A day in pergatory

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Middle East » Kuwait
August 21st 2009
Published: August 22nd 2009
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Swine fluSwine fluSwine flu

Everyone got their temp taken on the plane before being allowed off. A little crazy...
We landed in Kuwait around 0400 local (3hrs later than we were supposed to) where the pilot announced that the temperature was a cool 86degrees. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated how hot 86 degrees really is until I was standing outside in the pitch black and sweating. Being from upstate NY, dark night to me equals cold. Period. I can’t remember experiencing a “warm” night until I went to Hawaii, and even then it was very comfortable. North Carolina nights are about as close as I got to a hot night. This was something else. It was a good warm-up for what the sunlight would bring.

We got off the plane and shuffled onto buses, prison-gang style. Throughout the whole process, we never really have more instruction than what we’re doing at that very moment. Get on the bus. Okay. We drove about 5min to another part of the base, I assume. Then got off and stood around - for 2 hrs. Apparently they go on shift change right as we got there, and it takes them 1 ½ hrs to change shifts, so we had to wait for all our baggage before we could depart. After watching the

My festering smallpox sore
sun come up, which wasn’t that impressive since it was behind some clouds, I decided to take a nap on the bus while waiting. After a nice 1-hr air-conditioned nap, we started moving again. I should mention that as we were landing in Kuwait City in the pitch black, it looked like we were landing in DC. The city was full of bright twinkling lights, laid out in neat geometric patterns, for as far as the eye could see. There were huge crowded buildings reminiscent of NYC, highways, neighborhoods. It wasn’t anything like the sand and rubble I was expecting based on my extensive knowledge of the Middle East that I learned from watching the movies. After I berated myself for my closed-minded Western view of Kuwait, I took it all back on our bus ride out to the middle of nowhere.

There are several US bases in Kuwait, most leftover from the Gulf War from what I understand. There’s a road here known as the “highway of death”, which though it sounds ominous, was named so because of all the Iraqi deaths when fleeing the country years ago. I slept through most of the drive, but as we
My temporary homeMy temporary homeMy temporary home

The girls' hooch. Nice and air conditioned!
approached our destination, the base we’d be flying from, I caught enough of the idyllic scenery to show me everything I’d missed, save a few shells of long-ago destroyed cars lining the highway. It really is like the movies - a sandy, dusty, barren landscape. The base has been here for a while, but all the structures are either trailers or tents (all the living spaces are tents). It’s an Army base that has a contingent of regular personnel (this is their deployment) but most of the people here are transient, like us.

Our first order of business after getting off the bus was a “welcome to deployment” brief. It was inside one of the tents. That was when I realized how wonderful air conditioning could be. We had been outside for a few minutes, but I was feeling every 110 or so degrees that it was. It may be a dry heat, but it’s still pretty freakin hot. They say August is the hottest month here, and we’re in the middle of a heat wave. Perfect timing. At least it won’t get any worse. It’s not an oppressive heat, like it would be in North Carolina, making it
The good crappersThe good crappersThe good crappers

If there is such a thing out here. They were the ones with actual toilets and sinks, etc. I'll have to take a pic of the inside. They were great, until they both broke... ew!
hard to breathe and hard to move, but it’s still quite uncomfortable. It MIGHT not be so bad in shorts, tank top, and sandals, but in camis with the sleeves down and boots, it was warm. Once we stepped inside the building for the brief, it was like an oasis. The tents are some kind of REALLY heavy fabric supported by a metal skeleton (looks like the inside of a whale) with wooden floors. They have real doors too. They’re as close to permanent as a tent could be.

After the brief outlining all the do’s and don’ts of Camp Virginia, our next mission was to get our bags. I dragged my bags back to the girl’s tent (yes, for all 6 or so of us we get our own tent… heh heh). It was the same as the tent with the brief except instead of benches, it was completely open inside with green cots lined up against the walls - about 30 of them. I’m trying to figure out how big, but it’s big enough that you could easily park a couple of small planes in here. I picked out a bunk and started digging through my bag
Our PadOur PadOur Pad

The row of tents that were temporarily ours
for my shower stuff. I probably should’ve planned that better. I had a few things in my carryon bag “just in case” like extra clothes, but my towel was completely buried along with some of my toiletries. After rummaging for a while and pulling things out like I was a kid at Christmas every time I wrestled something I needed from the bowels of my bag (of course it’s all at the bottom), I grabbed my gear and headed for the showers. Of course that’s the exact moment they were cleaning them (even though the sign said it should have been right in the middle of the two cleaning times). So I headed back and did a little more unpacking of things I would need for the next day plus.

While I was shuffling things around my rack, the only person who was already here when we arrived and took over the tent - she had been sleeping at the far end - got up and started moving around. It’s a good thing she recognized me because I had so much to do I probably never would have realized. Her name is Audrey and I had met her at
My hoochMy hoochMy hooch

The front door.
a party a couple of weeks ago. We were talking there and we realized we were both heading to Iraq, but to different bases. Bummer. But we had a good time at the party and had fun hanging out. We pretty much just left it at that. And suddenly, here she was in my tent in Kuwait! We hugged and laughed and started barraging each other with questions, like we were life-long friends. It’s funny how meeting someone you know in the middle of nowhere automatically makes you closer friends than you were before.

We made plans for lunch and I headed off to finally (after 24+ hours of travelling) take my shower. The showers aren’t bad - very much like camp showers or gym showers. They’re clean, but bare. No toilets in there unfortunately, but a row of sinks with “potable” water (which smells like sulfur and always comes out hot), a single bench, and a trashcan. That’s about it. Oh, and “paper towels” which are actually more like toilet paper. I don’t get it - their toilet paper is thicker than the stuff you’re trying to dry your hands with! I’m not sure if that’s a budget
The trek to the showersThe trek to the showersThe trek to the showers

My camera fogged up from going from the nice AC to the freakin hot 120degrees outside, but that's the path to the showers -- a short walk through the sand.
thing or what, but if it’s like that at AA, I can tell you what my first care package can consist of… Have you ever tried to dry your hands with toilet paper? I had stepped out of the blistering heat and couldn’t wait to be clean. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I turned the water on to realize there is nothing even remotely approaching cold water here. The “cold” setting is almost too hot to stand under. It might have been a hot shower, but I was clean and that felt good. Unfortunately, my nice and comfy new air-cushioned Adidas flip-flops are apparently not made for the shower. Every time I took a step I got suds squishing up around my feet. After I realized that I washed them - a lot. It never went away. They were wet and sudsy for a while. Eh. Second order of business, after lunch, was buying new shower shoes.

I put my camis back on, strapped my 9mm to my hip, and we headed to the DFAC for lunch. It no joke felt like we were wandering around in the desert. It was hot and dry which sucks the moisture

This picture is mostly for Lisa Allen -- do you recognize it? haha
right out of you. It ends up being a good thing that we were so clothed - you don’t feel the sun as much, just the hot breeze. However, I forgot to grab one of the ubiquitous bottles of water around so about halfway into our mile journey, my mouth was completely dry. We both decided that if this is what a mile walk in the desert was like, we’d off ourselves if we ever got lost in the desert. I don’t know how people can do that. Once at the chow hall, we met up with the other guys from my contingent. They actually had some pretty good options there. There was a sandwich bar (which of course is still hard to make a low-cal sandwich), a grill line, a hot food line with whatever the specialty of the meal was, a fajita bar, salad bar (very basic), plenty of cereal, and a pretty well-stocked dessert bar including a soft-serve machine and Ben and Jerry’s. They do a half-assed job of providing nutritional info. Only some of the stuff is labeled, and there are no quantities on any of it. And the NI includes calories, fat, and one other thing like cholesterol or some other useless value. So if I wanted a sandwich, I could have an unknown amount of ham for 100calories plus bread that’s who knows what. There goes the diet. I went with a slice of roast beef from the carving table, yummy mashed potatoes, and broccoli. Not bad. Since it was dinnertime for me, I guess, it was perfect. Too bad my stupid belt was so tight - it made me feel uncomfortably full. Maybe that’s how I’ll stick to my diet. I nabbed an orange and a packet of instant oatmeal for breakfast the next day, since I didn’t see myself getting up super early to walk a mile for an egg.

After lunch we ventured out to use the internet, and for me to buy some shower shoes. There isn’t a whole lot on base here. There’s the DFAC, a section with Subway (the only healthy option on the whole base), McDonald’s, and the place where I got the internet card, then another section with a Charley’s cheesteak place (so yummy but so unhealthy), Baskin Robbins, Donut shop, Hawaiian Ice place. And you wonder why over half of the Army people walking around here are fat? And boy, some of them are REALLY fat… In that section was the Starbucks, which is open 24/7 and is a wifi zone. There’s also the PX there (very very small). I grabbed some 99cent shower shoes and a couple of other mandatory items I didn’t have, and headed over to the Starbucks to use my $4 internet card ($4 for 24h really isn’t bad if you’re only here for a few days). It was a little slow, but not bad at all. I was in an air-conditioned Starbucks halfway around the world and felt like I could have been right up the street from home. The jet lag started catching up with me and I was falling asleep at the computer. I headed back to the tent to take a nap - in the past 24hours I have no idea how much I had slept or at what times. I knew I should try to stay up until the local nighttime but couldn’t do it. I made it back and crashed on my rack. Just as I was about to fall asleep, I noticed that it was eerily quiet, and that the A/Cs weren’t blowing. That would soon be a problem. I woke up an hour later to something approaching the outside temperature. I went in search of someone to tell and ended up at the guy’s tent since they had had a similar problem earlier in the day. Theirs had been fixed in 30min. I was crossing my fingers. We found the people to tell, but I didn’t think it was going to be fixed anytime soon - the whole generator for the block had stopped working. It seemed like the perfect time to go to dinner.

Off we went, on the mile-long trek through the furnace to dinner. Every time you enter the DFAC, you have to clear your weapon first. So I pulled it out, balancing my little laptop (I was stopping for the internet since I was already there) and my water, and cleared it with my left hand. Maybe it was because it was still awkward since I hadn’t done it a lot, and maybe it was because I was holding so much stuff, but I managed to catch a big chunk of skin from my palm in the chamber as it was closing. It closes with quite some force, but luckily not enough to just slice it off. It did catch though. I pulled out my broken flesh and looked down to see a black half-ring the size of a dime with blood welling up at the edge. It’s ironic because earlier that day I had just heard about someone doing something similar and I thought “man that would suck.” Well yes, yes it did suck. I rinsed it off and found it wasn’t really that bad, but it still hurt. The LtCol I was with (the leader of our little 6-person company) was very helpful and concerned. I threw a napkin on it and that was the end of it in my mind. It wasn’t that bad and I didn’t want to call any more attention to my rookie move than necessary. I learned a lesson I don’t think I’ll ever repeat - how to properly clear a gun without catching your hand in it.

Dinner was pretty unremarkable. They had lasagna, but I wasn’t that hungry anymore and I opted for cereal and fruit. All my meals were backwards. Maybe my body is really attuned to what meals it should be having at what times. Anyway, I chased it with a small soft-serve cone. 😊 Not bad. Almost everyone had dessert that time, some of them two! We had earned it after our long trip. They say the milkshakes are pretty good - maybe I’ll get one next time.

It was at dinner that we heard we weren’t flying out anytime before the next evening (there’s a nightly meeting to talk about what’s leaving the next day). So another day in Hades. There is absolutely NOTHING to do here. You may have been bored at home, but you could always flip on the TV or wander around the mall or call up a friend. Not so much of that here. I could sit in Starbucks all day for internet, work out in the 110 degree heat (the gym is air conditioned but apparently it’s not enough), or sleep. I made a brief stop in Starbucks and headed back to my tent for some needed sleep. I was in bed by 10pm local and finally felt like I might get on a regular schedule. The A/C was fixed and it was actually a little cold in our tent. Nice! There are a bunch of port-o-potties around (many) which are actually kept pretty clean, but I still don’t like them. There are also a few mini bathroom trailers around. Mini because they’re modular bathrooms that are the size of a small powder room back home - still 3 times the size of a port-o-potty. I’d take it. Plus there was water in the toilet (a regular toilet!) that flushes, a sink with mirror, and soap. The only thing those things are missing is A/C. How WONDERFUL it would be if there was air in there. You know it’s hot inside when you hurry to get outside because it’s COOLER outside. But at least they don’t stink. And they’re pretty clean. So that’s what I’ve been looking for whenever I need one. It was an adventure at night when I forgot my headlight and realized there’s no electricity in there. Good thing there was a little light coming in through the vent.

Once I fell asleep, I slept well. I woke up a few times because my body hadn’t caught on to the fact that it was my nightly sleep not a nap, but the cots are actually so comfortable it was a pretty good night’s sleep. It’s a good thing I had my sleeping bag and pillow! I had a whole day of nothing to look forward to tomorrow. And I kind of was looking forward to it. I’ve been so busy with the leadups to deployment, I can’t remember the last time I just sat around all day.

I’m actually writing this the following day from my rack. I woke up around 6am after a good night’s sleep, and had a whole day of what-should-I-do. I washed my face and put on some workout clothes, and that was as far as I got. I had turned on my computer just to check and realized I got internet from my rack! No mile-hike to Starbucks to sit in my uncomfortable and hot uniform. I could sit around in shorts, tshirt, and barefoot and peruse the net! I was done. That was my day. I did that for a while until I fell asleep…for the rest of the day. 😊 It’s a good thing I had brought back the orange and oatmeal. I put a bottle of water outside to warm up (that was my microwave), and had a very nice breakfast with the raisins I had saved from the plane. It was perfect! I slept right through lunch, and probably could have kept sleeping all day. Everyone in my tent did. I think that’s all there is to do here - sleep and eat. I should’ve worked out, but I justified it by the miles of walking, the tons of sweating, and the sauna bathrooms. Plus I just slept through lunch.

Audrey left yesterday - she flew out right after lunch. 😞 We decided we’d have to meet up if either of us went to the other’s base, but that may or may not ever happen. We’ll be facebook buddies until then. I was back on my own in the female tent. I’m breaking my lazy day of sleep to shower and eat. And buy another internet card. Tonight we find out if we leave in the next 24hrs….

I’m writing the rest of this in the USO. I managed to drag myself out of my little air-conditioned haven for dinner. I actually forgot how hot it was outside as I was bundled up (it was actually cold!) in my warm and comfy sleeping bag. I opted for walking around in my Navy PT gear for dinner and beyond. I kind of felt bad since my Marine comrades don’t have that option (they can’t wear PT gear outside of the tent area), but I justified it by saying I might actually go PT later… Dinner was actually pretty good - they had Mongolian bbq. Too bad I already ate the chicken and mashed potatoes before I realized they had bbq. Oh well. Chased it with a juicy pear and it was a great meal! Worth the mile hike. Also found out when I’m leaving, but I’ll post it after the fact just in case… it’s soon. And of course it involves like 5 hours of waiting around or something like that. Good thing I have a book. I already finished another one. The USO here isn’t bad, but it’s pretty busy. I’m glad I won’t be here much longer - I hear AA is a little nicer. I’ll let you know!


23rd August 2009

Got your blog!
It was a little bit of a struggle, but I was finally able to get your blog. I love your writing! I'm also glad that you've been able to Skype with Meem. I'll see if U Mike can get my Skype working & then maybe we can Skype, too. Does your 9mm have to be loaded all the time except when you clear it? Stay safe! Love you! Aunt Mad

Tot: 0.227s; Tpl: 0.049s; cc: 15; qc: 69; dbt: 0.0681s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 3; ; mem: 1.5mb