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The Base

I know you are all reading my blog daily 🙂 so I’m sure you are all disappointed in the three day break. What I’ve been doing these days is meeting with many people and following them on the many tasks and jobs they do.

I have jumped up into a truck with the waste disposal guys, the trash collection guys, the toilet cleaners and, in the next few days I’ll do the same with the several other services that comprise the management of camps. As an exercise in learning process and man management, very interesting. But enough of work. What else have I seen?

The Baghdad International Airport (called BIAP for short) is enormous. The roads go on for miles and miles and miles. I haven’t figured out how many camps there are inside the complex but it feels like hundreds. There’s military and civilian, US, Iraqi and sub-contractors from several countries. The civilian people I see working here are mostly from central and eastern Europe, south Asia and Africa – principally Uganda.

From what I hear, the workers stay for 6-12 months then go home, while managers stay for about two years. They all come for the money of course, which by comparison to their countries of origin is high.

Most of the work they do is manual – from construction to maintenance to cleaning. The hours they work are relatively long – up very early in the morning through to mid afternoon. That is so they can get most of their work done in the cooler part of the day, but also because the security controls take such a long time. I think that out of nine hours work time, the actual work is five hours, with two hours spent driving around and two hours spent in security checks.

Nearly everything is surrounded by great T-bars of cement (imagine a T upside down) anything up to 3,5 meters tall and walls of HESCOs – one meter cubes of earth packed into containers made of heavy paper and wire mesh. In the living quarters there are often double rows of T-bars. All of this of course to protect people from bombs and missiles.

In one area where the soldiers live in tents they have put up a netting over the tents to shade them from strong sunlight, fixing the netting to the T-bars. The end result looks like a bedouin family has settled in a souk built next to the walls of a castle. Some have built wooden porches on the front of their container-cabins, others have planted some bushes, yet others have a barbecue.

Scattered around are the usual concrete bunkers, long upturned Us of cement with a T-bar protecting the ends. Pallets of plastic water bottles stacked everywhere for anyone who wants fresh water to avoid de-hydrating.

I have met some Iraqis here, of course to talk to them of many things. Thanks to the situation there seems to be many fewer local hires than would be in more stable circumstances (I compare with the local hires in Afghanistan) and that was indeed the case earlier in the occupation. Highly qualified, educated men doing jobs no one with the same skills would even dream of doing in other countries.

Such is the result of dictatorship, tyranny and war. Dreams are overthrown, ambitions smashed, lives shattered.

The helicopters keep flying in at night. This camp is on their flight path so the cabin shakes as it would in an earthquake. This last night either not many came in or I’ve learned to sleep with their sound.

I can hear, in the far distance, the occasional sound of explosions. From what I am told, these are controlled explosions by the US Army. But when the helicopters take off, they do throw out the anti-missile flares – so danger isnt so far away.

The weather is cooling – its chillier at night than it used to be and there is a fine veil of clouds in the sky now.

I haven’t taken any photographs of real interest because the security rules for temporary personnel absolutely prohibit it, and in the military camp areas you just can’t take cameras or cellphones of anything inside. Anyway it looks like the base in Kandahar, and you can see those fotos here.