The best traveling is time traveling. We (journalists and planners) awoke this morning in the early 1900’s. A potbelly stove strove to warm the dusty, drafty, and mostly forgotten ranch house built from 1903-1905. The house itself woke to find squatters in sleeping pods in every room and hallway. This ranch house is now used only once a year for a month of skiing. Skiing? I looked at Frederico Siha, the 67 year old man who owns the property and has lived here for over 50yrs. He didn’t strike me as a skier. Apparently the word for skiing and sheering (of sheep) is very close, my translator corrected with a smile. Senior Siha has three children, all living in the city, none with any interest in continuing the farm tradition, “You have to keep going till you can’t,” he tells me. Further, he’s sure they’ll just sell the land when the time comes. But before then, he wants to travel to Europe, a place he’s never been. When pressed for specifics he smiles and says, “Anywhere in Europe.” More…
The race started, like all good races, with a bang – this particular bang came from a Chilean policeman’s pistola. The beach was empty of teams long before the bullet fell God knows where. Getting to this point however was far from easy.
6:30am, Punta Arenas (Photos)
Everyone, including the first rays of sunlight, gathered in the town’s Central Plaza to board a fleet of buses…buses we would get to know very well. Many of us had already survived the greatest danger of the day…a frenetic ride in local taxis. We watched our last city sunrise for many days and packed into the tour coaches for transport to the kayak launching point and the official start of the race. The early hour muted some of the excitement as racers settled-in. Highly engineered socks started poking up from reclined bus seats by those achieving curious pretzel-nap poses only possible on chartered transports. Lumbering down the highway I watched the scenery change from graffiti-peppered buildings to industrial brick-making plants to just lots of plants being nibbled on by sheep. Lots of sheep. Then the vast nothingness of land, of that something we’re here to traverse and treasure.
The IED explosion happened in the morning, 1200yards from where I was walking to get a breakfast falafel at the police station. The boom was deep, not like fireworks from the sky, but a percussion from the ground, the earth wounded for a moment, insulted. I could not control an ‘oof’ as air was punched lightly out of me. Gunfire followed, the Iraqi Police firing into the air to disperse crowds and let them know they’re there — security?
Iraqi police and American MP’s had been up all night in preparation for a Shiite Pilgrimage called Ashura. Boom. Not allowed to be practiced under Saddam, the devout whip and cut themselves in observance, faces covered in blood, white shirts crimson with the owner’s blood, of the very devout, when things go right.
The explosion was near a Mosque on the route. I had walked that route at 3am with soldiers, either we missed it or it was planted after us, I like to think it was planted after we passed, can take only 1.3min to place, Iraqi police are known to sleep at their posts. Some of the devout are now dead in a deep disruption of earth, air and peace; many are covered in blood, not by their own hands, maybe not their own blood.
The devout bleed, the devout weep.
Back at the station, wearing my armor because I still want to get breakfast, Iraqi Police, knowing I’m there to take photos, “Want photo?” one asks, making a contorted dead face, “go hospital, many photo,” he is smiling, I don’t know why.
I’m sorry, I wish I had seen the bomb on our patrol, it was near a bridge, it was dark, I remember the bridge, I feared walking under it, bridges are where bad things happen, I didn’t look for bombs, it’s not my job, I don’t know what to look for, I am not trained, I was told to stay near walls, or in the middle of the patrol of soldiers, if the patrol leader holds his hand down in a certain way we were to get on one knee, I did not look for things out of place, I concentrated on not stepping in sewage water seeping from canals, I did not use a flashlight because I didn’t want to be seen by a sniper, instead I fiddled with my recorder, I increased the ISO of my camera, I did not look at the side of the road unless an angry stray dog was threatening, the soldier near me aiming his pistol at it just in case, they protect me, I did not see a bomb, I wish I did, I’m sorry, I’m here to observe but It was dark, I did not see, it may not have been there yet.
Embedded with the Chaplin… yes, sounds strange to me too.
Here he is walking to service:
Two schools: Christmas on the battlefield is best ignored, or fully embraced. Our convoy of MRAPs (Mine Resistant something something’s) and HMMWVs (HighMobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle… aka: Humvees) drove from base to a joint forces outpost to deliver cheer — in this case a large plasma TV for Xbox tournaments. They were glad to see the Chaplin, he came with some promised bibles, they were very happy to see the TV (Tele-vision). Two frozen turkeys started thawing as well.
Wandering around base I found Santa with a shotgun defending a stash of presents sent from the states by organizations and school children who would pee just seeing this Clause. Everyone was peeing themselves laughing, I recorded him: “Merry Christmas Mother F…” He does the gun loading move for the F part. I too get stockings in the spirit of the season for there were far more stockings than troops in this section.
I miss my Grandmother, inside is what she used to get me for Christmas — everything from the pharmacy:
Road and Track magazine
Tin of tobacco chew
Toothbrushes and paste
Oh, how silly I thought. Then I picked-out the toothpaste because I was low. Then the tissues because the desert/pollution sinuses I’ve gone through so many packs already. I keep a pack of handy wipes because they’re so handy and I’m running out, the dust, oh the dust. Sox sure I’m on my feet most of the day. Lastly, I started reading an article in Road and Track about GPS navigators.
A card was at the bottom, drawn by a child, for a class project, tree penned in green, time was spent, an American flag, not colored within the lines, and a penciled letter cut and glued:
Thank You so much for serving for our country and keeping us safe. I appreciate you trying to keep everyone in America safe. Have a great Christmas. I hope you get to have a little celebration of Christmas. May we have peace on earth. From: Julia, Franklyn Elementary.
The other stocking of gifts I gave to an interpreter smoking outside his CHU (Container Housing Unit), just down from mine. In the spirit of giving.
“Merry Christ…” I started. “A gift” I ended. He was very happy, and so was I in the spirit of giving.
Woke up in a palace today, stared-up at huge golden chandeliers dangling from the ornate ceiling of a former palace. Mahmoon Palace or “Birthday” palace. Where Saddam’s birthday was celebrated. Less glamorous at eye-level: I lay on a dusty cot, and my neighbor in a public storage-like plywood cubicles was playing Alvin and the chipmunks Christmas. They had little warning that a reporter was coming, they were told I wanted to cover Christmas stories, I came to the Middle East to avoid it.
The famous balcony, where Saddam fired off his famous gun.
Troops posing outside the Palace bandstand
It’s kind of sad the disrepair here.
Large plasma TV, Xbox, PS2’s, internet terminals. Soldiers play war games, up to 4 at a time, executing their training in play. Boredom is the greatest threat here, complacency is its danger. They are very good warriors, I rarely see their screens turn red with electronic blood.
“People of Wal-Mart” website went viral in the banquet room, for that’s what this huge room was, ultimate of class and luxury, marble marble everywhere. We gathered around to look at the website: “Aw, no way!”s and “Shit, is that a dude? Fuck that!”s and “Hell no!”s, everywhere. One of those came from my lips.
Nice soldier, Joe, likes metal, from California as well. He tells others “man, we grew-up an hour from each other” but light-years. He turned 21 the day before, old enough at last but not a drop to drink. I asked him why he joined: “The health benefits, my wife is on expensive anti-seizure meds.” He loves to talk about weapons–a grenade launcher, I forget the caliber, is his favorite. Weapons weapons everywhere. Not guns, weapons. He pretended to defend me as I got a haircut. Has a 6mo old daughter, took her to Disneyland recently. Old enough.
It takes a while for soldiers to open-up to reporters. I know what they’ve been told about us, but I’m not supposed to know, so I won’t say. I needed an opening. A horror movie was thrown on late last night, a break from the gory video games to just gore. The man who I call dad in my life, his name came up, director of photography “hey, that’s my dad” I said. One mouth fell open. I said I too used to work on horror movies, more looks my way. I was in at last.
It’s “hum-vee” not “hummer”. The former is driven, the latter drives.
Comforts of home. It’s not REAL mountain-dew, it’s called “squiggly-dew” because it’s in Arabic and, the greatest complaint: it uses real sugar cane instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The Sergeant showed me the stash of a yummy caned coffee drink for us old-timers. Pallets of bottled water water everywhere. Tap water comes from the Tigris, never open your mouth while showering, don’t taste history.
[“Iraq: Christmas 2009“: observations, images and sounds from Iraq, Christmas 2009, a series of posts by Jake Warga.]
Oh the things I’ve seen.
I shall never complain about long lay-overs again.
I have flown in a C-17 transport.
I shall never complain again of uncomfortable seats again.
I have ridden in the belly of a Stryker.
What do you get when you stick a public radio guy with a Fox TV crew in the back of a Black Hawk for a multiple re-fuel hop up to Northern Iraq?
A bumpy ride.
I saw an injured dove in Baghdad trying to be nursed back to health on a blast wall away from cats. It had a saucer of water and feed, don’t know who put it there. I saw a dead dove come evening.
I got a serious cold sleeping in a 20-man tent during a thunder storm, closest I’ve come to being attacked.
I have yet to meet someone who wants to be here. I have met some wonderful people.
For lunch the other day I had crab legs, the desert bar is endless, burger king is everywhere. Where else in Arabia can I eat bacon and watch Fox TV on flat screens throughout a mess hall?
Ugandans hired by KBR guard entrances to buildings on bases, the Peruvians have the evening shift. They look at my passport, I don’t think they know what they’re looking for.
A papier-mâché Mount Rushmore and Statue of Liberty are in the DFAC (Dining FACility). Pakistanis do the dishes. You’re not allowed to bring bags into facilities or wear a hat, but you are required to have a weapon. I am unarmed. I know now the difference between an M16 rifle and an M4 Carbine. Both are 5.56 Caliber, I don’t know what that means but I was given a pamphlet.
The military is run by acronyms. I’m staying in an LSA (Life Support Area).
It’s almost encouraged to have a bad hair cut, in this I feel at home.
I go next to JCC in Tikrit with PSD (Joint Coordination Center…Personal Security Detail), I feel important, I may be a fool. I spend Christmas Embedded with the Chaplin…why not. Here’s what soldiers want for Christmas (4:07):
Black hawk gunner
Dust goes to one lung, trash burns go to the other.
Met a soldier young enough to be my daughter, I become a grandfather when she tells me about her 5yo back home. Everyone dresses the same, it’s confusing, uniformity, conformity, camouflaged in green in a land where there is only brown.
With love from the war on terror. Pictures at Flickr.
It is with a mixture of sadness and relief I announce the passing of my Grandmother: Alma J. Kelsey (Warga, Smith).
Born in Lincoln, Nebraska on July 4th, 1910, she passed away this weekend, 99 years later.
Alma was the oldest of seven siblings but the last to depart. She is survived by myself and her son Robin.
In 1928, at the age of 17, Alma Smith eloped with Wayne Warga, 19, and headed West for Hollywood to start a new life and a family. The family was harder to come-by for her husband was not medically able: but in 1938 she bore my father, Wayne (Bud), after a secret affair with an LAPD officer. Then in 1949 she met another man to have another child: Robin. She wanted a family so bad and bore the weight of her secrets until she started AA and revealed all.
In the 1970’s she met and married Dick Kelsey, painter and animator. They moved to Leisure Village in Camarillo where her Lilly Garden won village awards year after year. She stayed by Dick through his Alzheimer’s and eventual death.
In 1985 AA became Alma’s new church, where she grew to become a guru in the program. In 1994 we stood together and buried her son, my father, Wayne. It’s around that time Alzheimer’s started pulling her away.
In 2005 NPR aired a story about her (transcript). I invite you to hear Alma in her own voice, “Grandmother: Aging, Decline & Love” (8:16 mp3):
#135 Don’t dismiss warning signs, especially: BEWARE OF MUTTONBIRD HOLES
#136 Sandals are not the best thing to wear for hiking through a tropical forest to grassy, steep ocean cliffs after two days of heavy rain—no matter how much they look like ones Jesus would have worn.
#137 Swim shorts are not the best attire to hike through tropical forests in, some grasses are like razor-blades and if there’s a vine, it most likely will have thorns.
#138 Listening to NPR podcasts on your ipod while hiking around birds that are shrieking “you’re stepping near my nests!” is not a good idea for the other thing you can’t hear them shrieking is “I’m going to dive-bomb you for your trespass while you stumble around on wet grass in sandals near deadly ocean drops!”
#139 Wear a hat, always, especially in countries not fond of ozone but populated with dive-bombing birds (see #135 and #138)
#34 Those most interested in history are those about to become it. Try to take an interest no matter your age.
#156 If you hear “The Gambler” playing, run. Run away. Something is horribly wrong, will be, or ought to be.
#35 Good traveling is making sure you say, “wow, what’s that?” more than “I remember when that was a…
I have acute hearing. I hear voices in passing. Here are a few. Feel free to add your own.
Ritual Coffee Roasters, San Francisco, 6/12/08
“I’d rather own a cat, because when a cat gets sick it just dies…”
Club Cocomo, San Francisco, 7/08 (Boy tries to get girl)
“You’re the hottest smart girl I know…(music)
…I can’t tell you what I do in Iraq.
Since 2004, I’ve gone to twelve funerals…I go to counseling every week…I want to talk about it with you but I can’t.” (Boy does not get girl)
Castro, San Francisco (the Gay neighborhood)
“I LOVE balls of furry!”
“Balls of Fury! it’s hilarious! Christopher Walken, OhMyGod…”
“Oh, the movie, yeah, anything with Christopher Walken IS Hilarious!” (I’ve seen it, it’s not)
Downtown Seattle: Group of gutter-brats (homeless or grungy or drugs or all and tattoos and piercing) gathered on a street corner waiting for signal to change, but not crossing when it does.
“It wouldn’t spread if you’d quit scratching it…next thing you know it will be in your ass.” I hurry and cross.
University Ave, Seattle: Grungy kid is sitting against a bike-rack which he is handcuffed to, surrounded by “friends.” Sitting on sidewalks here is illegal.
“Come on guys, this isn’t funny…well, it is…but it isn’t…Come on…”
Luxor, Egypt, Internet café. April, 2007 (An Egyptian guy, young, is on the internet cafe’s terminal next to mine. Web-cam chating with what looks like an Eastern European woman, young, speaking in seduction-English. I start transcribing the one side I can hear )
“…I want to climb into computer with you.
…nobody can take you away from me…you, with somebody else?…you can dance my grave first, no way. (her lips stutter in the sensual 3 frames per sec) They can’t stop me, if they kill me, I don’t care. I love you more than anything in this life (pixel pixel) what? I wish I had you with me 5yrs ago…why?…I will wait for you. I was 19 too. so it might be different. you are the one I give my life. you have the map inside your brain, inside your heart. can you see my heart from here…sensitive, what I ask for. what will i do if somebody else takes you away from me? if you decide this, I have no other choice. I love you, I need you, there’s nobody who take your place…I believe in you the rest of my life. I don’t care. Can you see me? this is why I did happy days. can you hear me? you no go crazy, shit. no don’t worry, I’m not sick 14hrs a day. I’m just sorry for her, but I can’t take this on ‘cus…what? because I have to go to gym everyday. I need visa in passport, new visa, this means the future for us. believe m she is 15rs old, I’m very happy, she’s a friend, not a woman friend. Nubian. Vacation, famous in a museum…
uh, I don’t think so, no way, even if I went to village tomorrow. we call it wezakarrah. Because she drinks zakari all the time…ok. I just want to kiss you…really, how old is he?..because I am speaking to you…nothing. A man go crazy in a relationship like this…baby…please don’t tell anybody about this sick child…no, I tell my wife soon…but now we have really big room and the teacher leaves soon…several things can happen, she can become my best friend, and I don’t understand, she may leave this, it is not my fault. she’s angry now, pissed off is proper…she is…I promise you if she leave, she won’t be back again, ever…what is going to happen? …I’ll be in jail and die.
I want you. So what do you think…do you agree to be with a crazy man, like me…would like to help you, next year you’re 18 and you’re leaving. I hate the house, I hate the no sleep, I hate it. At night I talk to you and am very happy, you are my life, it’s great. I will never give you up, no matter what you do…can you hear me?…
…can you hear me?” (connection ends)
Yukon 7/08 Whitehorse
“…he was out in the yard eh, just shootin’ at that thing with a BB gun, it was hilarious!”
Turning on the news yesterday I couldn’t help notice that LA is on fire…again. All my life it seems LA has been on fire–in one way or another. Floods, fires, mudslides, celebrity antics and the slow disaster of constant traffic—a theme park of natural, and un-natural, disasters. I’m not too worried when I see Southern California’s flirtation with the apocalypse continuing, because I know it’s prepared. I’ll never forget, growing-up in North Hollywood, all the preparedness drills we went through in school. More…
She fell before the exhibit of the Treblinka Death camp where 870,000 Jews lost their lives. Not a dramatic fall, just standing one moment, gone the next. “Open up! all asleep!” The German commander would yell after listening at the gas chamber door, said the video interview playing over a model of the camp; it was the job of this old man — no, boy — speaking to us on the screen to pull out the bodies. Elijah Rosenberg. “Someone would examine the teeth,” he said, opening his mouth to demonstrate, “pulling out any gold.”
The woman — no, girl — who collapsed onto the museum floor before the first death camp was very young, only 18, but in Israeli army uniform. A pack of brown clothes and red eyes sobbing and shuffling through the museum. “Every moment someone would collapse in a faint,” said one video survivor of the Warsaw ghetto firestorm of 1943. The TVs are not just monitors, they are also mirrors, reflecting the viewer’s image — we have become ghosts of the present watching history.
“Why do the trains go full and return empty?” half a boxcar in front of us, “it makes no sense,” asks a Polish resident long, not long, ago. The tour buses, huge padded coaches idle outside the museum; they come full, and leave full. More…
They did not huff. They did not puff. The Israelis simply tore the house down. The Palestinians did huff and puff, threw a rock and some words, but they were no match for the police carrying our M-16’s.
From the neighbor’s rooftop I watched the destruction below. An Arab man cried next to me. Across the valley was the opposite: construction, of Israeli settlements. They say there should be a road where we stand, and where the house once stood, and where 17 more should fall. Though there is already a road on each side.
In yet another house I had coffee, a hospitality in every Palestinian home. I am wired after so many visits, the walls buzzing, shaking in fear. I am always welcome, the children offer me candy. The TV was on when I entered, Bush was talking, but there was no sound. They clicked it off.
Palestinian living rooms have a fondness for silk and plastic flowers. Unnatural colors, brilliant, florescent, like ones you find at grave sites left by a devout but busy family.
Their order has come. They tremble the paper at me, it is written only in Hebrew. They have less than a month to leave the house. The flowers will survive, they survive anything, that is the nature of plastic. They house will not. Maybe they can be laid on top after the walls become jagged tombstones of their former selves.
A child, one of three in this house smiles at me, I smile back. Her nose is stained a strawberry-red color, I figure she had been eating some. I looked at her dad. “She fell,” he said. Some wounds you need only to wipe the blood away, one more wash and she will be clean again. It will only remain hurting somewhere in her memory. She will discover that other wounds take longer to heal. And sadly, that some wounds never heal.
The destruction crew, in an odd display of care, stretches red caution banner tape around the fresh rubble next door. It flutters angrily in the wind after the last soldier has left.
Greetings from Israel, the Disneyland of monotheism. But all the characters have guns. Big guns. Nothing like a Rabbi with a sidearm playing kickball with his students.
Visited the church where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Recorded beautiful singing by competing Christian groups, each claiming parts of the complex for themselves. Since they can’t get along, an Arab holds the key to the main doors. Now to grab some lunch and head to where the ‘last supper’ was held. It’s Sabbath, so maybe a nice felafel.
Going over the wall on Sunday.
Your roaming HV producer.