September 2006


In what is probably my last post before we take off for three weeks of R&R (I know, I know, some of you figured we must already have left since it’s been so long, but not until Thursday!), I wanted to mull over the importance of those unspoken rules of social etiquette that we don’t notice until they’re violated. It’s weird how many things I just take for granted are universally accepted norms until someone disregards what I consider to be a given and I’m totally taken by surprise. Perhaps an example would help illustrate…

I had to get patted down the other day (don’t ask, it comes with living in a quasi-military state more often than you’d like to think about). My hosts had courteously provided female as well as male searchers, so I figured it would be no sweat. I held out my arms and mentally left the building to go to a happy place somewhere with no razor wire for the duration of the search. Until, that is, she broke the rule. No, this is not going to become an R-rated story, no worries.

Out of nowhere, my friendly security lady started commenting on what a great figure I had, how she wished she could have such a figure, etc. All the while, mind you, she is carefully checking to make sure I have no hidden contraband anywhere on my person. This was a very disconcerting experience for me. I had sort of assumed that these security checks were like being at the doctor’s office — they didn’t comment on what they were doing and I refrained from commenting on their technique or how cold their hands were. Apparently this norm is not as universally accepted as I would have liked to believe…

At any rate, there’s no real point to that story, I just thought it was funny because it was such a strange little moment for me. I imagine some of you are probably thinking by now, “Man, she REALLY needs to get out of there and go somewhere more normal!” Well never fear, I have three weeks of freedom to look forward to, starting Thursday morning. Only one more day of work to go…

It’s been interesting to read and hear others’ memories of September 11th, but I’m not really able to write mine yet. In a lot of ways I feel like we especially are still living with the results of 9/11, and the past few days have only served as a reminder of how far-reaching the impact of that day and the events that followed have been and continue to be. As any of you who follow our little corner of the ends of the earth know, it’s been a rough few days. It’s hard to explain how surreally awful it all feels, and because I can’t really explain it I haven’t wanted to write about it.

I suppose my one plea on this day would be that for every minute that we spend mourning our countrymen, who died in a senseless and horrible way five years ago, that we would also remember that we do not have a monopoly on the market of suffering. I suppose that sounds less than patriotic on this day of all days, but living here I am deeply impacted by how absorbed we often are in our own tragedies, to the exclusion of those happening around us every day.

It is right and fitting that we take a day to remember those who were lost, but as we do I hope that we also take a moment to remember those who are continuing to fight every day against those who would bring terror and darkness to the doorstep of so many more. I don’t mean just those in uniform, but those who fight with their words and their refusal to surrender even when their lives and those of their families are threatened because of their beliefs.

Danny and I spent last night talking about the events of the past few days, and our own struggle to understand what it must be like to live with this level of uncertainty and fear every day for years on end. We are protected from so much, for which I am grateful, but there are so many who do not enjoy the protections we take for granted. So many innocent people who have no other option but to continue to live their lives in the midst of such insanity.

The Internet really is pretty amazing — even out here at the veritable ends of the earth we can get almost anything on line if we look long enough and, in some cases, if we’re willing to pay hefty shipping charges. Honestly, there are so many times when I wonder how my mom ever did it before ordering on line was feasible. Of course, as a kid we never lived somewhere that didn’t have at least a small BX and commissary nearby, so that helped, and we could shop on the local economy, which DEFINITELY helped.

I heard a rumor today that “they” might be closing down the one bazaar that we’re allowed to go to, which would mean…that’s right, this really would be a prison. As in no where to go, no way out, and all of our Christmas presents are going to have to be ordered on line and shipped since we’re not allowed to shop anywhere but the bazaar. I’m pretty sure there might be a mutiny of some sort if that happened, and not just by us Americans. The merchants certainly benefit from the fact that we have no other option than to buy from one of the five vendors who sells the same thing at the bazaar, so I’m sure that closing it would severely impact their profit margins as well. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, because I have a feeling things could get pretty ugly around here with no outlet whatsoever.

But back to the internet…what I find funny is how frustrated I get when there are things that I can’t get on line, as if I expect everything to be instantly available. It’s not like I grew up with the internet — when I was in high school and it was just starting to make it’s way into homes back in the States we lived in Turkey, where internet access was controlled by the government. I think I used it once or twice at my Dad’s office but didn’t really ever surf the ‘net until college.

For instance, a month or so ago we tried to buy airline tickets from a regional airline only to discover that they didn’t sell electronic tickets, and insisted on delivering paper tickets to an address in the country from which we were starting our trip. Well, since they don’t have an office here, we don’t have a local address (just a forwarding address in the States) and we’re starting our trip with their airline in a third country, that just wouldn’t work. We ended up having to do it the quasi old-fashioned way and e-mail a travel agent to book the tickets for us, which frustrated me because I like being able to make my own reservations on line and have the confirmation immediately.

The worst is when the internet goes down here, which actually hasn’t happened for a while now (knock on wood). It’s amazing how bereft I feel — I end up trying to connect several times in the space of about half an hour, as if by sheer force of will I can make it start working, and then giving up in exasperation. The internet really is a big part of our link with home, so I guess it makes sense, but I still find it amusing since a few years ago I rarely used it.

Yesterday was Danny’s birthday, and to celebrate we actually got to go out, sort of, for dinner. We went to an international compound down the street that we only recently discovered we were actually allowed to go to and ordered pizza (real Italian pizza!!) and sat outside. It was so nice — probably at least in part because since our last R&R in June we have literally never gotten to do anything remotely like that, but who really cares? It was fun! We brought one of our special occasion bottles of wine and just loved every minute of it.

It actually made me thinking — this really wouldn’t be such a bad place to live in some ways if we weren’t such prisoners here. Take the weather, for instance…I would guess it’s sort of similar to Colorado or somewhere like that, it’s not humid and we’re at a high altitude here. The nights during the summer are absolutely beautiful — even when it’s 100 during the day it cools off to 75 at night and there’s always a breeze. Sitting outside last night under the trees (trees!! Something else we don’t have on our sterile concrete compound, unless you could the anemic-looking specimens that were planted this year) relaxing with Danny, nowhere to go, nothing to do, it was really nice. I shudder to think what my e-mail inbox will look like when I get in today since I left at 7 last night for the special occasion, but it was worth it!

I guess the up side of spending most of our waking hours locked down is that on the rare occasion like last night when we get to escape together for a couple of hours, the freedom is that much sweeter. Danny commented that he thought it was a night he would remember for the rest of his life, and although at first blush it wouldn’t seem like anything all that exciting (it was pizza, after all, nothing gourmet or served in courses) I think I agree with him. I’m hoping I can take some of that appreciation for the little freedoms with me when I leave here next year. I know it’s going to make our next R&R that much more enjoyable that we will have weeks in which we can step outside the door and go for a walk whenever we feel like it.

And no, for all of you who are wondering, we don’t have pictures to post. The downside of every approved place being a military or quasi-military compound is that you can’t take pictures.

Plus, we forgot to bring the camera.