March 21, 2008

Here's what a "typical" day is like ...

...let's say this Thursday, March 19:

Babil PRT Staff meeting at 8:30am.

Fire training at 9am, which is a requirement for new arrivals.

1130am: I was to host a visiting Colonel from Baghdad and the Treasury Attaché, when I found out just prior to arrival by helo that it was a large delegation. After they deboarded we found out that an Ambassador, whom I had met many years ago, was the ranking person, (not the Colonel), plus a whole group of senior guys from USAID and the Embassy. (One of them asked where he had met me earlier, and it turns out he worked in USAID in Pretoria with Barbara. First person in Iraq to peg me as Barbara Hillas' husband!). Only when the meeting started did I and my deputies learn that the purpose of the visit was to critically look at PRTs...

Anyway, when the visiting delegation left after its one and one half hour visit, we threw on our armor vests and drove off to visit the Euphrates Fish Farm.

Got back to the compound just in time to sit down for almost two hours with a French/Iraqi film director, Amer Alwan, who is known for Zaman, the Man from the Reeds, a semi-documentary about a Marsh Arab. (The Smithsonian Magazine wrote about the Marsh Arabs 2.5 years ago and National Geographic 5 years ago ). His documentary on Iraq will be called "Another World", which pretty much captures my initial reactions to Hillah. He wants to show that life is starting to return to normal and that there is a new sense of hope in Iraq.

He is actually a native of Hillah who moved to France 25 years ago. This is his first time back and he was surprised in passing through Baghdad how easy it was to move around and that there was not a blanket of dread hanging over the city. He had the same impression in coming down here to Hillah.

At 6pm I was able to sit down and start to read emails. At 10pm the DFAC (dining facility) opens again for the late night crowd. In this place, you are never more than a few hours away from an amazingly bountiful buffet. It would be easy to gain weight here.

I prepared for the following day's ceremonies out at the Babylonian ruins celebrating Babil designation as Iraq's cultural capital. Prime Minister Maliki will be there as well.

I also learned that a Sadrist member of the Provincial Council called asking to meet with me about an issue that I'll skip over here.

By 10:30pm I was able to go grab a bite and then go to bed.

March 20, 2008

Birding in Iraq...

Barbara says it's coming in the mail...

Anglers delight!

Fish farming in Babil?

Today we threw on our armor vests and drove off to visit the Euphrates Fish Farm (EFF, as it is known here), which is the site of a big multi-million dollar project to expand carp production.

Carp, of course, seem to be beloved by all the world except by North Americans, who still consider the fish trash.

Photo by Field and Stream

The project is moving along and at the end of the day Iraq will soon have several million more carp to eat.

Some will be exported down to Diwaniyah, but the Poles will be gone by the time that the carp are big enough to be eaten. (Both Poles and Czechs love their carp. It is their Christmas specialty.)

Did you know, for example, that carp scales are like trees? The EFF Director yanked one scale off a pregnant female -- don't tell PETA -- and showed me five rings for five years.

I now know way more about carp than I thought was possible!

March 19, 2008

Once upon a time in Babylon...

Babylon, the city made great by Hammurabi and his code, and made famous by the story of the Tower of Babel, was the site of the first recorded inflation, which lasted a decade! Alexander the Great was responsible for it... he was also mummified in Babylon.

This pic of a couple of years ago shows a Polish helicopter hovering over the ancient city of Babylon (about 10 kilometers from Hilla).

More general information about Babylon, from ancient times to present day can be found here.

March 18, 2008

Some of the things we do here...

The T-Wall Beautification project: beautifying the ugly, large cement slabs that surround provincial infrastructure, from Hamza to Jibala.

More Katyushas.

Voice of Iraq (Aswat Aliraq) reported the St. Patrick's day's attack on what many refer to as the US Consulate, but which is really the Regional Embassy Office (REO).

They missed again, but if you weren't awake by 6:17am -- I was -- you weren't likely to keep sleeping.

By the way, the Babel Hotel of the article was once a 4-star hotel!

March 17, 2008

Iraqi sand storms...

The sand is so super fine that it suspends in the air like a fog.

Guess where the Spanish "Usted" comes from?

.........It comes from "Usthaat", which in Arabic is used as "sir", and actually means professor.


Yesterday we walked around the school that was damaged by the Katyushka rocket attack - just before a dust storm hit.

On the wall next to the Arabic writing that you can see in the background of one of the two photos below, there was a long biography of Christopher Columbus in English!

I have an armor on underneath my jacket, so rumors of my having gained 20 lbs are false.

The FLO (Family Liason Officer) said to us at the crash and bang course back in Washington, people return from Iraq as hunks, drunks, skunks (the guys who cheat), or junks (messed up).

March 16, 2008

We had a bit of excitement here last evening...

.. which has evidently made it to some LA news website. So I wanted you to hear from me that I am fine and no one here was hurt when we had a few (21) rockets launched at the compound. All of the rockets missed us, although a local school and a few homes were struck. I visited the school today (Saturday) to look at the damage. It is repairable, and fortunately the attack took place on a Friday so school was not in session and no children were hurt.

UPDATE: One woman was killed and it was not 21 rockets but 25! Check out here and here.