Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Home Again

It's so good to be home again! The trip back had its stresses and strains, but it's over with. I'm back with all my three wimmin-folk - Janis and our two dogs, Soozee and Indy.

For a while there, though, I didn't think I'd make it. Just after writing the "Sittin' at Sather" post, I tootled over to the passenger terminal for check-in. The guy asked me for my orders and passport, which I handed over to him. "These aren't your orders. I need your originals."

What? They certainly were the orders, written up by the admin unit, telling me to go back to Washington, and when, along with all the accounting data.

"Nope. I need your original orders. The ones that ordered you to Iraq."

Oh shit. I don't have those. They're in my room. Which is locked. And back at the NEC. Meaning there is no way to get back to the NEC, get the orders, and back out to the airport today. "Well, final call will be in two and a half hours. If you get the orders by then, you can fly."

I hightailed it back over to the Sully compound and got on the computer. Nope, I didn't have the orders stashed anywhere in my Yahoo email files. I called my office and they dug through my computer files. Nope, not there, either. One of my officemates headed over to the NEC to see if she could get the guy at the front desk to let her into my room. Another contacted our Human Resources office, but they were in a meeting.

Meanwhile, time was ticking away and there wasn't anything else I could do except wait. I paced back and forth outside, cell phone in hand, trying to will it to ring with good news. I got on the internet in pursuit of futile hairbrained ideas. I tried to call various offices at the Embassy to no avail. I tried to come up with alternative plans. I tried to come up with a way to explain it all to Janis.

Finally the phone rang. One of my officemates had just emailed me a copy of my orders, which he got from the HR office that had been in a meeting. I raced back to the computer and it hadn't arrived yet, so I sat there punching the "check mail" button every 10 seconds until it appeared. Then I printed off several copies and took off for the passenger terminal. I got there with five minutes to spare. "Yep, these are good. You're on the flight."

I was so keyed up that it was impossible to sit down and relax. We were called up for processing a few minutes later, which really meant that we passed through the metal detectors and into another waiting room for for another half-hour wait. Then we were marched out to the C-17. After getting settled and watching several pallets of stuff get loaded on, we taxied out and took off. We were on our way! I finally relaxed.

The flight to Kuwait took about an hour. We were marched over to the passenger processing center, which consists of two very large tents filled with desks for processing the various types of people who come through there. State Department, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, AAFES, civilian, DoD contractor, you name it, there's a desk in there somewhere for them. Then on to another equally large tent next door for more processing. And more waiting. Then those of us who were State Department people were bundled into a Suburban and driven over to a hotel at the civilian airport.

The drive took maybe a half hour, but it was almost culture shock for me. In comparison to Iraq, Kuwait is a bustling modern economy. They had streetlights that actually worked. Electricity. Except for the gates to the base, there weren't any guardposts. The roads were smooth and in good condition. You didn't have to keep an eye on the guy in the next car to see if he was armed or maybe a suicide bomber. No T-walls. No concertina wire. There were department stores that were open and filled with stuff. Gas stations. When we walked into the hotel, I just started laughing because it was so ... normal. Which, at that time, was extraordinary.

I got with another guy who was heading home and we went to one of the restaurants in the hotel. It was an American-style steakhouse. We had some outstanding steaks served up by some very cute Korean girls dressed up as American cowgirls: tight jeans, red/white checked shirts, boots, and cowboy hats. Quite a hoot.

Later we all piled into another Suburban (they like Suburbans over there) and were driven to the airport. We must've been screened four times before we finally got on the plane. I was caught trying to smuggle a pair of manicure scissors into the United States. I'm such a terrorist. We took off a bit late, sometime well after 1 am Kuwaiti time, for the 13-hour flight to Dulles. I dozed some of the way ... "sleep" for me is impossible on an airplane ... read a book, walked around, and tried to doze some more.

Finally we landed at Dulles early in the morning. I went in to the State Department for a consultation meeting, which fortunately didn't take long. Then, with time to kill, I went over to my favorite place in all of Washington: the National Gallery of Art, to get a good art fix. In the afternoon, I made my way back out to Dulles. I caught my flight to Charlotte, changed planes, and finally arrived in Asheville about 8:30 at night. Janis was waiting for me at the gate. I can't tell you how good it was to see her again! We drove home and our two little dogs, Soozee and Indy, about had a conniption fit when I walked in the door. I was finally home - 40 hours after leaving Baghdad.

There's more to post. I have some sketches and some thoughts about Iraq and other stuff, but enough's enough for now. It's great to be home, even if it is only for two weeks. Then it'll be back to the grind again for another few months. But I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for the extraordinary efforts of my officemates back in Baghdad. I'm greatly in their debt.

It's dinner time now ... and it's NOT at the DFAC!

2 comments:

  1. Did you guys stop in Ireland or Germany?
    I think that Shannon was the better stop off.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, Kuwait makes the good old U.S. seem, well, kind of poor, doesn't it?

    ReplyDelete