Over Here – Day 88

Finally, I – we, are here. A landscape foreign, yet familiar. A desert of a different kind. For me, the sight meant a little more since it reminded me of where I grew up. It’s funny how when you fly, your entire period of travel stretches out into one long day. My wake-up at Ft. Lewis doesn’t seem that long ago. Our last day there wasn’t too eventful, well, if you don’t count to whole “going to war” thing. We packed up our stuff and staged it outside before we had a “GI Party” (Army euphemism for cleaning things up) at the barracks. That took a few hours, since we had to sweep and mop, strip the floors, wax them, and finally buff them. We waited around for a while with nothing to do, since we wouldn’t get on the buses until 22:30. Our unit was split in two, with one half taking off earlier than the rest of us. So after we said Good-Bye to them, we sat around watching movies, listening to music, and talking to family and friends. I called up almost everyone I know and bade farewell to them. I also had the opportunity that evening to meet someone I had met during AIT at Ft. Lee. It was another Malayalee in the Army. It was actually pure luck that I got in touch with him. While I was at the Soldier Processing Center, one of the stations I went through was the Chaplain’s station. I noticed his last name was “Joseph”, and his features looked South Indian to me, and so I was pretty sure he was a Christian-Malayalee. I proceeded to ask him if he was from India, and if so, if he was from Kerala. He replied in the affirmative, and we proceeded to talk some more. I was telling him how he was the second Malayalee that I’ve met in the US Army. When he asked me who the first was, I told him, and that was when he told me that he knew who I was talking about and that the soldier had been here for the last four years. He gave me his number and I was able to get in touch with him on my last day at Ft. Louis. He said it was a pity that we couldn’t get in touch earlier, since he could have introduced me to the other Malayalees on base. Apparently there are at least 20 on the base, and there is a sizeable Malayalee community in the vicinity of Ft. Louis. In addition, had we met earlier, I could possibly have even celebrated Onam there. But eitherway, it was good to get in touch with him again.

Our departure from Ft. Louis was pretty uneventful and we made it to McChord Airforce Base pretty quickly. There, we waited for a while since our flight wouldn’t be leaving until 2:30 am. My buddies and I got some dinner from the USO and then I took a nap until it was time for our flight. To get to our flight, we had to walk to the plane. It was a decently long walk at a brisk pace, with all our gear (minus the ruck and duffel bags) in really cold weather. Once I boarded the flight, I felt rather incongruous. The flight was a civilian flight, but here I was, walking down with my rifle slung in front of me, and a pistol strapped to my thigh. You don’t get to do that every day. The flight was pretty comfortable, and I was pretty tired, so I slept most of the way to our first stop, which was the town of Gander in Canada. Gander happens to be in New Foundland, which as I learnt, is pronounced “Noo Funland” and not pronounced how it is spelt. The town is also in the middle of nowhere. The landscape looked pretty desolate and seemed to have been through a controlled burn except for the occasional evergreen. We were in transit at Gander for almost on hour. During that hour, I got to brush up on some French by trying to read the signs and understand them. I also got some real chocolate from the duty-free store. We got back on the plane and flew to Budapest. During this flight, I slept some more, listened to some music, and watched the end of The Italian Job, watched Fantastic Four, and saw most of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life before they stopped it in mid-show because of our arrival at our destination. We weren’t allowed to deplane at Budapest and so sat around for about three hours while they changed crews and refueled. I couldn’t see much of Budapest since it was night, and the city lights outside made it look like pretty much any other city at night. For the next leg, I listened to more music, finished Contact by Carl Sagan for the second time, and started on Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Soon, I heard the pilot announce over the intercom that we would be coming into Kuwait International Airport in about 20 to 30 minutes. People pushed up the window shades, and sunlight spilled into cabin. Once we were at a lower altitude, I could make out the landscape. It reminded me a lot of Oman, and also of Arizona. Once we landed, we secured out gear, and waited around for instructions. Somebody came onto the plane and in true military fashion, barked out instructions for us. We got out, made our way to a bus and headed to the staging area where we waited for two hours for more instructions. After waiting around, we finally got an escort to our base. It was supposed to take us an hour and a half to get there, but it took us three because apparently, our escorts got lost.

We finally reached the camp, which is in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing as far as the eye can see, and the land is completely flat. There is absolutely nothing around here. The camp looks like it’s in a permanent state of construction. The landscape is dotted with white tents in the shape of ellipsoid half-cylinders. This is what we live in. There are also other forms of housing that are either other forms of tents, or pre-fabs. The placement of the buildings seem to be pretty haphazard, but I think there is a method to the madness. I haven’t seen a single living thing (other than us, and I did see one fly) around here. The land is devoid of any vegetation and frankly, looks like some sort of lunar or martian outpost. However, it’s not all that bad. They’ve done a good job of making the place habitable. The food here isn’t that bad – it’s actually better than what they had at Ft. Louis, and there are more choices. Also they have Taco Bell, Burger King, and Baskin Robbins here. Oh yeah, and Shawerma shops too! I don’t feel that this place is all that bad, and I’m not disappointed to be here. I’m looking at everything as a new experience, and so far, it has been pretty interesting. We’ve had this entire day off, and I haven’t done much other than eat, sleep, and play computer games. It’s been a slow day. Tomorrow, we start training. I don’t know how long we are going to be here, but our time started the moment we got here. So I’m hoping that I’ll be back in the United States a year from now.

That’s all for now. I’d put up some pictures, except the upstream speed here is pretty slow, and it’s taking a while. I’ll try and do it next time, if I have more time. Until then, take care and keep in touch.