24 December 2010

Love actually is all around.

I was feeling pretty down about Christmas.  Being in Afghanistan can do that to you.  I was missing my family and friends.  I was trying to decide whether or not to go to mass tomorrow morning.  Part of me wanted to go to experience Christmas mass in Afghanistan with other soldiers who are missing their family and friends and praying for peace and holding onto that precious glimmer of faith...while the other half (the louder more obnoxious half) was screaming: just try to forget it's Christmas at all and pretend it's just another day!  I knew that living and working here would be a lesson in selflessness, but man, I wanted to be selfish!  I wanted my parents to send me presents, I wanted some sort of surprise, I wanted a grand Christmas just for me!  With none of that occurring, I was feeling crappy and started getting ready for bed.  I also put, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" on repeat on my laptop.  Very bad idea, very very bad idea.  Have you really listened to those lyrics?  It's depressing!  I'll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams...I mean that's the stuff of popping some sleeping pills and trying to forget the next two days!  Anyway, I decided to check my e-mail and had one from my friend Steph.  She wrote the following:

I know you're probably having a really hard time right now with Christmas being tomorrow...I know I would be. But I'm glad you decided to work tomorrow instead of sitting in your room by yourself. I know you will make the Soldiers so happy on Christmas just by being your happy, bubbly self. And that's what they need now, but you do too. You guys need one another on the holidays.

She's right.  That line, "you guys need one another on the holidays," hit me like a sack of bricks.  I immediately thought of all my guys and how excited they'll be tomorrow and how I can't wait to hug 'em and give 'em a present from the USO.  I thought of how I'll wear some antlers and the Christmas trees I helped re-decorate today will be glowing.  I thought of how they would smile and then I thought of how it would make me smile.  Earlier today a soldier said, hey, can I have a hug, my sister told me I should get a hug for Christmas.  It was funny, so Cindy, my coworker and I gave him and his buddy a hug before they left and they were smiling from ear to ear.  These thoughts  started to reassure me, but not completely lift me out of my funk.

I closed the e-mail and walked down the hallway of my mod (modular housing unit) to the bathroom to get ready for bed and on the way back I saw a pair of combat boots outside a bedroom door.  I saw them earlier and thought why are those there, but ignored it.  This time it hit me.  I think I remember something about shoes outside doors on Christmas...something about St. Nick filling them with goodies!  After a quick google to make sure I wasn't making things up and this was a tradition, I started tearing through my drawers looking for treats from care packages others had sent me.  I found the M&Ms Lauren sent me, the peppermint patties Sarah Y gave me, the granola bar Sarah Y's mom sent me, the candy canes Sara D sent me, the chapstick Sarah R sent me, and the rice krispie treats Ang sent me.  The Rice Krispie treat wrapper had a section to write on it.  I scribbled, "Merry Christmas! Love, St. Nick."  I got so excited to fill those boots!  It filled me with so much giddiness, like a child opening their presents on Christmas!  I got to give someone else the feeling of Christmas.  They could've opened up their door to disappointment, but I got to help renew a lil hope.  

Now maybe I'm totally off course, and they really just had smelly boots, so they put them outside and they're going to say what in the world?! when they open the door and see the candy filled shoes, but maybe, just maybe, they were hoping for some sign of goodness and I confirmed it.  Maybe, God works in mysterious ways, and my horrible mood was first shifted by Steph's email that reminded me of why I'm here and then I was presented with an opportunity to fulfill that work.  Those boots had been there for hours, but I had been to ignorant and too self-involved in my own pity party to really see them.  

Life is full of boots in hallways, these signs that are unobtrusive in our world, but if we just quiet our selfish, busy, skeptical, selves for a little while we can truly see what they are there for.  

Merry Christmas!

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around. - Hugh Grant in Love Actually

13 December 2010

Young American Girl Lost in the Middle East

This would be the headline that would run across the bottom of the screen as the hunky Anderson Cooper would rattle on…from a small town in West Virginia where the local airport has only one gate to the streets of Dubai where she was never seen again…

Stuck in Dubai without a working phone, any of the local money or any idea of what was going on, I started to ponder, I wonder what Facebook profile pic my parents will chose to use on my missing ad.

It all started when I decided to be cheap.  I wanted a cheap ticket to Miami so I could go on a cruise with my parents and sister.  It costs $1000 just to get from Kandahar to Dubai alone, plus the flight from Dubai to Miami; therefore I was pretty dedicated to my mission of a cheap ticket.  I scoured the internet to no avail, until a Special Forces guy volunteered to help me and found a ticket for a really great price!  Mistake #1 NEVER trust a guy in the Special Forces.  The ticket looked simple enough: I’d fly from Dubai to Abu Dhabi then to London then to Miami.  I even read it aloud (Mistake #2 ALWAYS have someone LOOK at the ticket prior to purchasing) to my seasoned veteran world traveling coworkers to make sure it sounded correct to them.  I purchased the tickets and I’m on my way.

I fly out of Kandahar, no problem, get to Dubai at 7:30 pm. Then my Cheap Tickets Itinerary says and I quote:
“Etihad Airways 5529/Economy/BUS/1 hour 20 mins
11:30 pm Dubai
12:50 am Abu Dhabi
Your flight is confirmed.  The airline will assign seats at check-in.
Connect from bus.”

I assumed this meant I go business class (BUS) on a short 1 hour 20 minute FLIGHT to Abu Dhabi and then have to take some shuttle to a different terminal.  I follow the flow of traffic, I even double check with a woman worker at the airport who assures me to go to Abu Dhabi I need to go through customs.  I retrieve my luggage, go through customs, and WHAM!  I’m outside.  Ummmm wait, where’s my connecting flight?

There is no information desk, just some rental car hubs.  I suck in my breath, tell my self to stay calm and go up to the woman who looks the nicest, the Budget counter.  She looks at my itinerary and says, oh this is leaving from Abu Dhabi, you need to take a bus or taxi.  Say what?  (Mistake #3 BUS does not mean Business Class, it means literally a bus, that thing with wheels that transports people).  She said you need to call them.  I explain I don’t have a phone, she says okay I’ll call what’s the number, ummmm I don’t have a number to call.  (Mistake #4 ALWAYS have a phone number for your airline).  I open my laptop to try to google it, and there is no wifi in that part of the airport.  Thankfully, my phone works to text.  I text my coworker, Joan in Afghanistan and ask her to google the number to Etihad, my airline.  Meanwhile the wonderfully sweet Budget worker calls her personal friend who flew Etihad recently and said yeah, you have to take a bus.  Crap.  I don’t have that much time, I can’t miss my flight to London and then my flight to Miami and then I’ll miss the cruise ship!!!!  Deep breath, don’t go there, you can handle this, I repeat silently.

Okay, well where’s the bus station?  “Near Applebees,” she replies.  Dubai is huge, I’m pretty sure there is going to be more than one Applebees, hell there is more than one in the greater Wheeling area!  Budget worker woman lets me use her phone I call Etihad and they say that I don’t go to the bus station, I go to their headquarters on Shegzai Street.  All seems well, but I think more about it and realize, do I really want to jump in a cab with a driver who probably doesn’t speak English in a middle eastern country as a single female by myself and go to this “headquarters” to hop on a “bus” to go to an “airport” all because one strange voice on a phone says, yep that’s what you should do.  I feel like this is a lesson in How to Get Human Trafficked 101. 

I have my trusty coworker Joan text me the phone number of essentially our boss’s boss who lives in Dubai.  I debate on what is the best wording to convey, “Can you help me, I’m an idiot, who is totally screwed, but I swear I’m still a totally competent worker!”  Luckily, she assured me that what the Etihad woman had told me on the phone was correct and this was the correct procedure.  Good, phew, good to go.  Then Budget worker asks me if I have dimars to pay the cab driver.  What?!  I didn’t even think of that.  She assures me it won’t cost more than 100 dimars and shows me where the money exchange place is.  Money exchanged, address in hand, girl with a plan, I’m ready to go.  I look up to figure out the name of the Budget worker who has literally just saved my trip for me, “Grace.”  My saving Grace.  So I’m not so good at always realizing the blessings in my life, but I got the pretty blatant sign big man, thank you God!

In the end, I made the bus, and the connecting flights and spent a blissful cruise week with my mom, dad and Gretchen.  It was exactly what I needed and wanted. 

God Bless you and yours this Christmas season!  May you not ignore the blessings God has provided for you!

Hugging my family in Miami after almost 3 months in Afghanistan.