Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Toastmaster Wore A Pistol

Tables filled with Hot barbecued beef, chicken and pork spewed delicious steam into the chilled Baghdad air as small groups of friends gathered for the New Years Eve Feast. In a small parking area, decorations were hung, a small d.j. stand was prepared and plastic tables with colorful cloth on top were shaken out. Music and speaker tests made for strange background noise as I moved through the crowd of around 50 people from all over the world. Like a fly on the wall, I listened as I moved catching glimpses of lives from places like Fiji, Hondurus, Phillipines, Ukraine, Lebanon, India, Nepal and the list goes on. Stories about old swimming holes and missions gone bad mixed with laughter and the passing of large cans of Heineken almost made standing in the middle of this broken, mixed up country seem normal.

At 8 o'clock, the ceremony began with the Toastmaster, a warrior from a nearby country, dressed in camo pants, dress boots, a flak vest with no plates, a starched white shirt and a black bowtie coordinated nicely with a standard issue sidearm opened the party with a short, hearfelt speech. We remembered our friends who had fallen in 2005 first. A moment of silence was held and heads were bowed in reverence as each of us, I'm sure, contemplated those difficult moments from last year when news of a friend lost touched our ears and shattered an otherwise normal day. Speeches from members of senior management followed, each laced with the talk of Family. Our Families at home and our extended Family here. Each one critical in our survival. Although we all came from different places around the globe, we rely on each other for support and guidence daily. The younger or new members of our family learn quickly, the lessons of our elders and the elders and experienced are eager to share their helpful knowledge with those in need. When one of us is down, our family, in small numbers or large, is there to support us and bring us back to a viable state.

After the speeches came the food. It was late for dinner and the wonderful smell of the food had everyone in a frenzy once we were given the go-ahead to eat. Barbecued meat, pasta dishes, both sweet and spicey, skewered shrimp, dumplings and an array of deserts from around the world were hastily put to plate and eaten. Laughter and compliments flowed during the meal through shivering hands and visible breath. Games followed and prizes were given to the winners. 35 years old and musical chairs is still a hilarious riot to play!! Everyone won in the end whether it was taking home a doorprize or just being able to laugh off the days events. The party broke up around eleven as the impending New Year approached. Some people strayed off in groups to finish off their drinks together, husbands and wives (Yes, they are here in teams) went off to spend their midnights either cuddling or arguing, and the rest of us went off to our rooms with a smile from the nights events.

I spoke to my Wife when I returned to my room. I miss her dearly as well as my children but the fact that I'm surrounded by so many great people in the exact same situation makes it all bearable. I finished my conversation just before midnight. When the bells tolled their last call for 2005, I stood smoking the days last ciggerette and watched and listened as the city erupted with gunfire of varying size and strength. A falling bullet entered the hood of the vehicle I stood by so I retreated to my room. As I closed my eyes, I thought of the evening and how the feeling of something new coming had filtered through the crowd. Whether it be the collapse of a broken country or the rise of a new arab empire, only time will tell.

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