02 April 2012

Behind the T-Walls: "Deportation"

Getting caught up now...let's go back to my February 
When I returned to Iraq from my last R&R in January, I knew that there was going to be some visa trouble in the future, though we all hoped that the issues with finally securing our one-year multiple entry visas would be resolved before many of us were forced to leave. Our stop-gap measure offered by one of the ministries here was a single, tourist visa good for 30 days. The visa could be renewed twice for up to 10 days each. This meant that we had exactly 50 days to get everything resolved before I needed to exit. You might think that you could just over-stay the visa and exit when you pleased, but with the current security and political situation here, that was absolutely not an option. The government already issued a statement that said that those foreigners who do not exit by the 50th day could be detained, and would most certainly be blacklisted and never allowed re-entry into Iraq.

Tea Service at the Ministry
So, on February 22nd, with no solution in sight, rather than fly all the way back to the US, I went on regional leave. The problems began for me about 3 days' in advance when I came down with the worst case of stomach flu I've ever had. On that Sunday, I was at a meeting in one of the ministries and after the tea service, all of a sudden I was freezing. Like, full on teeth-chattering, shivering freezing. I stopped fotoing the meeting and asked a colleague if it was cold in the room and he informed me that it was, in fact, hot. Uh oh. When the Deputy Minster left the meeting, I took that as my queue to exit the room. I let my boss know I suddenly wasn't feeling well. Since the meeting only had about another hour remaining, I would wait with the vehicles downstairs. As I started walking to the elevator, my blood pressure dropped, and I nearly passed out in front of the elevator. I staggered down to the vehicles to wait for the meetings to end, begging the PSDs down there for their jackets so that I could warm up. I slept in the vehicle for probably two hours, struggling to have even strength enough to put my body armor back on for the trip back to the compound.

Upon return, I was whisked to the doctor's office immediately, and was told that I had a migraine. Though I did, I was suspicious that it was probably also something else, but only time would have it play out to know for sure. Sure enough, by the next morning, the verdict was stomach flu. Once again, I was on my deathbed just before traveling. Except this time, I couldn't reschedule no matter what I was able to do, because otherwise I'd be black listed! By Wednesday, I thought I was starting to get better, but in fact, I still had a high fever and couldn't really keep food down well. I was seriously dehydrated, but come hell or high water I was going to get on that plane!

 Baghdad International Airport (BIAP)

 I was surprised to see how green Baghdad actually was from the air.

As it was Ash Wednesday, I wondered what the protocol for fasting was for the sick. I think they're not bound to fast, but I wasn't sure if that was for the long-term sick, or if stomach flu counted as well. I felt like I'd been fasting for 3 days at that point, and though my appetite was just starting to give me signs of it's revival, I still took it easy, eating probably what would have been considered small even for fasting: a tiny piece of bread, and some sliced fruit, basic airplane food for breakfast, no coffee, no tea. The rest of the flight I pretty much slept, save for a couple of snaps out the window of the mountains (sorry for the quality, the airplane window makes everything look weird).

This one reminded me of a snow-covered Grand Canyon

On my arrival to Istanbul, I felt half dead, but astonished at how modern and new the airport was. On my last trip to Turkey in 2003, I recall the airport being small, a little dingy, and disorganized. This was a full-on modern airport just like you'd see at ORD, IAD, DTW, or IAH. The visa process was simple: hand over my passport, and pay $20. Gone were the days of the $90 passport, three stickers, and single entry only. This was a multi-entry passport good for 90 days. Sweet. Now if I could have just gotten the Iraqi woman who was behind me in the Immigration line to stop pushing me, I would be all set.

Getting into Istanbul city, from what consciousness I had left, I couldn't help but notice how much more European the city felt. It still of course, had it's old Ottoman feel, and the beautiful mosques and minarets still dotted the skyline, but there was a lot more modern fashion, modern cars, and development than I remember from 10 years before. Once I got to my hotel, I showered, put on my pajamas, drank water, and promptly went back to bed, that 3 hour flight and trip to/from airports took every last bit of strength that I had. So much for my Turkish adventure! I would venture out once I was feeling well enough to get out of bed.

More stories and fotos from the city to follow.

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