Monday, August 4, 2008

Finally in the International Zone

Well the journey from D.C. to the International Zone (aka "Green Zone") took longer than expected, but I arrived safely Thursday evening. I had an overnight flight from D.C. to Paris, then arrived in Amman, Jordan the following night... without my luggage, which decided to stay in Paris for a while. The next day, I gathered with a bunch of other diplomat types at the Amman airport, only to learn that a sandstorm in Baghdad cancelled the military flight that day, forcing a 4-day delay in Amman. I did a little sightseeing in Amman, namely the Dead Sea and the baptism site at the Jordan River. But mostly I tried to take it easy and enjoy the beautiful Amman weather.

The military flight from Amman to Baghdad Airport was on a C17 or was it a C130? I don't know the difference. A big cargo plane. Very smooth and uneventful. There aren't any windows so you can't see anything. As I walked down the ramp after we landed, the blast of hot air almost knocked me over. I think it was at least 115 degrees when we arrived. I picked up my flak jacket and helmet. The precise weight of the jacket, according to informed security sources, is "over 20 pounds." Wearing the flak jacket and the helmet that's one size too big made carrying my baggage (it caught up with me in Amman) in the heat a struggle (but probably quite entertaining for onlookers). I had a brief wait at the Baghdad airport before a few of us crammed into a helicopter for a quick ride to the International Zone. Thus was my arrival to the IZ - hot, covered in dust and sweat, hair all over the place, wearing 20+ pounds of bullet-proof gear and carrying a duffle bag and backpack. A diplomat's life is very glamorous!

I'm still figuring out how things operate here. There's a lot of in-processing paperwork and procedures I still haven't finished. But I'm adjusting quickly to life here. I can even stand the heat if I don't have to be walking around outside for more than 15 minutes at a time. My biggest accomplishment is finding my way from the shuttle stop to my desk at the complete opposite side of the Palace without getting lost (the embassy offices are still in the Palace until we move into the new compound). This is unlike any other embassy in the world. Just the number of people here is astounding - most of them carry weapons. Lots of military and security.
I feel quite safe so far. Some colleagues took me on a driving tour of Baghdad the other day and I learned what are safe areas and what areas to avoid. The DCM staff (that's what I am) has access to 2 cars, which I didn't know. So I can actually drive somewhere in the IZ if I need to. I have a feeling I'll use the motorpool and their driver instead. It's strange to see the reaction to the Duck & Cover alarm here as opposed to in Bucharest. People take alarms very seriously here, if you're not under hard cover when it sounds, you drop what you're doing and run like crazy to the nearest bunker. Don't bother asking me specifics about the alarms or incoming fire, I can't answer. Like I said, I feel quite safe so far.

I'll write more about my job and daily life at a later date. Up until today, most of my time has been spent on administrative stuff and just getting acquainted with the sections I'll be working with. But I can tell you already that the hours are long!

It feels great to finally be here. I know it will be an exciting adventure. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Marcus said...

Thanks for posting this. It's quite interesting. I may be going there as a contractor soon. Please keep writing about your experiences there. Good stuff.