I got to watch two sunrises yesterday — one in Massachusetts and one in the Middle East. From Boston to London I watched Avatar (for the first time — it’s not exactly a powerful experience on a four inch screen) and Salt, and I completely missed the day. By the time we landed in London it was 7 p.m. and completely dark.
I searched around for a power plug in Heathrow, which I found, but I nearly missed my flight because I was more worried about power than planes.
That was another six hour flight, not nearly as cush as the one from Boston. I spent it sleeping poorly and trying to watch the Town, about the place I’d left that morning.
I landed in Kuwait City at 6 a.m., 10 p.m. back home, and watched the sun rise over the haze. It wasn’t warm. I needed a sweater under my jacket as I waited for the shuttle to Ali Al Salem air base.
I missed the military check in station inside the airport, so I stood outside on the street corner where the locals said the shuttle stopped. I was out there about three hours before it arrived to pick up a half dozen soldiers and contractors on their way to the same place.
I sat next to a National Guardsman from Michigan who was part of the shuttle service. It was his first deployment, he said, but he thinks when U.S. soldiers leave the region is going to fall apart. Probably get overrun by Iran, he said. Even Kuwait would get overrun if the U.S. didn’t maintain a military presence.
We stopped at the military side of the Kuwait Airport to switch from the shuttles to a full sized bus. In the distance I could make out a huge fire, probably a half mile off or more. I asked the four men running the shuttles what it was. “Who knows,” one of them said. “Something’s always burning here.”
It was an hour ride on the bus to Ali Al Salem air base. A Chevy Suburban escorted it, and one uniformed soldier rode with us. “If we take on small arms fire I have a sidearm,” he told the nearly empty bus, “and I’ll be taking orders from my CC in the SUV.”
I do not understand all the military acronyms, but SUV I got. (Crew chief maybe — that was my guess.)
We didn’t take any small arms fire, but it was in my head the whole drive. It didn’t keep me from looking out the window, however, for almost the entire trip.
The bus was lined with dark blue curtains. I sat where they split and held them apart, watching the country slide by. Desolate. Burnt.
Trees lined the road, but otherwise is was sand to the horizon, split by fences. Plastic bags stuck in the trees and against the chain-link, like moths in a spiders web. High-tension wires crisscrossed the landscape. About halfway through the trip we passed a collection of tents, Bedouin style, on both sides of the road. Thousands of them. On one hill was a radio tower, surrounded by armaments and what looked like rocket launchers. The bus sped on.
At Ali Al Salem I checked in with the civilian authority, lined up my flight for the next morning and got a bunk in a tent with a dozen other men. No one seemed prepared for someone without a military or contractor ID, but the letters I got from USF– Iraq were good enough to clear that hurdle. I lined up my flight into Baghdad tomorrow, found my bed and flopped down. Two sunrises, eight time zones and 6,500 miles later, I was finally getting some sleep. It was one in the afternoon.
2 thoughts on “Thirty Hours Later…”
Have fun out there, use any press pass for food at the DFAC till you get a real one, the midnight rhino in Baghdad can leave before midnight for some reason, so try not to get stuck in the stables, never take the blankets they offer at transient billeting (fleas), sleep when you can, do your gift shopping in baghdad while at the press office, they sell the best stickers and hats near there while you wait. Always be packed, never make yourself at home. Have fun!
Jake Warga, Transom.org
Thanks Jake, for both the advice and the inspiration!