* 4 min read

I love the idea that courtesies are built-in to social networks today. Endorsements, happy birthday and congratulations for new jobs are good manners that have extended into our Facebook and LinkedIn lives.

A few days ago, LinkedIn promoted my three-year-work anniversary with the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The website nudged my connections to say congratulations to me.

The truth is, I don’t remember if I have ever said “happy work anniversary” in real life to a friend or co-worker. However, many thanks to those who commented and liked the anniversary appreciation LinkedIn posted on my behalf.

LinkedIn post

Yes, it was around this time three years ago, when I came to the embassy- a capital of political glamour and celebrity of all it’s own. I had been working as a senior programmer with Accenture at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. I still remember the day when I was riding the Red Line train from Howard Station to downtown Chicago.

It was very early on a cold windy morning when my phone rang.

“Are you ready for tomorrow? You will be flying to Baghdad to work at the Embassy”, the caller said.

At that moment with that single call, my life took another major turn.

I am proud to have this opportunity to work at the embassy and to be part of its history. I am also lucky to have met many people, and high officials that most people in America only dream of. Many gifted writers, if they had a chance, would write beautiful books about the experience of being here.

I have been working as a linguist contractor for the past three years; it has been a great professional development. It is my third distinct work experience; previously, I worked five years in corporate America with Accenture as well as four years as a civilian contractor embedded in the U.S. Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

These three unique experiences have helped my professional development in leadership, management, and people skills. As I indicated, the embassy is a capital of its own. Working three years at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and interacting with people from different backgrounds is the equivalent to obtaining a degree in relationships and people skills from Harvard University.

It has been an emotional roller coaster. It is an adventure; I don’t know where or how it will end – dying in Iraq or going back alive. For example, the first month of being in Iraq, my beloved grandmother died in Chicago. I had to mourn alone. Then, Christmas and New Year’s away from loved ones.

The discipline of staying three years working abroad and away from family and loved ones is a valuable experience. Learning to laugh at misfortune and not panic when bad things happen such as my Argo moment. All are skills I learned that helped me become a better person and improve throughout this three-year journey.

My friends ask me what is it like working here.

I am not sure where to begin or how to answer this question. It was a dream come true for me. I know it sounds like what everyone says after a vacation. Trying not to sum up three years of experience into a blog, I have written about a few moments.

I have met many people and developed relationships. There are individuals who have a great sense of loyalty. Others are proudly claiming to be an “Honest Asshole”, which is a category of people I never would’ve believed exist until I worked in Iraq.

There were moments when some individuals were talking to me; I was thinking if I could press a button and ship one to the moon and send the other to a crocodile‘s mouth. At times, I wish I had a universal remote (which those damn things never worked anyway) It took emotional control, yet sometimes muttering to myself alone or in my head something like: “Living the fucking dream!”

I don’t mean to sound like it’s all bad. Let me share one of our perks in Iraq. Riding a helicopter is one of the nicest things about the job…Yes…riding a helicopter.

I remember one of those rides a few months ago. I was flying from the Embassy to Baghdad International Airport at night. After I checked-in for the helicopter, the person behind the counter told me “You are lucky today.” I didn’t understand what that meant.

After the helicopters landed from the dark sky, and that’s when I understood.

“You and your luggage will have that helicopter all for your own.”, he added.

As the only passenger flying over Baghdad at night, it was my nightly sky retreat in heaven. Looking at those green dashboard gauges and overseeing the city lights and houses of Baghdad is a feeling words fail to describe. It was difficult to imagine a city tormented by car bombs. The wind was hitting my face. I closed my eyes. I embraced the moment. I enjoyed every minute of that flight. My life was flashing in my head – How far I had come to be here.

These three years have been filled with moments of wonder and fear alike – stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Finally, as the social courtesies are disappearing from real life, and artificial automatic courtesies appearing in the real real social life (a blog all of it’s own), I wonder what is next in these social network circles. In real life, I personally know a few men and women who celebrate their divorce and break up anniversaries. Certainly one day this job will come to an end, wouldn’t it be helpful if LinkedIn and other networks promote something like:

Congratulate Ninos for telling off his boss. He is actively seeking to schedule interviews ASAP” to all connections?


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Some previous moments below:

Camaraderie of “Red Solo Cups” in the world of contractors!

Laziness in Perspective – a management lesson (comic included)