first New Year’s Resolution I broke, but not the last.  Which is especially sad because I kept my other resolutions pretty humble.  Don’t sleep in past noon lasted until 01 January when I woke up at 12:30.  (FAIL.)  Eat healthy gave way when I passed the HoneyBuns that day and couldn’t help myself to not help myself.  (SATURATED FAIL.)  Though, come to think of it, I did learn that resolutions and I have no future, thereby upholding my resolution to learn more about myself.  (IRONIC INTROSPECTION FOR THE WIN!)

On the topic of knowledge, I have learned here that one’s competencies are best kept secret.  This device is broken- wait, doesn’t Sergeant M____ know how to fix it? We need another person to drive in our convoy- hey, Sergeant M____’s qualified on the up-armored humvee.  The Colonel wants an in-depth breakdown of sectarian conflicts in the Zafaraniya area and whether or not Sunni/Shia biases will play a role in the ongoing transition to police primacy- Sergeant M____!  And so on.

But back to the skim milk before my smile fades.  My birthday found me working far more than I intended and sleeping way less than my 10 hour ideal.  And I was hungry.  I try to avoid our dining facility for the same reason people don’t vote- the choices are depressing, getting there requires that you get fully dressed, and in the end you’re always disappointed with the outcome.  But, like almost half of our eligible population, still I went.

There, in the Zayn Cola refrigerator (with flagrantly trademark infringing signage) sat a neat little row of pink milk cartons.  I had to do a double take; I hadn’t seen skim milk in months.  Low fat is rare enough that I utter a silent prayer to the CLP (combat logistic patrol, AKA supply) gods whenever I see it.  But here, in front of my eyes, actually honest-to-goodness skim milk.  And not just a box or two- no fewer than thirty or forty adorable little cartons straight off a Kuwaiti elementary school’s lunch line.  I quickly filled my cargo pockets as the skull and crossbones sign on the cooler door, reading “NO MORE THAN TWO DRINKS PER MEAL! NO STORING FOOD OR DRINKS IN YOUR ROOM! NO EXCEPTIONS!”, looked down with impotent rage.

Giving the foreboding flier a broad smile in reply, I couldn’t help but wonder if there’s something to these resolutions after all.

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