April 1, 2015
It is the last day in my windowless and bathroom-less room – thank God. It has been about six months since the last time I set foot on American soil and saw my family. Those statements were on my mind when I opened my eyes in the morning. I woke up from the bed, got ready and went to work. I was physically present, but mentally in many places. Mostly, my mind was occupied with the journey. I planned to leave work early.
I went around, shook hands and said “goodbye pending” to my friends and co-workers. This might be the last time I see them or see the place. Recently, many people have gone on holiday and never returned. A few were laid off while enjoying holidays with their loved ones.
It was around 6:00pm when an armored black BMW 700 with a diplomatic license plate pulled by the housing building. I placed my luggage in the car and N who is a friend of mine drove. We pulled up to the White gate to scan our badges.
“I am going to miss this place”, I said to N.
We scanned, then drove to the helicopter pad, passing the U.A.E, Egyptian, and the Italian Embassies.
As we drove, I was looking around and absorbing the place. Reminiscing over my life, this job was not part of the plan. I never would have believed that one day there would be a U.S. Diplomatic car giving me a ride to an airport. It is a dream, albeit in mundane form.
After checking-in at the helicopter counter, I went to the waiting area. A few U.S. Army soldiers were sitting watching TV. CNN was reporting on the Iran nuclear deal and Netanyahu’s power to affect U.S. foreign policy in the region. And I found myself wondering, who was the President – Obama or Netanyahu? It is the best nuclear deal in history. As a person who lived in this region, I see it as having great benefits. Many of the problems in the Middle East will be settled, in my opinion, if we make this deal with Iran. I would label it a Nixonian approach to Iran.
I put on a body armor went outside waiting for the helicopters. I was looking to the horizon, and the sun setting over Baghdad, maybe for the last time. The sky was colored with dark orange faded to a light blue followed by a dark sky, stars starting to appear. And the two floating dots in the sky were two helicopters, approaching from the west.
A few minutes later, they landed in front of us and we boarded, heading to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). I sat sideways behind one of the pilots looking over his shoulders at the green dashboard. Riding in a helicopter is one of our perks I really enjoy. It is about seven minutes of a retreat to the sky, over the ancient city of Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.
The side door remained open, the adrenaline rush of the take off, the wind hitting my face, all of it made my heart beat faster. The feeling of being suspended in mid-air is surreal, and made all the more so, by watching the escort helicopter, only a few hundred yards away from mine – like an out of body experience – watching yourself from a distance.
The straight lines of white lights radiating from the houses, and orange lights from the curving highways, gave the city the look of being blanketed with mini-runways. Passing over some of Saddam’s former palaces, it was impossible to believe that car bombs could explode down in one of those streets any minute as we were was flying. I recorded the entire flight in my memory, right up until we landed.
Around 9pm, I joined four of my friends, who work at airport compound, around a small fireplace. We spent the night talking about our contracting life and enjoying smoking Hookah. We shared stories and news about who quit or moved to a different contract, as we fed the fire and discussed future possibilities.
There was one story that made us shake our heads at the irony of our jobs. Two friends of ours moved to a new contract that was responsible for escorting busses for a salary of $180k a year. I had applied for the job. I was smiling and thinking to myself, after investing $85K in education to obtain my B.S. and M.S. in computer science; I was trying to be a bus escort. “How low can I degrade myself for money?!” I said, and we all laughed.
Our friend Bashi resigned after seven years of service to the State Department, in Basra. He was on his way home on the same flight with me. The other guys had been working there for the past two years. As for me, it was my third year.
At one point, Rasool and I climbed the stairs over one of the nearby trailers to look around the airport. We were looking out at the backside of the Baghdad Airport where a few airplanes taxied on to the terminals, and I was reminded of a time 10 years ago, when I landed in the dark in Baghdad, on a C-17 with the U.S. Army.
Shortly after that, we ended the night and each of us went to his room.
to be continued