On November 19th, I boarded a Blackhawk helicopter that was to take me from Basra to Tallil Air Base, outside of Nasiriyah, Iraq; which, it did. Eventually. What should have been a 40-minute trip wound up being over 5 hours of hell. We stopped at 4 different bases up and down the Tigris River, all-the-while I'm stuck between 2 fat soldiers (is there another kind?) with their gear digging into my sides and my knees tucked up against my chest, to accommodate all the luggage that was stacked at our feet. My knees ached, my sides stung from whatever was piercing me (M-16 magazines, I believe), and the worst part was that I had no idea that we were stopping anywhere besides Tallil. So, every time we'd stop, a relief would wash over me....only to quickly turn to anger and a loud, internal "WTF ARE WE DOING??!!" when I'd realize it was another remote firebase that we had landed at to exchange more soldiers. Oh, I almost forgot.....the doors on the Blackhawk were wide open the entire ride, so the 40-degree air at 100 miles-per-hour felt great, whipping at my face for 5 hours.
When we finally arrived at Tallil, I grabbed my bags and made my way to billeting to get a cot in a transient tent, until I was to fly to Baghdad.
Three days later, I boarded a charter jet from Tallil to Baghdad. Again, what should have been a 40-minute jet ride turned into a 4 -hour ride-from-hell, as we stopped at Al Asad and Ballad.....again, with no one actually informing me that we'd be stopping off anywhere besides Baghdad. What made this ride so much fun, besides the duration and lack of any clue as to what was going on, was the fact that someone handed me a small cooler before I boarded the plane, for me to transport to a medic in Baghdad. "Sure, no problem". A liver, stool sample, H1N1 vaccines, I had no idea what was inside.....but when the the 40-minute ride turned into 3 hours, and the ice inside said cooler began to melt and drench the carry on bags of everyone within 3 rows of me, I instantly became the least popular traveler on that jet.
So, I'm finally in Baghdad.....great, right? Wrong. My former boss from when I worked in Tallil, a 60-year-old, prior army officer who LOVES me because I was a Marine, happened to be going on his R&R at the same time. He thought that this was just a fine coincidence, because we have just so much in common. In fact, he decided that we should become travel buddies, and never leave each other's sides until we got to Atlanta. Let it be known- when I travel, I like to be alone and quiet, and observe everyone else in the airports....I'm a people-watcher. I don't like to talk, just for the sake of talking. And I don't like it when old men put their hand on my shoulder or knee to emphasize their talking points, or for any other reason, for that matter. Enough said.
In the Baghdad airport, the plane taking us to Dubai was 7 hours late....which had consequences that made my day even worse. First, I was forced to sit and listen to the old boss talk. And talk. And touch my knee. And talk. Secondly, this thwarted any plans I had of site seeing in Dubai, as by the time I arrived, it was already dark and my flight home was that night.
Ok, so now we're on the flight to Dubai.....any chance of a peaceful ride was already ruined due to my new "best buddy" making sure that we sat together. Of course, I somehow again landed in the middle of a lard sandwhich, as my old boss is not thin and the old American Indian man to my right had flesh that was spilling over into my personal space. That flight lasted 3 hours. Or 3 days. It felt the same.
Now, I'm in Dubai. I tried to skate off by myself, but my stalker-boss would not allow that.....keep in mind that I was doing everything I could to appease him and not hurt his feelings, so I'd just smile and nod and go along with his ideas of fellowship while traveling. His next great idea was that he'd get us a hotel room so we could shower before our flight home. Yeah, that sounds fun....and so does not getting a hotel room, and leaving me the hell alone. But, since the government was already paying for the room, I obliged. I also understood that this old man was thrilled to be traveling with me, after all, I am a cool guy, and a former Marine, and he enjoyed telling me his Vietnam War stories. As much as I wanted to be left alone, I didn't want to be a jerk, either....and I knew I'd be home soon.
I finally lost him at the Dubai airport. However....the Dubai airport brought its own little surprise. After going through passport control and all that fun stuff, I had about 2 hours to kill. At one point, I needed to use the restroom...so, I did. Upon walking into said restroom, my eyes immediately met a site I will never forget, but wish I could- a middle-aged Arab man, dressed in a traditional, long white gown, called a Thobe. He was standing, awkwardly balancing himself, with one foot on the ground and the other actually inside the sink, washing it with soap and water. "Hm, that's weird." I thought to myself. But then, I saw something else resting on the counter. Yep. And, only because I know someone will email me and ask what exactly was resting on the counter, it was his genitalia. All of it. How I didn't throw up in my mouth, I don't know. But from now on, I'll bring hand sanitizer.
My stay at home was plagued by a head cold that didn't want to let up, but otherwise I had a great time. I'll be home for my sister's wedding, on March 6. Perhaps for good; I haven't decided yet.