It is hot (even in October) and dry. A fine dust covers most things. It is slippery with fine dust. I am sure that the airport is not the best impression Iraq has to offer and it is much the worse for the wear of vehicles. I expect everything now will be an improvement. No matter what, it is exciting to be here in ancient Mesopotamia. I read about this place, the cradle of civilization, since I was ten years old.
We came over from Amman on a C130, packed like sardines. There was no meal service or in flight movie. You see in rows along the side, like in those old movies. The seats are just canvas with netting. They do not recline. When the plane moves, you are pushed side to side. This is a cargo, not a passenger plane. We are cargo. Besides that, however, it is surprisingly comfortable. The engines are loud, but not as bad as I thought. The flight is fairly smooth until they take the standard evasive action on before landing. I expected a bumpier ride.
Once we arrive we processed through a series of tents and trailers. I got processed in, got my flack jacket and helmet and I am good to go. People are businesslike, but friendly. Their mood is good. Their upbeat attitude is surprising and does not match the barren landscape. After processing, I went over to the chow hall. It is nice. The food is good, certainly the quality you would get at a good restaurant buffet. There is lots of it and it is all free. My challenge will be no eating too much. I had roast turkey with rice. It was very good. Then I had some friend chicken with potatoes. Good too. Then I had a salad. Ditto. Finally I had some cake. Of course, all this was okay for the diet because I drank diet coke. In my defense, I didn’t get to eat all day and finally got to the chow hall after a fairly busy day around 5.
Tonight we will go to the Green Zone on an armored bus – a RINO. I think the Green Zone will be more pleasant. I do not know when I will get a decent night’s sleep. So far travel has precluded that.
After waiting for around 9 hours at the Sully Compound, we moved to a place called the stables and waited there for 3+ hours until the RINO came. You never know when the RINO will come. That is the design. So you wait and when it comes, you get on. The chief of the bus goes through something akin to that safety demo you get on airplanes. I will not go into details, but he tells you what to do if we are hit in various ways. Luckily, the trip was uneventful and the trip was reasonably comfortable. I could see little in the dark through the tinted windows. I could tell that the topography is pancake-flat, but I could not tell much else.
I have already been meeting people who know things I want to know. I met an experienced PRT leader who explained the work. It is varied. We are inventing the jobs as we go them. As I try to put it into terms I can understand, it seems like a BPAO on steroids with the military, danger & development permutation. PRTs must dispense lots of money and look for worthy projects. Millions of dollars. In fact, money is not the problem. The Iraqis also have piles of money from their oil revenues, but the central government does not have the capacity to allocate and spend it productively. We forget all the thousands of middle managers, accountants and budget specialists that lubricate our own spending. A big PRT job, and the others here, is helping build capacity.
The PRT people get out more than I thought. The PRT leader told me that he gets out to meet contacts most days of the week. It is not as easy as it would be most other places, but it is doable.
I also learned that Iraqis are very fond of sweets. I was advised to get some of those Wurther style chocolates to give as little token gifts. Chocolate is popular, but ordinary chocolate does not travel well in Iraqi temperatures. I have been told re drinking the tea. The tea, I am told, is very hot and very sweet. Three cups is the norm. You can usually say no after that. Iraqis are hospitable and expect to eat more than you think you should (see above re chow halls). Some people drink alcohol, but it is not a good idea to join them.
Anyway, it will be an interesting experience. I hope and believe that I will find most of Iraq nicer than this here and now place. I remain optimistic. Later …
I got to the Embassy compound at night and was assigned a temporary trailer. It was hard to find it among the trailer park, but I finally did and around 330 am finally got some rest.
The compound is an old Saddam palace. I have mixed feelings about these palaces. They are indeed impressive, but mostly in the profligately big Soviet style, along the same lines as the Palace of Cultures that clutter Moscow and other capitals of the former Warsaw Pact.
The green zone is literally green, with lots of trees and plants. Still dust & heat, but it is very pleasant in general. The soil here is fertile if given water and not salinated by over irrigation. This is the fertile crescent, after all.
Once again, I was surprised by the high morale. I think that might be because everyone is important; everyone has a job to do and cooperation is needed in most things. For example, we unload our own luggage from the trucks. A luggage line forms spontaneously. You pass the bags back into someone’s willing hands and they all get unloaded quickly. People have been very welcoming. At the chow halls, for example, you can just start talking and people respond well telling you things you need to know. There are lots of people who know things I want to know and they are eager to share.
Anyway, I need to run. I apologize in advance for any editing errors I made in my haste. I have some pictures that I hope to post later.