Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Eve at Ba Ba’s

24 December 2006

Merry Christmas from Ba Ba’s Café in the heart of Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq! I’ve been looking forward to tonight ever since Jason and I ran into Katie and LJ at the Green Bean a few days ago. Katie and LJ threw it out there on the table that we should have a small Christmas thingy with a “White elephant” present draw. That afternoon they sent out the email and that was that.

Being from a very German family, we ALWAYS celebrated on the Eve as opposed to the Day so this was kind of the Christmas celebration that I’ve missed the past couple of years since I’ve been in Iraq. And what better way to celebrate than with friends at Ba Ba’s? These people really are your family when you’re away from home. We are all in the same boat and miss home the same way.

As expected, we had a good mix of people. Iraqi translators, Aussies, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, civilians of all types, and security folks from everywhere including our buddy Moses from Africa. I don’t remember if he’s from Uganda or Nigeria. We have all kinds of Ugandans here in security between Victory and BIAP but he works for a private security firm. He’s not one of the Army Ugandan guys.

As Katie expected, the gift idea was great. We had about 25 different gifts…gag and otherwise. How the game goes, the first person picks a gift and unwraps it. The next person picks a gift and can keep it or take the first persons, and so on and so on. Gifts chosen first may not remain with their first or second or third owners.

Now some gifts weren’t quite as popular as others. Take Jason’s Triscuit boxed trifecta. That original and handy Triscuit box containing condoms, baby oil and a couple of chocolates just weren’t as in demand as say the movie My Super Ex-girlfriend. Although the slinky ever-so-silky-mini-panties with the ten dollar bill clipped to them were very popular for some reason.

Jeremy ended up by the end of the night having to try them on…but he dared not step outside the door wearing them…although he did pose for pics inside his trailer! Yes, it was cold out, and yes I think shrinkage would have been an issue he may not have ever lived down…or the hypothermia he might have developed if he’d of stepped out the door! Doesn’t it just make you so jealous when you see someone else have the figure for something like that and you know you never will…try something like that on OR have the figure to dare to do so! I didn’t think so…me neither. Very scary thought though, wasn’t it?

Then again, Repo was really getting off on the can of Cheez Whiz he got. He just said, screw the crackers, Cheez Whiz directly into the mouth was a better option and short cut. He missed his mouth enough times that I’m sure the mice under the steps are fat and happy tomorrow morning. Well, time for bed and visions of sugar-plums dancing in my dreams…yech! Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Ba Ba’s Café

16 December 2006

On any given Wednesday or Sunday night, you will find the “in” crowd in only one place here on base. And it isn’t the Green Bean Coffee shop…that is sooooo last year! Ba Ba’s Café used to be a rather limited group of ITT people along with the Turkish friends of Ba Ba. Eventually that family extended out to military friends and any other associated contractor friends that were acquainted with said individuals of Ba Ba’s “family.”

For those of us that don’t speak Turkish, Ba Ba is “Godfather” in Turkish. Jim was blessed with the name a way-long time ago in his Air Force days in Turkey and the name just kind of made its way here. Jim is an old Jersey boy who has made appearances in movies through neighborhood associations he had. Jim whom from here on out I will call Ba Ba is also very resourceful and inclusive and is the mastermind and master craftsman behind the café that bears his name. Ba Ba created this little oasis out of scavenged materials here and there and built the tables, benches and all and even upholstered the seats!

As you enter into the area of Ba Ba’s Café, I guess the first thing you notice is the strings of various colored lights strung around the booths and along the concrete barrier wall across from the booths that create the atmosphere of the café. Next you notice the booths covered in 1960’s turquoise nauga hide. The three tables have umbrellas through the tables and provide nothing more than an even warmer atmosphere to the café. Used to be they provided cover from the sun, but with the light weight blue tarps mounted above the four door area from the trailer roof to the tops of the 12 foot concrete barriers, they are more decorative now than anything else.

Bad day at work? Ba Ba’s is the place to go…definitely a no-hassle zone! As I was getting ready to say, the next thing you notice is the smoke from the grill. Raymond has always got something cooking on the grill. Depends if the PX had burgers AND dogs this week, but you might chip in and bring over steaks if you run across some at the PX. Want a soft drink? Down the way some on the left is a couple of coolers with pop and ice. And if you’re too prissy to drink from the can, don’t worry, they’ve got some cups too on the narrow shelf across from the coolers. Donations of food, snacks or drink are always welcome.

If you’re lucky, Casey or Jack might be entertaining at the end by the coolers with Casey’s little electric guitar. Or you might get dragged into a card game going on at one of the booths. Either way, Raymond will catch up with you at that end once your steak is done, no worries. I told you, this is a no worry zone.

Pictures of old gatherings and past acquaintances have been printed off and adorn the walls around the booths and around the doors of the trailers as if to welcome all who come for refuge from the crazy world since the café opened. In this type of job and location, people come and go so fast it is a nice reminder to see all the old faces still posted on the walls by the booths. Pictures of happy times with good friends and good food. The place was vandalized some time back by some Air Force kids, but that was straightened away eventually. When I sent my friend Rachel a pic this week, she specifically mentioned the duct tape on the back of the bench. That was one of the repaired benches that had been slashed.

We’ve been having a big change of people here, so we are saying good-bye to old friends and hello to new ones joining us at the café. Even though the weather has gotten colder as of late, the warmth of friends seems to override the cold Baghdad winter breezes and rain. I’m not saying this is enough to make one want to stay in Iraq, but it definitely is something that lets you share your misery and enjoy the company and camaraderie of people you can call friends. What also doesn’t suck is that it can make your time here a pleasant memory long after you have gone back to the world.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Catching Up

15 December 2006

Been just plain lazy lately and haven’t been keeping up on my blog. Actually, I threw my back out and haven’t been in much of a mood to write or anything for that matter. That combined with working 84 hour (7 X 12 hour) weeks kind of zaps any inspiration out of me for writing. Welcome to indentured servitude! The problem is if you don’t work the O/T, then you aren’t a “Team Player.” And we all know when we get to the Pearly Gates that we will be judged on how well we played with others.

The past couple of weeks have been interesting at best. Last week we experienced one part of what sounded like a multi faceted rocket attack from Liberty, Victory, Slayer and BIAP. On Victory, one rocket hit in the dining facility parking lot destroying two cars at lunch. Made for a rocking-good lunch. Just the day before, two new ITT people came in. They were eating lunch when the rocket hit and promptly made arrangements to leave the following day. Some people have no sense of humor or adventure. I think they had signed up for the Gulf Cruise version of the war.

Then again last night, I was walking up the stairs from the building where I work to the street at about 5:30 at night. It was already dark out so I got a good view of the glow from the car bomb that went off on the highway and the tracers from the ensuing firefight. Not a good thing to be hanging around outside when that stuff is flying around so I high-tailed it over to the chow hall to catch dinner. One of the sergeants today showed me a shell he found near the building. That stuff is like litter here.

Last week we also had a visit from the WWF. They set a stage up with the Al Faw Palace in the background and were doing promo’s for the program that would be shown back home on Christmas Eve.

Bill O’Reilly from Fox News also paid us a visit today too. Too bad no one gave us any warning. He did bring some books with him, but it would have been nice to had a chance to order my own. Personally, I don’t care for some of his strong opinions, but it doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like to hear him speak or meet him. Don’t really care for Rush Limbaugh either, but I still will listen to him when I’m at home…in small doses. When he gets to be too much, I tune into the WBBM Business Report and that seems to neutralize his rabid opinions.

I’ve been reading this recently published book about one of my favorite subjects…Rum. The book really gives a pretty comprehensive history of that wonderful elixir that I miss soooo dearly plus some interesting points you would never have expected. Something to keep in mind at your next pool party that gets out of control….

From Wayne Curtis’ “and a Bottle of Rum” (Crown Publishers 2006) “Rum was always on hand for emergencies. Published instructions for reviving victims of drowning in Massachusetts called for blowing tobacco smoke up the victim’s rectum (machines were specially build specifically for this purpose) while bathing the victim’s breast with hot rum.”

Well if that doesn’t give us a clear idea where that term came from about “you wouldn’t be blowing smoke up my behind, now would you?” How do I say pleasant dreams after that one?

Monday, December 04, 2006

No News is Good News

02 December 2006

Things are just humming along here and nothing particularly noteworthy has been happening…unlike all the haps around the world. First off, I must mention that we must be doing something right in Afghanistan. They have just recorded their largest harvest of opium in history. How about that free enterprise and democracy? We’re doing a bang up job insuring the Afghans are self sufficient with all their new world markets they have for their cash crop.

Then you have St. Nick outlawed in Vienna because he “frightens children.” And let’s not forget “Santa’s Butt” (lager) being outlawed Stateside in Maine because the label is inappropriate. Santa’s already having a rough season and it’s only the second of December!

At least you know what to get all the teenage girls on your shopping list this Christmas. This years hottest items have to be extra short miniskirts, as so delicately modeled by none other than Britney, Lindsey and Paris. Rest assured you won’t have to worry about the tacky underpants…Britney, Lindsey and Paris have been going commando… I’m guessing to show their support for the troops overseas.

At least you’d think they’d wear an appropriate desert-cammi colored butt-floss (G-string) or possibly something in army green. I must say that their efforts aren’t going unappreciated by the troops here…But the guys over here sure would like the opportunity to catch that act in person live in Iraq or Afghanistan. The girls really need to take their commando act on tour.

I called home on Thursday night (central time) and the flurries just started about 11pm about 60 miles west of Chicago. By Friday afternoon, my hometown of Sycamore had about 13 inches of snow with a nice base of ice. Sounds like the Christmas shopping season will be in full swing now that everyone will be in the “spirit of the season.” Wonder how long it took to clear up that 60 mile traffic jam on I-80 in LaSalle County! I read that they were running food and drink out to people stuck in the traffic with snow machines.

Finally, I have been reading an interesting series on by journalist Miguel Llanos. He has learned all about the frustration of trying to get to McMurdo, Antarctica via Christchurch, NZ and now he has become labeled a whiner by the OAE’s (Old Antarctic Explorers) at MacTown. Someone posted a question on his site as to whether he needed a “whaaaa-mbulance”! I’m guessing that his next assignment will be Iraq. He’s already broken in and used to the delays and red tape involved in getting to these wonderful remote locations. In his defense, he is writing some great pieces about the Antarctic Program and is working at keeping the focus on the people and the support for the science community and their mission there.

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