25 January 2012

Behind the T-walls: R&R Debrief

Well, hello there friends! I've decided that because I don't have an e-mail address for everyone who might be interested in my Iraq adventures (as in, facebook friends, et al), I would start to post my previously mass e-mailings here. As this is a lifestyle, food, and travel blog, I really didn't feel the need to begin a new one specific for my life in Iraq, since this space is ready made with a following, and being in Iraq automatically meets our self-described manifesto! As Andrea's been diligently posting about her recent travels as well as her adventures in the kitchen, it's only fitting that I also discuss what's going on with me here in Baghdad! I can only hope that posting here will mean I will send updates more often...

As many of you know (and many who don't!), I have been posted in Iraq since August 24 of 2011. I'm not going to re-hash my musings on why on Earth I would want to come here just as the US Military began its departure, but I will talk a bit more about what my life here is like since I don't think that I've given much detail about that in the past, and I will also relay any other relevant information as well.

BIAP - Baghdad International Airport
Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) The ceiling is covered in these weird PVC pipes, and if a good breeze blows through, they just might "sing" for you. 
I left Iraq for a brief leave to go home in mid-December, and I returned to Baghdad just over a week ago. After nearly 4 months behind the T-walls, having the opportunity to go outside and do whatever I wanted was a little bit overwhelming at first. I went from only moving within an armored convoy, wearing PPG (personal protective gear), to being able to walk, unescorted out in the open. I stopped first in Dubai, and all I wanted to do was walk and shop, two things which are not possible here. For a while, I'd been more or less satisfied with the occasional off-compound visit, and I could get my shopping fix shopping on Amazon.com and sending things to myself through the APO. At the end of October, with the then-coming departure of the US military forces, we also lost our access to incoming and outgoing mail through the APO. Though through some personal connections I've been able to make here, I was able to receive a few straggling pieces of mail, though I'm still not sure how they made it to me instead of being returned to sender!

Anyway, when I arrived in Dubai, I went to the mall first, after dropping off my bags at the hotel. No, not the Mall of the Emirates, that would have been too much. After some direction from my boss, I opted to visit the Diera City Centre mall, very close to my hotel. It was a great choice! I did lots of shopping there, though not really for any Christmas presents, surprisingly. I enjoyed a coffee, a macaron (the French kind, not the coconut kind) and a newspaper (yes, an article about Iraq!) at the Paul Bakery in the mall.

Just me and Faisal I
Just me and Faisal I, enjoying a coffee. 
I'd been doing research for months on just what I'd do when I got to Dubai. I decided that my first stop would be the Diera City Centre Mall. It's a 'small' mall by comparison with the massive Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, but with three stories, there was plenty to keep me occupied for hours. Plus, they had a branch of Paul Bakery, my favorite coffee and pastry shop in the world. This is where I sat for an hour or so, enjoying a coffee, ad marcaron, and a Gulf News article about (what else?!) King Faisal I of Iraq.

Following my coffee, I wandered around for about 4 hours until I was totally exhausted by all the things I finally had the possibility to buy, and decided to go back to my hotel for dinner before getting ready to fly back to the States. I made the wise choice to eat at an Italian place at my hotel. I had the option to choose from about 40 different restaurants, and all I could think was, that they don't do anything simply in Dubai. I picked La Casa Mia, and was really drawn by the prospect of REAL! Cheese! Pizza! Look at how beautiful this 4-cheese pizza is! 

Though the service wasn't spectacular, I didn't really care since I wanted more or less to be left alone, and I also was just trying to remember that I had to make sure to pay at the end of my meal (we don't pay for our meals here, so you get quite accustomed to just walking away when you're finished eating!). I also opted to have a dessert. I didn't have the energy to wait for the flowing chocolate lava cake that I really wanted, so I opted for the vanilla pannacotta with a  raspberry (?) - mango sauce. Garnished with a real vanilla bean, I was definitely happy.
After dinner, I did manage to remember that restaurants require payment at the end of the meal, and then I headed back to my room to get ready for the 14-hour flight back to DC. The wonderful thing about this long-haul flight was that the galley was constantly full of snack-foods.The other wonderful thing? My account shows that I have the vegetarian/vegan option, and that means that I always get served first! The downside? The flight attendant will wake you up to force-feed you your special vegan food. The other downside: The flight is 14 HOURS!!! I don't even think our 2008 flight to China was that long...

When I arrived to Washington, I realized after I got outside, that I was actually a little bit afraid of riding in the car...on the roads...without armor on the car, or on myself. I think these feelings were completely unfounded, despite not riding in a light-skin vehicle in nearly 4 months, let alone in a vehicle at all in more than a handful of instances. As far as I could tell riding in the car after my arrival, every single car was trying to swerve into us. Needless to say, it took me a couple of days to re-acclimate, and be willing to drive at all.

I realize now that this recap is starting to get a bit long-winded. So let me just give you a few photo highlights of the trip:

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland
Who doesn't need a little more Christmas in their life? I sure did!

Gettin' ready to chow down on some 'famous' chicken.

  Indianapolis Sunset 
Amazing Midwestern Sunset!

  Christmas Morning 
 Just home from Church at Christmas

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
 Making homemade pretzels with Auntie E

Making Christmas with Andrea - High Tea at the Mayflower on New Year's Day

  Looking at the Facilities of Doukenie Winery 
 A visit to pick up my membership wines from Doukenie Winery

  End of R&R Happy Hour 
 Last night in town - Happy Hour at Ardeo + Bardeo with the girls



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the sharing Lauren. Think about you often and send lots of love, light and angel energy your way...
Take care of yourself well.
Aunt Lana

Anonymous said...

What an amazing journey!!! Thank you for sharing!!! What an opportunity of a lifetime to do something like this! ~Riche'