Friday, November 25, 2005
Thanksgiving in Taji
So much for a line in the sand. I drew it and got pulled out for greener and much bigger pastures over 50 days ago. I'm in Taji now. Some say it's the biggest base in Iraq. Most times, it feels like it. I arrived here on Oct 5 and have been running ever since. This time, I have 3 dining facilities to run, 46 garbage trucks and coincidentally, garbage men to chase around. I have two fire departments and the whole base to clean on a daily basis. With over 350 employees under me and an entire base to cover, I haven't stopped since I got here. Being around Americans on a daily basis has been somewhat of a culture shock to me since arriving as well. Most every one of them though, is cooperative and supportive.
We serve over 9000 soldiers here at Taji. It is a training base for many different types of soldier. The one thing that has not changed with location is the general attitude and operating standards of the Iraqi Soldier. They are destructive by nature. I have yet to figure out if they just don't understand how to use a doorknob or a faucet properly or if they just do not care. Most, I believe, just don't care because there is no penalty for such an infraction. Perhaps they believe that if they destroy enough things, they will get all new. I don't know.
There are two sides to this base: Iraqi and Coalition(American) Since I have had the opportunity to enjoy Iraqi quisine since my arrival 8 months ago, I have indulged daily at the American dining facilities. There are two here: Big and Small During regular days of the week, you can choose from cheeseburgers, pasta made to order, mexican, chinese, Baskin Robbins Ice Cream, as well as a host of 'Traditional' food like ham or Roast beef. A1 Steaksauce is on every table and the drink coolers have every thing fluid imaginable. Why yes I have gained weight since being here. If you are not in the mood for dining in, you can dine out at one of the 'Plaza' restaurants including: Pizza Hut, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Cinnabon and Popeyes Chicken. It is food heaven here and yes, again, it is showing!
I did not know what to expect yesterday when we went to eat lunch for Thanksgiving. It is normally somewhat busy in the dining facilities but yesterday, when we pulled up, there was a large line. We waited in the line outside and everyone that was leaving the dining facility told everyone in the line quite happily "Happy Thanksgiving Y'all!!" I believe I am one of only 9 or 10 Yankees here as well but I'll save that for a later blog. When we finally entered the handwash station, we could here a brass band playing Christmas tunes! This was going to be good! Once out of the handwash station and into the main facility, we were greated by a very large tapestry that an elementary school in the U.S. had sent. It was extremely difficult to hold back tears as I looked up at the tapesty to see 30 something brightly colored little turkeys made by tracing around the hands of each child to create the outline for the turkey and then splashing on bright red heads and a hundred different colors! "Thank You!!" it said boldly at the bottom and each one was signed by a Jacob or an Amanda or a Kristen.
Next, we passed 3 gigantic cakes. Each must have measured 3 feet by 4 feet! They were decorated with thanksgiving cornocopias and turkeys as well. The brass band could be heard very clearly now as there is no volume control for brass apparently and again, a lump crept into my throat as jingle bells was played loudly and audaciously by the happy band members Scanning across the dining hall, it was Thanksgiving everywhere!! Soldiers dressed as pilgrims and indians, cakes and pies filled glass cases, the waiters in the dining hall were frantically trying to keep the pumpkin pie case filled by wheeling cart after cart of the stuff to the back dessert cases! The whole place smelled of Turkey, Ham and Pies! When we made it to the Main Line, we were greated by happy servers from India who seemed amazed at our happiness over the food. "Turkey Sir?!" The man yelled over the crazed brass. "Hell Yes!" I said and began working my way down the line that contained every traditional Thanksgiving item ever conceived! My plate was loaded when we finally found a table among the crowd. In the center of the hall, where we sat, there were Lobster tables with brightly festooned table clothes and little grapejuice dispensers that poured the juice out like fountains. Shrimp cocktail tables, and more enormous cakes! We ate and grinned like chimps as a thousand "Happy Thanksgiving!"'s were said around us.
As I sat, the thought of Thanksgivings past came to the forefront of my thought. I began to remember the 'Kids' tables we had to sit at for the longest time. I remembered just how the house smelled when the last item was put on the table and how loud it was with my family all talking at once. I remembered the time my bare chested brother opened the oven to show 'Cesear', our 15 pound cat the turkey. It seemed that Cesear found the extreme heat more interesting than the delicious turkey so he bagan to do some carving of his own!! I can't remember if Mark needed stitches or not. I remembered my wifes noodles which, for the past 10 years, have been a staple of every Thanksgiving. Oh how I miss her noodles! I gave thanks at that moment for all the wonderful memories of Thanksgivings past and for all the work these fine people had done to take us all out of this broken doorknobbed country.......even if it was for only an hour.