Sunday, January 11, 2009

Beauty in a Fish Head

In September of 2004 I was mobilized as an Air National Guardsman to serve a tour in Iraq. I arrived in Tikrti Iraq just before the first elections were held. Here is the first story I wrote after arriving there. I hope to post them all here eventually. (note, remember, at the time my name was Sue Smith as you will see on all my uniforms!)

Right before I left for Iraq, I was watching a great program called the Power of Intent. It was one of those motivational programs and the speaker was very good. At one point, he was describing a prisoner of war's experience and how that man found the strength to find beauty wherever and whenever he could, even if it had to be in the fish head of his meager soup. Well I am by far way better off than he. And I can bemoan my situation here, or I can find the beauty in this fish head. So here is the beauty that I have found. We had a quite interesting flight on a C-130, from Qatar, through Balad, into Forward Operating Base (FOB) Speicher. Again I was human cargo, strapped to a webbed seat next to the other pallets of baggage. I stepped off of the plane in the middle of the night to the most star filled sky I had ever seen. And there ready to great me was my old friend Orion and his hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor. It seems they are my guardians. I see them every morning on my way to the latrine.

The latrine and bath house are each a small prefab building called a cadillac (the cadillac of porta johns) and luckily are right near my room. It is still interesting to have to get dressed and walk outside to use the bathroom, especially in the rain. Very similar to camp, and the South Pole for that matter!

On my second day in Iraq, I had another adventuresome ride, this time in a helicopter, from FOB Speicher to FOB Danger, my new home. The ride was short, but I will never forget my first glimpse of the Tigris River, wide and muddy, with palm trees dotting the banks. That's when I knew I had finally arrived. The helicopter pilots were not too enthused about having to lug our 30 bags of stuff around and when we landed here, the choppers basically vomited our bags out and took off.

The sunrises are beautiful here. It is a land of big skies. Not many trees to be found, but still there is something so exotic about watching the sunrise through palm trees that are here. Yesterday, I awoke to the sound someone calling muslims to pray from one of the minarets in town. It is a beautiful yet haunting chant and it immediately makes you aware of where you are. Today on our way to the chow hall, we passed the minaret here on base just as the sun rose behind it.

The craftsmanship of the palaces here is really astounding. Everything is mosaic tile, marble, brass and fillagreed wrought iron. The buildings look as if they could be thousands of years old. Especially in the beat up state some of them are in. I wish I knew what the inscriptions over some of the doors say. The hallways and chandeliers are amazing. I know there are all sorts of political reasons not to like these palaces, but I like them for what they are- beautiful. And I am so fortunate to be able to be working out of one of them instead of out of a tent.

Same for my broomcloset room. It is dry and weather proof and is situated very near everything that I need to get to. And Orion and his pals greet me each time I open the door.Well, there it is- my beauty in the fish-head of an adventure. I hope to be able to write more regularly now, but who knows what each day brings. We are almost into a routine, so the time passes by fairly quickly. Tomorrow marks my first week down. What a week it has been!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Naptha Soap

I inherited a beautiful quilt from my mother. It is an applique quilt with thousands of neat perfect stitches in wonderful patterns all over it. She got the quilt from her mother who found it at a yard sale wrapped around an old greasy motorcycle. The man couldn't believe she wanted the stained decrepid thing when she asked if it was for sale, so he gave it to her for free.

My grandmother then proceeded to use all the time honored cleaning techniques that had been passed down over generations to get the majority of the stains out of the mostly white quilt. She did a marvelous job. But some stains remained, just enough to make you realize this quilt has had some adventures.

Once I got it appraised and was told it was hand quilted and they were most impressed at the workmanship. It appraised for about four hundred dollars. Now I had to decide what to do with it. Should I put in on the bed and use it everyday? Should I put it away, carefully stored against wear and tear and keep it as an investment? I decided it was too beautiful to lock away, so on the bed it went.

I love sleeping beneath this quilt. It is so soft to feel. It is so pretty to look at. But sure enough as the days went by, I would hear a stitch occasionally give way. And then another and another. But I think that is what life is all about.

I have tried to make my life a beautiful life. A comfortable one to wrap around people. But there I was, a little worse for wear, with stitches popping out everywhere. I was hitting what would be called the 'antique" years, stained with tears, and the grime of living. But just like this quilt, I was rescued from the trials and tribulations of life and made clean again with love and understanding. God has Naptha soaped my soul and made me useful again. He has sent me a new family to wrap with warm and hold together with the threads of love. I feel so fortunate to have this quilt. And my new life. They are both prized possessions worth more than I could have ever thought possible. I feel warmly wrapped in the past as I look forward to my future.
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Year of the Story

I have decided that 2009 is going to be the Year of the Story for me. I see lots of talking going on lately, but I see very little actual communication taking place. So I decided that I am going to start posting stories.

Everyone loves stories. And everyone HAS stories. If we started to fill the web up with actual STORIES it would be such a wonderful place to visit. The thing about stories is, they need an audience to work. So I am in the process of finding out how to get an audience on the web to read -or hear-my stories. And to get this audience to contribute them too. Because I am like everyone else- I LOVE to read stories. So here is my first story:

A friend of mine has a son named Sanue. He is a beautiful mocha skinned boy who is a year and a half old. For Christmas, I wanted to get him a child's book about Senegal. I searched all over and only found one sad looking one. So I thought I would write him a story myself.

I started to research things about Senegal, where is it for one thing? And how come there are no stories about Senengal for kids for another? Do they not have any stories? Here is what I found out.

Senegal is a former French Colonyon the west coast of Africa that is now independent. It has an interesting bit of land going through the middle of it called the Gambia. Like many African nations, it has gone through lots of upheaval. It is made up of lots of different cultures too.
The most interesting thing I found out about Senegal is that not only does it have stories, it has LOTS of them. It has people whose special purpose in life is to tell stories. These people are called Griots, and they were the story tellers of the ancient warrior kings and the task was passed down from generation to generation.

The Griots were responsible for keeping the stories of the ancient kings, of their great battles and noble deeds. They were also the keepers of the folk tales. And these folk tales involved the adventures of the local animals:

Leuk- the Hare who was known for his cunning and wit
Bouki- the Hyena who was known as a thief
Choi- the Parrot who was a terrible gossip
Gayndeh- theLion who was known for his courage

They also had magical people too:

Konderong-dwarfs with long beards
Doma- witches

What a rich culture the Sengalese turned out to have. They have had storytellers for thousands of years! The stories just haven't made it into a transportable form yet. They are still told in an oral tradition. How long before these stories are lost? Are there still Griots in Africa? Are they still keeping the stories alive?

What about our stories. Who will tell them to the future.
Tell your story, the audience is here waiting for you. We want to hear it. Be the Griot of the Web and send it out. They are important to us- and the to future.
Make 2009 the Year of the Story. It's easy, just start typing- or talking.