The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

THE COOLEST PLACE TO BE |

November 07, 2006

THE COOLEST PLACE TO BE
Name: SGT "Roy Batty"
Posting date: 11/7/06
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Yellow Springs, Ohio

Most of the time, the coolest place to be on post is the coffee shop that I call my other home. It's nestled in between two Hadji internet cafes, and since the internet places have wireless LANs, one can sit in the coffee shop, enjoy the Arabic television, surf the internet on your laptop, and best of all, smoke!

The place is full of the gray twisting tendrils of various exotic tobaccos and their respective memories: hookah shei-shei smoke -- that can only  be Baghdad and missing Barbara like I would miss a critical part of my body; or Djarums -- full of the cloying scent of cloves and Vikki and the misplaced nostalgia of high school; or Gauloise, that always smells like burning horseshit and reminds me of Nicole and Paris and the restaurant on the Champs Elysee with the world's largest bowl of chocolate mousse.

The coffeshop is the place where the dustbowl anarchy of Iraq fades away, and my mind becomes engaged with something other than the drill instructor routines of deployed military life. This is the place where reality fades and is replaced with memories and thoughts and imagined realities; all coursing through the lightdazzled tubeways of the Internet, to arrive on my laptop, spat out onto my screen in little binary squiggles of black and white electrons.

When the cybercafes close amid the commo blackout, the hip place to be is the battalion Hadji store. I am half convinced that the commo blackouts are engineered by the secret army of Iraqi interpreters that live on the FOB, and who own and operate the various Hadji stores dotted around the base. They don't have internet connection, but they do have tables and backgammon and German MTV on a big screen TV, and their hookahs are much bigger and more impressive. The drinks are all the same as the coffee shop's, but it doesn't matter, since none of them are alcoholic, being banned by some distant Grinch of a general. So when the blackouts descend, everyone packs into the place and clusters around whatever female is holding court tonight, and tries to be as witty and solicitous as possible. This is pretty hard, not having alcohol to lubricate the process, so everyone puffs away on the flavored shei-shei smoke and consumes as much Jordanian soda pop as possible, as if attempting to get high on the sugar content and lack of oxygen. I like it better during the day, when the TV is tuned to CNN and the place is not quite packed to full capacity.

In the back is a large store that offers the usual pirated DVDs/Xbox/Playstation games, as well as leather shoulder holsters and various computer accessories. This is where I bought the Iraqi SIM card for my cellphone, and the silver metal CIA briefcase that I carry my Thinkpad around in. The place appears to be owned by an Iraqi with the codename A.J.; a short, muscular fireplug of a guy who speaks perfect English, with an American accent to boot, although he has never left Baghdad. All of the interpreters use code names, to avoid getting "three in the back of the frickin' head" if they ever decide to venture off post in anything other than an armed convoy.

A.J. is really cool, very energetic, and he teaches me a new phrase in Arabic every time I see him. Today it is "al-'amthall noor al-khalaam." Or  "proverbs are the light of speech," which shows, if nothing else, how much Arabs like to use proverbs.

 

Comments

I love your posts "Roy" they are a constant reminder that through all the terrible things that are happening over there you can take time to relax and reminesce to a certain extent. Keep posting because it reminds me over here in the UK that despite what the press may say american service men and women are human and deserve our utmost respect.
Stay safe and i hope to read your next post soon.
Jake

Your posts are amazing. I think you may be the Tim O'Brien of your conflict. Please continue writing and I hope someday to see a book with your name on it. I'm always proud to see people from the Dayton-Yellow Springs area serve. Though we don't know you people here in your home town are thinking of you and hoping you stay safe.

Batty - Again, great stuff! I remain throughly amazed how you guys get along without alcohol, even the reduced octane 3.2 beer that came in by the pallet-load to us in Vietnam. If I had to guess, soldiers being the mothers of invention (hats off to Frank Zappa!), I'd say there's some home brew available here and there.

Stay safe and safe home. When your book is published, make sure you let it be known here.

Okay...I have to admit I come back often just to see your next post. Being from Riverside I feel like your my neighbor...would you come home soon? I'm tired of checking your mail! lol
I, like most who comment here, impatiently await the publishing of your book. If you need someone to proofread let me know I would be glad to help! :)
Until your next post....

The appreciation is of beauty in irregularity, in lines that suggest rhythm and movement and gesture.

great post. Loved reading it. will sure put it on my site

I in fact find education is much more memorable and words better than samples.

Voilà un guide de Stockholm qui est destiné aux jeunes en France et des autre pays francophones. Nous sommes quatre filles qui viennent de Stockholm et qui adorent le français. Stockholm est une ville très chic, et a beaucoup de boutiques fantastique ! Comme Acne, Cheap Monday, Rodebjer, Whyred, Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, Malene Birger, Björn Borg, J. Lindeberg, Odd Molly et Peak Performance etc. En plus de ces, nous avons visité des places qui sont inconnus pour les étrangers, et même pour les Stockholmois, mais pourtant fantastiques.

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