As I was making breakfast this morning I was singing an old, favorite Elton John song (Daniel) and realized it would be nicer to hear him sing it than me — especially since I just repeat the chorus.
So, I opened the Spotify app on my laptop and logged in. Instead of looking for EJ, I am distracted by the “Friend Activity” section and suddenly my inner voyeur is turned on. I decide to peek through the window of my friends’ musical choice from 11 hours ago…hmmm, what time was it there [where she lives] when she listened to this song…ok, it was about midnight. I click on the song and now I’m on sensory overload as I close my eyes and imagine myself in her shoes, listening to the sexy, slow but pulsing vibes wondering where she was when she was listening. Was she in her car, in her apartment or in someone else’s home? Was she chilling out, drinking, dancing, coming down from a long day and taking off her make-up before bed or was she having the kind of sex that you see in a beautifully directed film, smoky light and everything is perfect…no laughing or quick movements, only slow motion bodies (not real but a good fantasy).
Hmmm…I wonder what she’d think of me stepping into her 4:35 second song moment? Would she feel a little exploited, indifferent or excited? She knows me, she wouldn’t be surprised but if I told her would she change her behavior and play songs to make me curious in the future? Would I even notice?
The images and voices of the original Star Wars keeping running through my brain, “stay on target, stay on target, stay on target,” says the Rebel pilot as he maneuvers through the topography of the Death Star before he fires that fatal blow to its core…
Drama Queen, maybe, distracted writer, definitely. My short term goal is to narrate my 6+ months on deployment to Bosnia. I dutifully kept a journal, this should be easy, but I’m mentally, physically and most of all emotionally distracted by the present. I also want to write about the current political climate as well as the emotional roller coaster of facing another year-long deployment (the hub is off again). I want to write about the power of friendships and the need for more gentle words, love and kindness in todays world. Finally, I want to write about my friendship with my new neighbor who lost his wife to a stroke recently and our long talks and developing friendship. If only I had a boss and a deadline—that would make it so much easier!
I’ve decided to travel back to Bosnia for today.
12 October 2002
I went to my first “liaison meeting” today. I quickly learned this was just an excuse to get the nationalities together to drink. So, we broke the rules and drank. (We are under “General Order #1” but the other nationalities were not so they stocked the booze and we locked up our guns for these events.)
The room was filled with Dutch, Fins, Danes, Russians, Frenchies, Italians and Americans. Michelle (the woman I was replacing) and I were the only US Air Force people, and there were 2 US Army girls there too. This was clearly a social function and it was fun—the wine was good. I was glad to have Michelle by my side since I was so new. As the night progressed the Army girls got randy and hung all over the guys—gag. I have no idea if they were married though it usually doesn’t matter anyway.
13 October 2002
It’s Sunday night. Today was the base “Oktoberfest.” For the first time, the leadership let everyone dress in civilian clothes and drink 2 beers. The Air Force personnel had to turn in our weapons for the day—apparently the Army can drink with their guns? Yikes.
Everyone seemed to have a good time. The “tent” was set up with a ton of board games and card games but it was mostly an opportunity to hang out together and talk over a beer (most of us chose wine over the beer because they didn’t measure their pours and, after doing some quick math, we figured out that we got a smidge more alcohol in our SOLO cups this way). After a couple of hours, I was bored since I didn’t know many people and civilian clothes didn’t seem like a special treat to me yet.
After Oktoberfest, I checked out a couple of movies from our in-house movie rental shop (pretty sweet deal, thanks to awesome people who donate movies for troops), washed my clothes, hit the dining facility (DFac) called Shane and then FINALLY really cleaned my hooch. This room is now clean. It was really nasty when I moved—feels better now.
I’m ready to take over the job now. I don’t think it will be difficult—in fact, I’ll be challenged to keep myself productive. I really wish I could be in a targeting job working a real mission instead of sitting in a peacekeeping role/unit providing current intel to a sexist, asshole who doesn’t even like intel.
My new boss is Colonel Joe Jackhole (ok, that’s not really his name but it will be throughout this blog). He’s touchy-feely, sarcastic, cynical, rude, arrogant, and completely unlikeable. He’s been in the AF for 28 years and is an old EF-111 pilot—that jet has been retired for at least 5 years so I don’t know what he’s getting paid for now. He is in AETC when he’s not sexually harassing female intel officers in Bosnia.
Anyway, I’m not going to dwell on him anymore tonight…time for bed.
I’m watching Birdcage—it’s a good laugh.
“Danger UXO Area”signs were all over the base…it was smart to just stay on the path!
Fast Forward: As I read this, then typed it, then thought about it again…I found it infuriating how some things never change. Always a sexist wanker in charge somewhere. Another thought was that I CHOSE Bosnia over the desert, where the crap was about to hit the fan…coulda woulda shoulda.
I’m sitting in the cockpit of a C-130 from Georgia. It’s being flown by a Guard unit called the Savannah Guard Dogs. Nice guys—they offered to let me sit upfront so took them up on it. Yay. Here I sit with my M9 by my side, wearing my gortex jacket, earplugs in and I’m chewing orbit gum—even though I look like a big tree, my teeth look fabulous!
Anyway, there’s a problem with a gauge so we’re waiting for a replacement part. Apparently, engine 3 keeps reading too high of a temp and they’ve narrowed it down to a gauge, hopefully that’s the fix and we’ll be off soon. I am ready to get this party started. Your deployment days do not count until you are in-country. I enjoyed my short stop in Georgia with my “other parents” (my friend Katie’s folks took good care of me). When you are in the military you have friends, friends of friends or parents of friends in nearly every state. On this trip, Katie’s mom (Sandy) was delighted to show me her newly renovated kitchen. Dad was equally pleased since he knows how happy she was about this long-awaited project.
Our flight to Germany went well. When we arrived, we were all put up in a billeting space that was used strictly for troops in transit. I think they did this to keep the cost down since we all shared rooms and there appeared to be very few niceties such as coffee machines and TVs. No one seemed to mind since we were still in Germany and could drink beer and drink beer. For my 3 day layover I enjoyed the schnitzel, rumpsteak with garlic butter, bib lettuce (dang the Germans can make a yummy salad), pomme frits and, of course, the weizen bier. (FYI, our weapons were safely locked up in the armory the entire 3 days.) In addition to feasting and drinking, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a friend I had not seen in years–someone I knew in a past life and was excited to see again. Tracy and I were Airmen together–she was stationed in Northern Germany and I was in Belgium (in the 1880’s my daughter would say). Now she is married and they have an adorable little girl (Darian) whom I was privileged to meet. (fast forward–she’s all grown up and ridiculously beautiful & smart like her hot momma.) We hit it off just fine.
10 Oct 02 (2100)
From Ramstein to Tuzla—day 1 of 180
Upon arrival to Tuzla Air Base, I was greeted by “Michelle” (the woman who called me her new best friend—I was replacing her), who showed me to my hooch. Its late, I’m exhausted and I’m going to bed now. Tucked in my well-worn, twin-sized bed I can say it’s not too bad. My room is about 20’x20’ and has a TV, VCR, DVD player, a medium size fridge, microwave, little couch, table and chairs, and 4 x large lockers. Michelle was nice enough to give me her room right next to the bathrooms so I only need to take a couple of steps to the shower/toilet/sinks. She moved into a temporary room until she leaves next week.
Joan of Arc (my patron saint) is on the TV right now, how poetic. I’ll watch her until my eyes close, which won’t be much longer.
Fast Forward: I remember feeling comfy in my little nest when I lived in this hooch. The mission was winding down so everyone had private rooms on the Air Force side of the base. I would soon see how the Army lived—in tents with a minimum of 8 Soldiers to each tent (didn’t matter if you were an officer or enlisted). On the flip side, it got lonely in that room too and although I wouldn’t have traded my shitty twin bed for a shittier cot, it was probably comforting to have people around you day and night. You could get into your head enough on these deployments without the benefit of solitude.
It was my first, long deployment, I was a newlywed and new dog-mom too. We were stationed in Alaska and my assignment team basically gave me a choice on where I would go (very unusual)—the desert or Bosnia. Hmm…Europe or the Sandbox, tough choice. It was after 9-11 but before OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. There were whispers of what was about to happen in Iraq but I didn’t really know for sure and I knew the Bosnia gig was a peacekeeping effort since the war that tore this land apart had come to an end and Milosivec was out of power. So, I chose Bosnia for the next 6 months.
I had no intention of keeping a journal of this time but my friend, Jill, gave me one at my farewell and inspired me to do so. I’m forever grateful to her for this since so much happened that I would have forgotten. It’s interesting to climb back into the cobwebs of your mind and revisit yourself years later. I’m sharing this journal and putting myself in front of you now. This is a much younger version of myself (15 years ago) in years and life experience, I wonder how the future me will read the pages of today.
4 October 2002
“Friendship is the bread of the heart.” Mitford
That quote was on the lovely card Jill presented me tonight, along with this cute journal. These gifts were truly heartfelt—these friends are gifts to us. Jill and Cary are wonderful people and I’m glad we met them.
As I packed today I worried about forgetting something, not cleaning the house enough before I go, not calling everyone I’m supposed to, all kinds of little things but I never, for a second, worried about my relationship with Shane. What a comfort and joy! Our relationship is blessed and I thank God constantly for this incredible blessing. I hardly feel worthy of such a blessing but I promise to cherish my sweet husband forever in an effort to show my thanks for this man I’ve been entrusted with—he trusted me with his heart.
So, I’m sitting at the airport in Anchorage, I’ve said my good-byes. I was “fine” until Shane and Zoe-dog dropped me off at the airport. Then, the small lump in my throat suddenly grew from the size of a bouncy ball to an orange and I found myself swallowing hard and blinking wildly to avoid a breakdown. I walked up to the ticket counter—unable to look back as they drove away and nearly lost it. The man at the counter was so nice and helped me but I couldn’t smile or joke with him…it was all I could do to keep from crying.
I went and bought some water and sat in front of the magazines for a while to get my mind off my sadness. It helped—funny how looking at stupid fashion and tabloid magazines can get your mind off everything. I found myself picking apart the models, the stars, the ugly, expensive dresses and feeling much better (an escape). I’m glad I avoided the temptation to go into a bathroom stall and cry my eyes out. The orange in my throat is down to a lemon now…baby steps, right?
Well, time to board. I put Enya in the CD player, I have my pillow and eye mask in hand and it’s off to Atlanta. St. Francis of Assisi is on my mind.
Fast Forward: All these years later and I read this thinking about how much I always avoided crying. I was taught (by my tough-guy dad) that it made you stronger to stay angry or stoney faced when your emotions wanted to take control. Ask me someday how many teeth I have lost over grinding them instead of just having a good cry. Too many. Ask me how many pills I’ve taken to avoid my emotions…I’ll tell you that not only have I damaged my kidneys, liver and stomach by swallowing pills and vodka instead of my pride, I also had stomach surgery to stop the heartburn, I bleed internally from my colon to my gut and still can’t cry. I’m a fucking robot now. What we teach our children can hurt them. Take care.
PS. I think it’s hilarious that I compared the lump in my throat to a bouncy ball. New dog-mom for sure! 🙂
So, as a rooster, I find it satisfying to cluck…a lot. Since the hub will be far far away for over a year, I might as well start writing–it’s not fun to cluck to an empty side of the bed. I have a ridiculous amount of wacky weirdness I’ve done, seen, been told or otherwise been party to, so why not start writing it down before I forget it all?
Here’s a short one to begin.
When I was 19 years old, I was an Airman First Class (E3) stationed in a small, southern town in Belgium. It was a pretty simple job–I basically worked in a mail room. However, there were opportunities that made life interesting now and then. Once, I was asked to go to NATO HQ for a week to help with administrative work for a Ministerial. This basically meant I’d work in a modern day equivalent to of a typing pool and assist the administrative staff who were there from Washington DC. This also meant a paid hotel room in Brussels for a week–giddy up!
This gig required me to wear civilian “office attire” which was a challenge for my 19 year old self. When I wasn’t in uniform, I lived in jeans or mini skirts. So, I borrowed a few outfits from the Colonel’s secretary (yes, we are talking blazers with padded shoulders at that time) and mixed in a few of my own pieces to form a semi-appropriate working wardrobe.
Never a wallflower, I enjoyed meeting the other admin staff and pretty much anyone who sat next to me. Since I was stationed in Belgium, I had a working knowledge of every cool bar and apre-drink gyro stand too. I was an asset! The woman I was more or less assigned to was very young, super fun and we hit it off right away. She was very excited for me to take her out on the town and I was happy to oblige. But, work first! So, I learned all about CVs, talking points, agendas and meeting notes. I typed my little fingers off and ran errands for my pseudo-boss, Lisa, all day. I made copies, fetched mail and other menial tasks with a smile on my face–it was a high-energy, exciting environment with world players everywhere. Although we were all in civilian clothes, there were some people who just couldn’t take the uniform off (metaphorically speaking). One guy, Staff Sergeant Jones (we’ll call him Jones because I have absolutely no recollection of his name) called the room to attention when Gen Colin Powell entered. It was embarrassing for everyone–the only one in uniform was the General and to call a bunch of civilian-looking people to their feet is not only awkward it’s pure jackassery. Even General Powell stopped in his tracks and said, “WOW! It’s just me.” He did have the aura of a star though–I was a bit star struck meeting him since he was so tall and handsome with a very warm grin (hey–it was a long time ago). After the General left the room we all gave Sergeant Jones the “you are a moron look” and hoped he wouldn’t pull that crap again.
When meetings were going on things got quiet and it was time to have a cup of coffee. I grabbed a cup and sat down in a lovely executive suite–I wasn’t just an Airman here–I was Ms. So and So and I could blend in so much easier. I was impressed with the massive platters of free food at my disposal since I was just a poor Airman, I couldn’t afford to buy those fabulous little, individually wrapped cheeses. I ate a lot of cheese that week…and fresh pastries and chocolate…yum. Anyway, as I was sitting there, eating my cheese, a gentleman sat next to me and we began to talk. He was very nice and told me stories about a town in Portugal where he and his family used to live. We talked about life in Europe and the ups and downs–he told me about a time his wife had her purse snatched once and chased the guy up a hill in a vain attempt to catch him. I told him about my wild times with friends in Paris for New Years Eve and nights in Brussels. We talked for at least an hour about it all and he never gave off that creepy “dirty old man” vibe so I liked him. I hated dirty old men, they were everywhere and gross. Eventually, he went back to work and I went back to my typing and that was that.
The hotel I was put in was quite an economy option since I had to share a bathroom (down the hall) and there was no transportation to NATO HQ arranged for us lowly souls. We had to walk to the Sheraton next door to catch our bus. I didn’t care–I was happy for the adventure. After 2 hard days of work, I finally had the chance to show Lisa my town. I took her to Le Cercueil to drink out of a skull mug, to the Delirium Cafe, La Porte Noir–to drink the oldest beer in Belgium and plenty more whose names I forgot! Finally, we wrapped up the night on pita-row and devoured the best tasting gyro EVER. It was a very late night.
The phone in my room rang extra-loud the next morning and all I remember hearing was, “Hey, are you coming in to work soon? We need you here.” SHIT! I overslept and probably wreaked of booze and garlic…rookie mistake! So I scrambled to get ready, threw on my nearest outfit and raced down the stairs and across the street to the Sheraton for a bus ride to HQ. Yup, I missed the last morning bus. Crap.
However, I saw that nice gentleman I sat next to at work and boldly approached him to ask if I could catch a ride in when he goes back to work. He was kind and said he’d be happy to let me tag along, huge relief. We walked toward the door together and I see a bullet-proof Mercedes pull up and the driver jumped out to open the door to the back seat. Gulp. Holy CRAP, who is this guy? I never thought to ask him his name…just figured he was some GS-someone working the Ministerial too. I nervously giggled and said, “Are you sure I should go in with you?” and he responded, “yes, of course, its no trouble.” I confessed to him that I tied one on the night before and slept in and missed my bus. Classy.
As we approached the Marine security guard at the HQ, the Marine peeked in and looked at me sitting next to the old man and couldn’t help but smile a bit. I was beyond embarrassed at this point but I think the old man was enjoying it. I finally said, “who are you?” and he told me he was the former Ambassador to Portugal and currently holding another position (I can’t recall now). I said, “I hope you don’t mind walking in with a young woman to work because you know what everyone will assume about us.” He smiled and said, “I know.”
Did I mention that this was the day I chose to wear my fishnet pantyhose with the line up the back of my legs? Good Lord.
After a quick google search, I learned that I am an “Earth Rooster” and that my fixed element is “metal” and this means I am courageous but judgmental, ambitious but cruel, and although I have high morals I am jaded…hmmm. I also went down a feng shui rabbit hole and mentally redesigned my entire house so it is balanced and calm. I’m sitting in my power spot now.
How much of this is b.s.? It depends on what I choose to perceive as my reality, right? Just like Santa–if you believe, he will exist. I am choosing to believe that this is my year, I will use my courageous ambition to succeed. When I told my husband, “this is the year of Kristin,” he attempted to articulate the exactness of my success–in what way (exactly) it will be the year of Kristin–but I stopped him. “Do NOT try to put me in a box. I am a broad brush, you can’t define my success in any way, shape or form. I will achieve many things in many areas making up my wholeness.” I smiled and he smiled back, knowing that he’ll never figure me out and content with this reality.
Is is a cop-out to be so vague? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps it’s my eternal optimism that will inspire my enthusiasm to work hard enough to make something wonderful happen.
It’s Friday and the Taj Mahal is closed today so Hussein picked me up at the hotel with the promise of taking me sightseeing. I told him I wanted to see the rescue elephants he mentioned so he took that to mean “she loves animals and wants to photograph all of them” argh. The weather is insanely, brain-fryingly hot at 44 degrees celsius and an “air conditioned car” simply means that the fan works.
“Crystal, I take you to see animals today,” Hussein promises with a grin. Off we go, and go, and go…out of Agra proper and beyond. Hmmm, are we going on safari? Shit, I am in a taxi with a strange man and have only my camera to protect me. Approximately 45 minutes later (after a few u-turns into oncoming traffic) we arrive at an animal sanctuary for sloth bears and birds (not elephants). The place looks legitimate, pretty nice and well kept and we park near what appears to be a ranger station. Hussein convinces the “ranger” to show us some sloth bears. The 2 bears we see look great, as if they were on display at a nice zoo, albeit hot as hell (poor guys had to be suffering in this stifling heat). Hussein kept ordering me to photograph the bears. I am not, nor ever claimed to be a wildlife photog. I photograph people and places, I’m interested in the stories, not the pretty scenes. The most irritating thing you can say to a photographer is “take a picture of this!”
Drenched in sweat and ready to get back into the fan-conditioned car I indicated I was ready to leave. Hussein instructed me to give the ranger a donation for his trouble, I complied and when we got into the car he smiled and said, “See, Crystal, I show you animals!” “Yes, you did, thank you.” “No, you say, shukria to me.” (I later found out this means thank you in Urdu vs the Hindi word I learned which is “dan’yavada.”) “Shukria, Hussein-ji,” I said to him and he grinned and told me that we were going to see elephants after we have lassi. I had no idea what lassi was nor was I interested in having one (I fear drinks from street vendors) but I figured I haven’t been sick yet so why not give it a go. He insisted that I try this drink and promised I would enjoy it and he was right. It was a frothy, sweet drink that is apparently made of yogurt. It is served very cold in a terra cotta cup that is immediately discarded (yes, thrown into the fricken trash can). I balked at the thought of throwing away this perfectly good, probably hand crafted, terra cotta cup and he laughed at my naiveté. How quaint! “You are like Japanese tourist who kept cup for souvenir.” Well, Hussein, it seems ridiculously wasteful to discard a lovely and perfectly serviceable cup! But, I didn’t want to put the messy cup in my camera bag so I gingerly placed it on top of hundreds of other cups in the heaving bin. Such waste… “You see, Crystal, I know what is good, you like lassi, you trust me now I show you good things.” “Yes, Hussein, shukria for lassi.” (while my inside voice is saying “ok, asshole, you got me to buy you a drink, now will you do your job and take me to the sanctuary you promised?”)
We finally arrive at the elephant sanctuary and it seemed absent of any people. The place was very haphazardly set up with a dirt road entrance that led us to a lonely elephant. My heart crumbled as I witnessed a beautiful beast tied down with rope around one leg. He was clearly stimulated as I approached and he reached out to me with his trunk through the bars. I touched his outstretched trunk and he grabbed my hand and pulled me close to him. I was a bit spooked–they really can grab your hand hard–and pulled back. It was a connection but seemed sad and desperate, not happy and playful. This is the same connection that I will make with many children in the upcoming days. I immediately reached down and began to feed him with the hay that was on the ground, just outside his reach. He took it from me and ate. I choked back my tears and photographed him twice…for me. Hussein was all puffed up and proud that he delivered an elephant to me to photograph. I couldn’t hide my discomfort at the sight of a tied up elephant but I was careful not to judge or condemn. Then he pointed to another elephant who he said was very sick when she came and is now very healthy. I smiled and told him how good it was to know she was being taken care of and allowed to live outside of a horrible circus now.
Anxious to leave, I asked if we could return to town. Hussein decided that I should now see the “mini/baby Taj” to sight see. I was mildly irritated because he clearly had an agenda–he got out of the taxi and pointed to the entrance of the “baby Taj” (as he called it) and said, “Crystal, you go take photo of baby Taj” while he met with some friends outside the gate. Ok, Hussein, you are clearly the boss.
I attached a few photos of things that inspired me on this walk around a beautiful garden and the baby Taj. It was lovely and I didn’t regret paying for entry. Quite frankly, I was happy to be walking on my own for an hour without Hussein barking at me to take photos or a stranger trying to sell me something or beg me for money.
After all this, I needed a break and I welcomed the opportunity to ditch Hussein for a few hours and eat lunch in my lovely, truly air-conditioned hotel room. We agreed to meet at 1700 to photograph the Taj at sunset (from a garden spot he told me about).
The gardens proved to be quite beautiful and a perfect spot to see the Taj Mahal. I hate to admit it but it’s just a beautiful building to me. Nothing more, nothing less but I certainly do not get the “wondrous” connection that many others do. I’m much more enamored by living, breathing people. You can see by my cheesy photo that I indulged Hussein by pretending to “hold” the Taj in my fingers (yes, he insisted) before leaving for yet a few more shopping excursions that I did not request. As all taxi drivers here do, he drove me to places that his friends owned in hopes that he would bring them business and they would owe him a favor. Sorry, Dude, you caught me at the worst time…not only am I in the middle of an overseas move, I have recently embraced a no-clutter mantra in my life and have chosen to live more and buy/own less. I’m proud of myself for holding my ground in spite of all the determined salesmen who tried to impress me with their wares. I returned to my hotel with NOTHING! Success. As we are driving back to the hotel, he asks me if my hair color is natural and when I told him, yes, he replied, “are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure, is yours?” I quipped. “How old are you, Crystal?””How old are you, Hussein?” As my English friend would say, this guy has more neck than a giraffe!
When he returned me to the hotel, he informed me that I did not tip him enough when he dropped me off–asswad! Seriously!? We never negotiated a price for the day (another rookie mistake) so I gave him more than I paid the driver in Delhi and then some…so, I told him that I would pay more tomorrow if he picked me up and made sure I got train tickets to Banda. He agreed. After that hair color comment, he is lucky he got any tip!