Saturday, January 31, 2009


It’s another beautiful sunny day here and while I was out for a run I was distracted by the birds and helicopters that filled the sky. Looking up rather than ahead, I tripped over some loose gravel and fell into the street. I managed a full roll before coming to a stop, sprawled in the middle of the road.

The guards were not expecting this from me (you could even say they were caught off-guard) and didn’t really know how to react. Should they come over and help? But this would mean leaving their posts, was that okay? Was I a threat? Should they draw their weapons?

Before they had much of a chance to decide I had picked myself up off the ground and was waving and smiling at them. This is pretty much what I do to anyone here carrying a weapon to let them know not to shoot me. The guards looked at me and then each other, one shrugged and they turned back to their lookouts as I headed back down the street.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


A quick update on the street names here:

I spoke to one of the guys who was on the committee for coming up with the street names and he explained that they are all named after famous streets in different American cities. Suddenly the intersection of Sunset Blvd and Bourbon Street makes a lot more sense. He said that Peachtree is a famous street in Georgia.

(Don’t know what I’m talking about? Scroll down a few paragraphs to the entry titled “Wishful Thinking.” Don’t care what I’m talking about? Click on that little ‘X’ in the upper right hand corner of the screen.)

He also said that the original plan was to name all of the streets after local provinces, but that was struck down as sounding too colonial. This confused me. Why would naming streets after local provinces be considered colonial but naming them after American streets be acceptable? I think I’m probably not understanding some sort of history lesson or something here, but I’ve found that it’s better just let these things go.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Getting Along.

I arrived at the dining hall a bit early today, just in time to hear a rousing speech from the head of the dining staff to his crew. Mr. Li (Chinese) was reminding all of his staff (Nepalese) that they were lucky to have such good jobs working here and that it was only by the grace of god that they have been granted such luck. He implored them all to thank god for this gift of employment and remember that their best reward for hard work is knowing that god is watching all that they do.

I’m going to ignore the whole Chinese/Nepalese relationship and the fact the Nepalese staff are placed in a subordinate role to a Chinese supervisor, but rather I just want to point out the religious factor here. The dining staff (presumably majority Buddhist) are thanking god for the opportunity to serve Americans here (presumably majority Christian) while we are all located in the capital of an Islamic country. I suppose this could be inspiring to some people, but really it just makes my head hurt.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


The guard's extra ammo cartridges were clinking against each other in the small tan pouch on his body armor. He held his rifle with his left hand while in the other he was bouncing a piece of dirty brown string against the ground. On the pavement next to his feet was an underfed tabby cat, gently batting at the string bouncing in the dirt.

I smiled at the pair playing there, but the guard's face was covered with a black mask. Only his eyes were visible, but they were focused down at the cat and the string.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Another nice run this afternoon and work is going well too. For some reason dinner was Thanksgiving themed tonight but I enjoyed the roast turkey, sweet potatoes and baked apple even if it was out of season.

Even on the other side of the world, life goes on and we have our routines.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From the Other Side of the World

I was the first person to get to the American Club and find a seat in front of the projection television broadcasting a live feed from CNN. I was concerned for a moment that Taco Night at the dinning hall would prove more popular than the inauguration of the 44th president, but as the festivities progressed the room started to fill.

Minutes before Obama gave his speech there was a line at the bar and all of the chairs were filled. Snippets of conversations floated around the room. A young man in a suit next to me found it strange that Cheney hurt his back moving boxes at his home, “You’d think he could afford to hire some movers for that stuff.” An overweight Southern woman sitting to my right leaned in and said, “You know, I didn’t really like Obama but I have a good feeling about him. I think he’s going to be okay.”

Champagne was uncorked and plastic cups were passed around the room. Applause broke out more than once, and everyone stood while the national anthem was recited.

It was a very good speech.


I was in my room reading a book yesterday (and by reading a book I really mean, playing PuzzleQuest on my Gameboy) when I heard what sounded like a rainstorm outside my door. That seemed a bit unusual so I investigated further.

It turns out there was a small downpour, it was just occurring inside a utility closet in my apartment. The large contractor that built this brand new compound installed all of the water heaters in a manner that makes them overflow directly onto the floor of the closet. Every single room has this problem. I’d hope that we didn’t pay too much for this faulty installation, but I’m pretty sure that would be a false hope.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wishful Thinking.

It was beautiful out today, sunny and in the upper 60’s. And as I’ve been sitting in planes and hotels and offices for the past few days I decided to go for a run. While I was out I had time to ponder this: When you build a heavily fortified city within a city that is large enough to house thousands, the responsibility for naming streets has to fall to someone.

And as I made my laps around these streets I wondered what had inspired some of the names. Main Street and Broadway both seemed like safe choices, and the abundance of large reinforced concrete walls made Wall Street seem like a logical pick. Madison Ave had me a bit confused but it was Peachtree Street that really threw me. Perhaps this was wishful thinking or maybe just nostalgia for home, but I have yet to see anything resembling a peach tree anywhere around here.

As the sun started to set behind the walls I rounded the corner of Sunset and Bourbon for the last time and thought about heading to the bar after my shower.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I’ve been awake for about two days straight at this point. The McRoyale combo meal that I ate from a McDonalds in the middle of the desert at 2am was surprisingly good. I think the Fanta that came with it really helped.

Much to my surprise the McRoyale even stayed down while we made our ‘combat dive’ into the airport. I’m not sure if I’m getting used to all of this craziness or if we just had a smoother ride this time.

Mr. Magoo had trouble climbing up the loading ramp of the cargo plane and then promptly fell asleep on my shoulder after squeezing onto the bench next to me. I thought by now he would have grown on me a bit, but I’ll be more than happy to deliver him to his site later this afternoon. I no longer wish to be responsible for a man who almost walked into the spinning rotors of a plane.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On the Way.

My choice was between three episodes of Hannah Montana or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. Each was on an endless loop for 12 hours. I decided to sleep instead and when I woke up it was early evening and the sun was setting into the haze over the Persian Gulf. The water was dotted with dozens of oil tankers waiting to fill up at the pumping facilities scattered along the shore. Each facility was easy to spot by the fire plume burning the excess natural gas up into the sky.
After landing I walked downstairs to passport control and stood in the line for ‘Other Nationality.’ Next to me a line of women draped in black waited for their identification check in a private room by a female inspection agent. It’s hard to verify someone’s identity when you can’t see their face.

I’m travelling with a guy who can only be described as a shorter, fatter, balder version of Mr. Magoo. When I see him in line behind me, I notice that he’s managed to get some sort of stains on the front of his shirt during the flight. Once we collect his bags he immediately shuffles off towards the KFC counter, leaving his luggage unattended in the middle of the busy airport terminal. “Magoo!” I shout, “You’re bags!” He turns and looks sheepishly back at me. “Sorry Adam, I forgot I had them.”

We make it through customs and on to the hotel. We’ll stay here for a few hours and then head on to our next transit point further out in the desert.

Friday, January 16, 2009

In Transit.

I'm hitting the road/air for a few weeks and I may not be updating this very much. Or maybe I will, not sure yet just how that will work out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On the Shelf.

I know that people don’t really come here to read my thoughts on books (Why do people come here? Do people come here?) but I wanted to mention David Simon’s masterpiece of the true crime genre, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.
Some folks may know David Simon as the creator of The Wire, a television show that everyone loves and I’m sure is great but I just haven’t gotten around to watching yet. I will, I promise. I just need to find some time.
Back in 1988 Mr. Simon spent a full year shadowing the Baltimore Homicide Department. His book is a full account of what he saw and what he learned. It would go on to be the basis for the excellent television show, Homicide: Life on the Street and many of the stories from book also play out in The Wire (or so I’m told).
David Simon was a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun for over a decade, so his book shouldn’t be such a surprise. But Mr. Simon’s ability to not only tell a story but provide a deeper understanding into what it means to “speak for the dead on the killing streets” is what truly elevates his book.
Homicide is a long book and I find myself reading through it too quickly. My only consolation that I have Mr. Simon’s other book, The Corner, to look forward to next. In this book Mr. Simon employed the same strategy of observing a year in the life, but this time he spent a year getting to know the people and the stories on a busy drug dealing corner in West Baltimore. I can’t wait.

While I’m at it, I’m also reading a great history of the mid-1990’s conflict in Chechnya. I found it fairly difficult to find much written on the subject, although this shouldn’t be a huge surprise with the way Russia treats journalists. Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus by Carlotta Gall and Thomas de Waal, while unfortunately named is a fascinating account of both the military action in and around Grozny but also an overview of Chechen history from the 1700s on.
It’s worth taking a look at if you’re interested in a bit of history that we don’t often get to hear too much about.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Heading Home.

I stood on the Metro platform next to a young man in an ill-fitting suit. His hair was cut into an off-centered bowl shape. He fidgeted nervously with his red tie.

As the train pulled up to a stop his face lit up and he waved to someone already on board. We both walked on together and he hugged a young woman standing near the door. He said hello to her and I turned away to grab the rail as the train left our stop.

The train was over-crowded with rush hour commuters in dark heavy coats and hats. I stood uncomfortably close to an older woman wearing too much perfume. She tried to read from a small worn bible while standing in the middle of the aisle, her book swaying lightly with the movement of the train.

By the time we started to slow down for L'Enfant Plaza, just one stop away, I looked over to see the young woman with tears streaming down her face. The guy was still smiling and talking to her but she stood there impassive, crying silently.

As the doors opened she hurried out to the crowded platform and the guy smiled and waved as she disappeared into the mass of people. The older woman found a seat and continued on with her bible. I grabbed back onto the railing and stared out the window into the darkness of the tunnel.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Back at the Barbershop.

"Yeah I have two pitbulls. But they're good dogs. If you came over to my house you could pet them. Now, if you were acting threatening or trying to mess with my kids, then they'd get in your face."

Random lady who wandered into the shop, "So then I could sue you if they bit me, right?"

"Sure you could sue me...if you made it out of my house."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


At the grocery store tonight the weight-loss magazine at the check out counter had the headline, “Yes You Can! Reach your ideal weight this year.”

Montel is selling commemorative Obama coins on basic cable.

And this morning I saw a bus covered in a huge ad for Ikea with their new, Change is Good campaign.

The guy hasn't even taken office yet and we're already selling his ideals in exchange for some cheap furniture and weight loss tips? That must some kind of new record.