A little of THIS and a little of THAT

Initially I started this blog as a way of sharing my experiences overseas with those that were interested...however so much has happened over the last two years, including more travelling to foreign destinations, revelations of some kind or other, and experiences I thought others could learn from that I decided to mix it all up.

I hope that somewhere you'll find something that interests you and that you'll be able to learn from.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A civillians perspective in Afghanistan

Part 1

I spent 6 months working in Afghanistan on a small base called KAF, below is my experience and life on camp from a civillian's perspective. It is my hope that those that read it will walk away with a new perspective on what is happening there. I will be posting my journal piece by piece with hopes of posting a new sections weekly or bi weekly. Enjoy.


It took me almost a year before I even applied to the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency for a position in Afghanistan. I weighed my options on whether it was something I would enjoy and most importantly could I leave my kids for such a long period of time and whether my husband could handle the daunting task. After weighing my options for nearly a year I decided that this was something I wanted and more importantly needed to do.

I had worked or volunteered on every military base that we had been posted to since becoming a military wife 14 years ago. I had volunteered and worked with deployed military families in both Petawawa and Edmonton and felt that it was something very near and dear to me. My husband had also been deployed several times himself. I knew what the families were going through more and more with each deployment, and felt I could offer something to them, knowledge, support, even if just a little empathy for what they were feeling at times when no one outside the military circle could understand, while at the same time supporting our troops by taking care of their families back home.

For me, it was time to go in a different direction, supporting our troops on the front line so to speak “Serving those who Serve”, that is the motto of CFPSA and Deployed Operations in Afghanistan. I wanted to offer morale and welfare to our soldiers overseas. I didn’t know it at the time, after all we spoke only of the Canadian troops, but I would actually be providing morale to many more than just our 2500 deployed soldiers in and around KAF. We have British, Australian, New Zealand, Dutch, French, and American as well as a many other nations serving there, not to mention the many civilian organizations that provide services on camp. All of which use our services, some more than others.

Coming here provided me with the independence I so needed and couldn’t have otherwise with being a mom for the past 12 years. I love my kids just as much or more than any other mom, after all they made me grow up, made me look at things from a different light. Before Robbie, my oldest, I was just a teenager without a care in the world. I was skipping school, and didn’t care about my grades, I didn’t know where I was going in life, or what I wanted to be, and if I did I wasn’t doing anything to help myself get there. That all changed when I found out he was on the way. All of sudden I knew I wanted to be something better. I wanted to be something he would be proud of when he grew up, so he could say, no matter what, my mom made the best life possible for me. With Anthony he provided me with a sense of calm. Up until him, I had been temperamental and impatient. He was a less than easy child to deal with and I had to learn quick to use other ways of dealing with my frustrations other than getting angry or being short tempered. I had to use ration and reason.

This was just another opportunity to better myself. It’s as if I somehow I knew that I was capable of doing so much more, and doing something good, and better in my life. At the same time, I’m travelling, and seeing things I never thought I would, and could only hope that one day my children can see the same things that I see each and every day here, that and more. I’ve been able to see a different part of the world. I can now say that the moon shines on the other side of the world, I can see the big dipper in the sky no matter where I am, and trees do still grow in the desert, yes they may be covered from top to bottom with dust, but they do still grow here.

After finally applying for the position with CFPSA I waited another five months before I even got a call for an interview, I had actually forgotten that I had applied. The first phone call was short, just a call to ask if I was still interested in the position, and to let me know of my telephone interview date, and advise me that I would have to recertify for my first aid and CPR, and get a passport, all this before I even knew if I would be selected to go overseas. Was I still interested? Ummmmm yes, I guess I was still interested. Honestly by this point I didn’t think I had a chance, I thought my resume had been put to the side. Let’s toot my own horn a little here; I had the perfect resume for the job. I had worked with military families before and soldiers, I had worked with deployment support services twice before, and I had worked Tim Horton’s before; on a base at that. I had everything going for me, so why wouldn’t they have called me. I was perfect for the job.

A couple weeks later I got my telephone interview. I remember answering some questions so well, and then got stumped on another, I was brutally honest with one of my interview questions, and thought that I had just put the last nail in my casket. When I received a phone call a couple days later and was invited to go to Kingston, I was speechless. Out of Thousands of applicants, I had been one of one hundred and ten people that would be going to the almost two week Training session in Kingston.


Kingston almost never happened for me. A few days prior to leaving, I had fell down the stairs and rolled my ankle. It was the worst roll I had ever had. I remember how I felt hearing a small crack, and seeing my foot underneath my leg. As much as it hurt, I couldn’t feel a thing, try and figure that out. I cried almost as hard as I cried in my whole life. Once the initial pain settled I realized how hard it was to walk on my foot. I decided to lay low for a couple days, not do anything, keep my foot on ice and leg up, cause I knew deep down part of what I was in for the next little bit. It was two days prior and I had a big decision on my plate; go to Kingston and risk ruining my ankle further, or call Ottawa and thank them for the offer but give up my spot, and possibly my only chance of ever being able to go again. My husband pushed hard for the ladder option, he himself wasn’t ready for me to go, wasn’t ready for me to go overseas for a multitude of reasons. I could walk on my foot though, although with a lot of pain, but I went anyway. By the end of the second day, my ankle had swollen up to the size of a small melon again, and PE day was torture. I didn’t want to opt out of PE for risk of being sent home for not being able to complete the training or looking as if I was trying to get out a portion of the training. It was only weeks before leaving for Afghanistan that my foot had completely healed. Now my feet were in for a whole new set of pain.

Upon landing, half of us have met at the Ottawa airport waiting for the buses to pick us up and drive us up to Kingston. We’re all at the meeting spot, the designated meeting spot, and we know who we are, or at least the purpose of why we’re all here. Some of us have landed quite early, two hours, some more. We’re all talking; getting to know one another, some of us knew each other from before, having applied with one another, or having met along the way. We played cards, talked some more, and waited. The most asked question was what position did you apply for? I don’t think it was at this point that we realized that we were in fact going to be in a sense each other’s opponent. That while we would need each other to get through training, and would need to work together that half the people applying for some of the positions would not be chosen to go overseas.

We later found out that there were 110 people selected to go on our training course, and out of those 110, not much more than half would be selected for Rotation 5 in Afghanistan, and Mirage.

We were like family almost at once, a true testament to what was to come in KAF. I had met up with Carrie at our First Aid and CPR course, both of us had introduced ourselves as having to take the course as a prerequisite for a position overseas. We had met up with another girl on the plane, and from there on we were meeting people almost every step of the way.

I can’t say much of what went on during training as that would defeat the purpose to some of those reading this that may apply one day the element of surprise of what would be to come. I will say though, expect to be busy, expect the least, and expect to work hard. Listen to what your trainers tell you, don’t take nothing of what they say for granted, because they are giving you the cold hard truth. If they say you inevitably work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week with no break, then expect to work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week with no break. If you have a question, ask, they even put a little notebook at the front of the class so you can anonymously write question you may otherwise feel uncomfortable asking. If you are selected and you leave with a sense of feeling unprepared that is on you.

When we made it to Kingston we were placed in groups in which we had to work on activities together. I almost felt like I was a kid again. Every night events were organized by one of the groups. We played BINGO, went on scavenger hunts, and had relays and games. We even got to do a walking tour of Kingston, and had mandatory PE every second day, no matter what your skill level was, you were expected to be there and try. Everything we did, from the activities we participated in, our time spent at the mess, and the lectures we attended were all carefully watched and analyzed.

We were roomed with anywhere from five to seven other people, 4 bunk beds to a room to simulate what it would be like overseas sharing a tent with seven other people beside you. You quickly learned about some people’s personalities, and it even became quite apparent that some of the people wouldn’t be selected to go overseas. There were people there, who were still quite young, age wise and in their maturity, they didn’t get along with the other selectees, and were late for lectures, or fell asleep during the lectures. The one piece of advice my husband said to me before I left besides smile and be yourself was “you’re in a military style program now, if you feel tired, go to back of the room and stand up, anything to stop yourself from falling asleep”. A piece of advice I took nearly every day. Between standing at the back of the room, soda, which I hardly drank, coffee, which I couldn’t stand the taste of and candy, chocolate and other sugar and carb filled goodies were my best friend for keeping me perky and awake.

Every day we sat in different seats, based on shoe size, birthday, or age, always beside someone different during our very long and never ending PowerPoint presentations. From early morning to late night, we were lectured on military topics ranging from hostage situations to Mine awareness, cultural awareness of our host nation, and that of Afghanistan, past rotations experiences, and deployment stress.

During meals, we were encouraged to sit with the soldiers at the mess; now eating at the DFAC here, it’s no wonder why they (the training staff) encourage socialization among the soldiers; you sit with thousands of troop’s everyday for every meal.

I wish I could say that Kingston truly prepared me for everything I was going to face here. In some ways it did, but not all the training in the world can prepare you for some of the things one could experience in such a mission. I was prepared for the line-ups at the phone, although the only line up I encountered really was on Mother’s Day. I called home only once a week, and usually it was only to my husband and kids since you only get five minutes a day. Calling home less frequently allows time to accumulate on your phone card, and most of the time you’re too tired to sit on the phone and have a real conversation, I mostly emailed home using the wireless connection and the laptop I bought before leaving. The mess food prepared me for the food here, tasteless most days, overcooked others, and once in a while you get a nice surprise. The shower situation is the same, sometimes you get hot water, others you don’t, and you’re almost always showering with people around you, your bare ass touching the cold shower stall behind you, there’s no forgetting your crocs or flip flops here. You walk everywhere, but certainly not as much as training, and not exaggerated as we were told it would be, but it certainly did prepare us for the worst case scenario. It was easier for retail attendants, who worked mostly somewhere on the boardwalk, it was the travel co-ordinators who would have a brutal 15-20 minute walk to and from work every day. I realize that 15-20 minutes may not seem like a lot, but when you add in that temperatures can rise close to 50 degrees Celsius, stepping out of your air conditioned tent where the temperature is kept at a cool 22 degrees is a task.

The one thing training did not prepare us for is the noise. Our tent lines are right on the airfield, so the noise from the airplanes and helicopters is constant. It’s not like air techs and pilots work 9-5, they work all hours of the day and night, taking off for missions, coming back from missions, etc, the airfield and that of the ranges. Some nights you hear the constant gun fire with the soldiers perfecting their skills at night. It is something you get accustomed to though, and after awhile it becomes your bedtime lullaby. It is nights when all is quiet, which are few and far in between that the dead silence keeps you awake.

Training had been tough, constantly on toes about what was next, and what the next thing that would be thrown at us out of nowhere, just because there was a blank space on our carefully colour coded schedule didn’t mean there was free time to be had, it just meant they (the trainers) didn’t want you to know what was coming. Our last night in Kingston was a night we could finally just let loose and not worry. It was a day of celebration, when we were finally finished the course and could celebrate being the last ones from the selection process, the ones that made it through ten days, the ones who didn’t get sent back home, and the ones who still had a chance of going overseas. We celebrated with a dinner, and drinks, all we wanted to drink without being scrutinized, another thing we had to get use to. Mirage and KAF had a no drink policy, we had beer calls once a month with a two beer limit only. Being caught with alcohol, or any form of it, including the liquor filled chocolates was an automatic plane ride home at your cost. Our night ended with lots of dancing, more alcohol, pool, and a late bedtime for most.

The next few days that were to follow were a couple of the hardest from the selection process, and I had some pretty tough days, days where I wanted to hit people cause they were so unbearable, days when I wanted to call home but couldn’t because we were so busy, and days when my feet hurt so bad and were blistered so bad from all the walking. It was the call you were waiting for. We had four days between training and when final decisions would be made before we found out whether we got our offer, “here is the date we need you, at this camp, are you still interested?” No negotiations, no what ifs. We had started a group on Facebook to keep in touch with each other and as soon as someone would get their call, offer or not, they would write on the wall. By afternoon I still hadn’t gotten my call, and on msn, speaking with Carrie and Tamara (another girl from my area), neither of them had got their call either. We spent the day on messenger waiting together in anticipation. It wasn’t until early evening, around 4:00 or 5:00 that I got my call from Chantal, and was offered KAF, leaving the last day of February, of the Leap year, 2008. I was ecstatic, but disappointed because it was still so far away, another four months till I left. Carrie and Tamara’s call was unfortunately not filled with happy news as mine was; their journey had ended in Kingston, while mine was now just beginning.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

No Remembrance Day for me????

With November 11th fast approaching I am heart wrenched at what the past year has taught me in the realities of war and what Remembrance Day means. I have always been proud of my country, have always been honoured by what we have stood for in past wars, and have always been humble as a military wife. I learned early on in my military lifestyle the importance of honouring our fallen soldiers when only two years in my husband’s best friend died in an accident overseas. It was an accident in a country where they were only doing peacekeeping. It was important for me for my husband to always remember. A couple years ago, we said good bye to another dear friend, lost this time in the heat of battle in a fight against terrorism. For those that know me and have kept up with my blogs you have already read about Shane, a friend of Ron’s who no matter how far away they were posted away from each other, still managed to stop in and visit every year when he went to see family in Alberta where we were posted at the time. We as a family have lost four friends overseas throughout the years, so you can see that Remembrance Day is not just another day for me, it’s not just an excuse to take some time off work, and it’s not just another “holiday”.

This year during my service overseas I stood for 12 ramp ceremonies for 14 soldiers, one of which was a friend. I had hoped this year to wear my medal, and stand proud among the other onlookers paying respect for their war dead. I was informed however that the Embassy here does not pay tribute to Remembrance Day, after some distaste from one Embassy member it was decided that a small ceremony would take place with a five minute speech from the Ambassador. A slap in the face to those lost, and an excuse in laziness from Canada for not taking time to pay respect to their soldiers.

As Remembrance Day means something to me, I promptly donned my poppy on November 1, packing it with my luggage for Italy, the only one I brought from Canada. For me, I will commemorate on my own as I stand faithfully at home, and bow my head at 11:00 for two minutes of silence; tears will more than likely be shed, as the thought brings water to my eyes now, and at 12 noon, I will carefully put my poppy away until next year again.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Italian Funnies

There is always something good about a trip, whether it is the food you eat, the places you visit, the hotel you stay at, or the people you meet, but nine times out of ten, we document these and people see all about it in the pictures you take and the video you record. It is after all the little things that go wrong, or the things that go array that we rarely hear about.

Our trip started off quite busy, just as any other and it seemed as if there just wasn’t enough time in the day to finish packing. Our driver arrived early to pick us up for the airport, and if we had more time I surely would have been able to prepare more then I already was, although only forgetting one item. We arrived to the airport early, luckily because our flight was leaving earlier than expected. I do have to sing my own praises though when I eagerly pulled a Russian and body checked a guy at the airport trying to push past Robbie and cut us off as we headed for the rush check through to catch our flight. I was very proud of myself in deed, sometimes the red Diplomatic passport has its privileges.

I have travelled a lot in the last year, have been on a total of at least 16 plane rides, Ron has had over 60 in his lifetime and minor complications if that can even be said has been the only drawback to any ride. I have been fortunate to say that none of my plane rides have had any problems and I have always been able to say to anyone that has asked that my flight was uncomplicated so therefore, for me who hates travel period, it was fortunately uneventful. After all, an uneventful plane ride is a good plane ride. Even Ron though had to admit that the amount of turbulence we encountered on this flight was one he has never experienced before and even had him a little antsy, not so much scared, he comfortable due to the fact that we were all together and was unconcerned with whatever was to come. For me though, I thank God for seatbelts, without one I am sure that I would have hit the roof on a couple occasions. When we landed in Rome we realized why turbulence had been so bad, we had been flying in the middle of a thunderstorm, lightening was coming out of the clouds, and the rain was pouring down harder then I’ve seen it in quite some time.

We waited an hour to retrieve our bags, and when we got them, they were soaked as were our items inside. Unfortunately hanging them to dry in our hotel room wasn’t an option, as our room had its own unique water situation. Pulling back the blankets on our beds, and resting our head on our pillows it was evident that our tiny and very European room was poorly insulated. Everything was damp to the touch, and the five days that we spent in Rome didn’t help the situation, because it rained every day we were there.
We had left Moscow late in the afternoon and hadn’t eaten since about two, our flight, which served nothing more than a snack (a sandwich), meant that after waiting for our luggage and arriving at the hotel half an hour away from the airport meant that we were very hungry. It was already nine in the evening and not wanting to venture far, especially with Anthony after such a long journey left us with two options across the street from our hotel room, fast food ( a pizza place), or a restaurant (Mexican). Being as hungry as we were and still excited to be out, we opted for the very authentic Mexican restaurant. We ate nachos, something I haven’t had since leaving overseas, and the most amazing Mexican cuisine I’ve had to date, polished it off with a tiny couple pieces of Mexican pastry (one of many pastries that were to come in the next few days), and what came of the coffee that we ordered (espresso, promptly sipped, swallowed and pushed aside by Ron, and promptly sipped, SPIT and pushed aside by myself). Strike one on Italian coffee.
Our first morning in Rome didn’t prove to leave me with a great first impression of Italians as a guide from one the tours we booked ran up to me as I was entering the taxi we had ordered to get to the tour meeting spot yelling at me for calling a cab, and telling me that he couldn’t take me because I had ordered a taxi, and that I would have to pay the taxi driver. He kept going off on me until I quickly shut him up. My mouth has always pretty much told it like it is so I explained to him that we, number one, did not order driver service from the agency that morning because we arrived in Rome to late the previous night and didn’t know they were coming for us, and that two, he didn’t need to be such an asshole.
No matter what big city you go to, you will surely find a homeless person or two, or someone in need on the street begging for money. The majority of these people we found in Rome were people trying to earn an honest living show casing their talents by juggling, singing, or playing some sort of instrument. There are the regular street beggars who lay within the tourist areas outside of souvenir shops and give you their jolted and sad face, and we grateful for what we have and feeling bad for one such lady who appeared to be very ill, laying down and fidgeting, dropped some change into her cup. It was no more than a minute later when a man started giving notice to the crowd of bystanders that the lady who appeared old and fragile was a fraud, pointing at her and threatening her to leave and stop fooling the people. It was seconds later when our “poor, old, and fragile” lady was up on her feet running after this man, waving her arms around and yelling at him to get away. We had been had....the experienced tourist and traveller that Ron was let his heart get in the way. My heart turned cold after that, and unless you were earning your money, you didn’t get mine.
In short, Ron says that Russian women are hotter than Italian women I say Italian men are hotter though. The fast sport motorcycles, the leather jackets, the little bit of scruff, all makes for one hot man. Ron can keep is tight jeans, cheap makeup and hooker boots. LOL
Leave it to Robbie to find some kind of useless information to add to the topic. One hundred and seventeen trucks, that was the number of trucks that we’d seen with LED lights lit up in them with such things as names, hearts, stars, and crosses. At first I didn’t believe him, and then after he’d reach 70 I had to join in the search, I’d noticed a couple lights but couldn’t make up what they had said. Patience availed though, and with practice I picked out at least 20 of my own. I fell asleep after 104 though, tired of the game, Robbie continued on, and got tired at 117. This is something that in all my years driving I had never seen before, maybe another European thing?
So I can’t just leave it on a bad note, that wouldn’t be like me, I have to say the best part of the trip was the dinner out we had with the boys one night at an authentic Italian restaurant. We had been to a few, but this one by far stands out way ahead of the rest because everything was perfect. I’m a real foodie, I admit it, I am in love with food. Italy was a big disappointment for its food for the most part. There was one night however that we all had the most amazing Italian meal ever, Ravioli, complete with appetizers, and dessert, best tiramisu I’ve ever had, and Ron and I polished it all off with the most amazing bottle of red, that’s right red wine ever. It was so good, that we bought two to bring home with us. I certainly savoured my fair share of wine while on vacation, not passing up an opportunity to have a glass or two, or sometimes more with lunch and dinner. After all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Adventures in Russia - Part 1

Dobra Den here in my time zone or Dobra Utro to those of you that are across the sea from me, or geez by the time I finish writing this, Dobra Vechi, in either case Privet. Good Afternoon, Good Morning, Good Evening, and Hello.

Here’s my first addition of my Russian adventures as far for those that haven’t heard anything, or those that have just got the little updates here and there.

Most of you can only imagine what going into a new country feels like, those that have travelled and those of you that I have served with in KAF may have a small idea into how I was feeling before my big move, being somewhere new, learning a new way of things, being surrounded with the same people day in and day out, and getting accustomed to new foods. This outside of KAF, which in my mind being in the little bubble we’re in, is my first time in a new country.

I’ve been here three weeks and in short I LOVE it. My first day here was rather neutral. I met a lot of people who were wondering who I was, having arrived here a month and a half after my husband and kids. Yes I do exist, I am real. By day two I was in total culture shock, it was my first day in the real world of Russian shopping and getting to know the city. Thankfully it was short lived and I was on the way back to home. Home or “the bubble” as we call it is a little gated community which houses Canadians and Americans posted to their respective embassies and to millionaire Russian families. Our community is gated and stood by guards 24/7. The kids here have all the freedom to run around and play without getting out, as children here have to be accompanied by an adult in order to gain access to the real world. We have a small store here with every day needs, feminine supplies, bread, milk, eggs, and of course sweets and even a small supply of fruits and vegetables, there is a small pond and waterfall the children can drive motorized boats in, a community room to host parties, and two parks, one of which with a small gazebo and community fire pit. Garbage pickup is daily Monday through Friday, and there is a shuttle that drives you to and picks you up from the METRO stations, as well as a Monday through Friday service to the smaller mall to do groceries for a couple of hours. Outside the gate there is a walking trail, attached to it are the locks, where the boats come in, and another trail and the river nestled in the forest.

My first experience grocery shopping. The best way to describe it was an indoor farmers market, fruit, vegetables, deli meat and cheese, meat and breads lined the small indoor square. Most days though I just go to the regular grocery store. There are pastries, cookies and sweets of every kind here, and it has become our nightly routine to enjoy a cup of tea and something to go along with it. I feel so European, next week I will have to start running again so that all the carbs don’t go straight to my newly KAF skinny ass. The Russians also have a thing with pickling things. They make some great coleslaws, pickled cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and exotic things that I’m not even sure of what they are. Crepes are also huge here, and are used for cakes, layers of whip cream and crepes stacked upon each other and of course stuffed with strawberries, raspberries, bananas and chocolate, or apple and cinnamon, and anything else they please to stuff between them. There is a new experience just in trying the food here. My favourite as of yet, the coleslaw, which normally I am not a big fan of, and the pickled cucumbers, done so just to add a little flavour of dill, but not done so they are like a pickle. I guess that doesn’t quite make sense, and maybe that is something else I will have to get a picture of just so that you gain a better idea and the raspberry crepes served with tea at the little cafe in the mall. There are a lot of small markets around and more so there are a lot of small stands around. Little carts dedicated to selling one of either, fruits and vegetables, bread and pasties, cigarettes, magazines, ice cream, or flowers. We have learned to not even look at the price of the food here, some is more expensive, some is slightly cheaper, and some are completely outrageous. Strawberries here go for about $25-$30 for a small basket of about 15 berries. We basically just throw whatever we want in our cart and pay for whatever the register or the calculator says at the end. You can get basically all the same things here as in Canada with the exception of a few things. Robbie just found 100% pure maple syrup here, it’s not Canadian, but it’s something to put on our Sunday pancakes. The milk is taking some getting used to, for those that have tasted the KAF milk, it is quite similar, stored out of the fridge and has a shelf life that is forever, regular milk can be bought here at the local store in our compound, but it has its price. The one bad thing about the food though, the sodium content in everything you eat. There is so much salt, even in the meat, I swear they must feed the cows salt cubes. The currency here is called rubbles, for every hundred rubbles it is equivalent to five Canadian dollars.

The city is huge; the subway line in itself is gigantic. There are 11 lines in total with more currently under construction. Here is a link to a map of the line to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. http://www.wtr.ru/moscow/eng/metro/metro.html I have so far only travelled on the green and red line. The two lines needed to go the Embassy. This task is relatively easy with the basic knowledge of your Cyrillic alphabet, or at the very least a paper with the Cyrillic alphabet on it. The metro stations here are like none you’ve ever seen. I have yet to take many pictures of them, but I will make sure I do as soon as things slow down here and I am able to just go out and travel the metro for the sole purpose and taking some pictures. They are ornately designed in marble, chandeliers’, and decorative tiles. Usually when you go out you’re in a rush to get where you’re going to and you need to leave ample time to get where you’re going. In a city of 17 million people, more than half the population in Canada, traffic is horrible and the 11 lanes are nowhere near enough to get people where they’re going quickly, a fifteen minute drive to the Embassy usually a good hour and half minimum in the morning. Most of your day is soaked up in driving and getting to where you need to.

The city of Moscow is beautiful, I guess is some ways it’s beauty in the eyes of the beholder, but for those that appreciate differences in social and economic living conditions, it’s unique and wonderful. Moscow is one of the oldest cities, and it shows in the architecture throughout the city and the statues that depict Roman times. There are parks everywhere you turn, old and weathered with more statues, and clean. There is a lack of garbage almost everywhere you go here, the city keeps its streets clean and there is no lack of workers here or jobs to make sure that it stays that way.

There are malls here the same as any big city, although fashion here has its price. A pair of jeans will go no cheaper than a hundred dollars, and an eyebrow tweeze the other day cost me 600 rubbles, or $30 Canadian. Fashion here is a little behind, think 80’s. I’m unsure if it’s the economic state of Russia or if it’s what they consider the in thing. Skinny jeans, even on men, mullets, and hooker boots, no matter where you look it’s women and hooker boots. Paired with skirts, dresses jogging pants, and that’s no joke, and jeans, there are hooker boots of every kind. Fat heals, and skinny heals, short heal and wow how can you even walk in that heal? (and some of them can’t). There is no shortage boots here that is for sure. There are stores here that cater to the hooker boot. I even saw an 11 year old walking in 2 inch high heeled shoes the other day.

No matter where you go there are security guards, the grocery store, the stores within the mall and walking around the mall, and even subway stations. Moscow is desperately trying to clean up the city and decrease crime. The country although still a little corrupt, is trying to do away with the tags associated with Stalin and Lenin. Although still high on the list of what Russia is, most people would rather forget that they existed and the tragedies and horrors associated with their name.

Halloween is somewhat celebrated here, but mostly costumes are sold in stores for the purpose of the non-Russian families that live here. We celebrated Halloween just over a week ago, kids go door to door in the compound, and there was a haunted house built by a couple of the Canadian families here (Ron provided the electrical portion of it). We also had a tent set up with a buffet of or potluck of items and tons of booze. Halloween was great, it was just like home. Christmas stuff is also coming out now, just like back home, you can never escape the holidays. There is always something to do on the weekends, and just about everything is geared towards the families so that children aren’t left out and you aren’t left scrambling for a babysitter, although the options for nannies here are phenomenal, with the amount of millionaires around us, a large number of them choose to pass the parenting or dog walking to someone else.

My Russian is sllllllllllowly coming along. I know a few key phrases, but am still working on my Cyrillic and counting, I know some numbers but can do with knowing a few more. I take some time every day, more some days to practice and study. I have some websites I go to, and a couple cds as well that I learn off of. Mostly it’s just about being repetitive and going out and doing it. Unfortunately with being in Toronto during the month of September I missed the Russian lessons which started, so I’m hoping that they will run again after the November break. Ron says that even without the lessons and him taking them, that I am still better. LOL
And so that is the world I have lived the last three weeks.

Although not ready, I get a small break from Russian this week as we fly four and a half hours to the city of Rome for our first vacation. The kids who have a break from school every month to two months tops have their first one this week into mid next week. We’ll spend our first night in Rome, go to Pompeii, and then head back to Rome for four more days before heading back home on the sixth day.

I should also mention quickly that we made our first trip to Red Square last week as well. We did not go inside the Basilica as it was getting cold, it is something we will probably do first thing in the spring or summer.

Will update soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Growing Old, or just maturing...

As we get older...
At the tender age of thirty one I am learning that age, gray hair, and maturity are not our only defining factors in growing older. Every day we grow and every day there is something else that makes us a different person than the one we were yesterday. My tastes have changed, the way I do things have changed and my personality has changed.

My age definition has come from simple things like makeup and high heels. Never wanting to wear makeup until well into my twenties, it is now a must whenever I am dressed up, it is not necessary for me to wear it to the point where I feel naked without it, or when I am going to the gym etc...I do not need to wear it every time I step outside my front door, but I do feel more complete with it, at my best and more like a girl, no longer the tomboy who pulls her hair into a pony tail. Granny panties no longer do the trick. I no longer live by the rule if it can’t be seen then it doesn’t matter. For me looking and feeling like a girl includes pretty panties and bras that match. I no longer don chunky thick heels and flats in fear of falling on my face, instead I wear dainty heels that sometimes make me come close to rolling my ankle, but give me an added height that makes my husband cringe when next to him, and accentuate my long legs. It seems that only a couple years ago heels would be completely out of the question for my knowledge on how to walk in them was incomplete, however suddenly it seems that it is something automatic, and known. I now enjoy a nice pair of heels paired with a dress or skirt when appropriate.
I have grown a more mature taste for things I use to think we’re not for me.

Maybe my palate has come to appreciate these tastes or maybe it is out of necessity that it has come to accept some of them. I consider myself a tea or hot chocolate drinker, but it is now, after needing the boast occasionally that I have partaken in numerous cups of coffee to help cope with and stay awake for my jobs after countless nights of no sleep due to insomnia. One of my favourite things to do when at home is to sit with a cold glass of white wine, it is only the last little while that I can enjoy a subtle glass of red, a flavour I have never been able to enjoy due to how arid and tart I found it.

My social skills have developed as well. I state rather freely that I am a rather timid person, but those that know me and even those that don’t know me that well now laugh at the statement. I admit I have come a long way in recent years. I open up more than my young twenties and can easily converse in social situations.

My music tastes have also grown to include more than the typical today’s top 40’s. I no longer enjoy most rap and hip hop, in fact it quite annoys me, I can only stand so much trance and house music, instead I have grown to enjoy country and classical along with my favourites.

It’s funny I always thought I would be the cool mom, that I would always like the same things my kids did and that I would be able to tolerate all the annoying little things that annoy most parents. I thought becoming a mom at such a young age would give me an advantage over other parents with me being so much closer in age to my own kids. I didn’t want to be like my mom who now at the age of 58 is afraid to touch a computer or anything else that is considered modern technology.

By far, I don’t feel old and as if I can still keep up with what’s hot and what’s popular out there. I am indeed growing older, still young at heart, but things are changing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A New Perspective on Senses

During my six months I have smelt the ungodly aroma of feces through the air, nearly every night at the same time.

I have watched storms come in and out of camp, followed by some of the most amazing sunsets and sunrises.

I have listened to the tears of grown men as they say their last goodbye to a fallen friend.

I have felt the dust mixed with sweat within every crease of my body.

And I have tasted fear sitting in a bunker as rockets whiz overhead, and landed with an all too familiar boom.

Six months away from home can do a lot for ones soul, six months in a war torn country and do a lot for one spirit as well, and watching men and women come in from the field after days of fighting, and watching as the caskets are being carried for their final trip home can do a lot for your heart.

Six months away from home, in a war torn country can make you appreciate life and all it has to offer, and it can make you appreciate those that fill your life, and surround you on a daily basis.

I have learned to slow down in life and take time to smell the roses.

I have learned to sit patiently and watch the wave’s crash upon the rocks on the beach.

I have learned to listen to the birds’ sing their daily praises.

I have learned to throw off my sandals and feel the sand beneath my feet and feel the gentle breeze race across my face.

I have learned what the taste of freedom really is, and the price we’ve paid to fly our flag up highly without prejudice or discrimination.

Friday, September 12, 2008

September 11, 2008

Today is September 11, 2008. It is a day most of us remember where we were seven years ago and think of how our lives have changed since the fateful day when tragedy struck not only New York City and the Twin Terrors, but people from all over the world. It was estimated that people from 90 nationalities lost their lives in the attacks of 9/11, Canada losing an estimated 24 people.

Where was I:
The day of the attacks I was on the computer, in our home in Edmonton. I remember logging on and briefly seeing a tidbit on msn news about a plane “crashing into one of the towers”. I passed it off, thinking it was just another freak accident. It was ‘t until my husband came rushing into the house asking for my help to pack his kit and telling me to turn on the news that it was apparent that it wasn’t just another plane crash. After helping him get ready and hoping that he would not be deployed to help with the efforts my friend anxiously called me. Chaos was breaking out all over. Downtown Toronto was being evacuated and she was in a frenzy to get home from work. People were all over, the transit was overloaded, but couldn’t move because of people on the streets.
I was having just a regular day though, I was doing nothing significant.

How has life changed since:
Since 9/11, 36 NATO countries have been deployed to Afghanistan in an effort to conquer “the war on terrorism” and bring peace and stability to the region. In 2005 my husband was deployed as part of the Edmonton contingent, those six months brought the reality of war home to me when my friend’s husband was severely injured and returned home. In 2006, one of my husband’s best friends lost his life in a fight with the Taliban. Finally In 2007, I wanted to do my part in going above and beyond in Serving my Troops and providing Support in ways more than placing a yellow ribbon on my car or wearing a small pin upon my lapel. In 2008, I was deployed to Kandahar Air Field as a Retail Attendant to provide Morale and Support for the 2500 Canadian soldiers that were stationed there, as well as the other nationalities. It was at the end of my tour, only one week prior to me leaving that I lost yet another friend.

Although 9/11 happened seven years ago, the effects it has on us are constant. I have since lost two friends to Afghanistan, seen the effects of war up close and personnel and yet have grown and been reminded to slow down in life, not to be in such a rush, smell the roses, and enjoy the little things life has to offer.

In Need of a Morale Boost

My whole time in Kandahar it was hard for me to feel emotion. My whole job depended on me to be happy, and boost morale. There was no time for me to feel lonely, sad, angry, or helpless. Although I was a retail attendant, my position required me to do more than just stocking shelves, ring things through the cash or the other listed requirements. I was there for morale and support to all the soldiers and civilians that were housed or came into KAF. I was good at my job; make that great at my job. I along with a couple other true handfuls could always it come up with ideas that would go above and beyond the regular daily moral boost.

Most times it was easy to be happy, put on my smile or a fake front no wonder what was going on in KAF or at home. I even managed to do it during the hardest times in KAF when it was the most important for us to bring morale to a new high. Ramp ceremonies were no doubt the toughest part of being overseas. Missing my family was manageable through letters, pictures, emails and phone calls, but ramp ceremonies meant that we lost someone that we were there to serve; it meant that someone who was there to serve their nation, our nation, had been killed. They didn’t just die, but rather had been taken from us. We knew that they would want us to go on, to remember them yes, not mourn for them, but continue on with the mission, continue to serve and do our job going above and beyond what our expectations and requirements were. I always came through in this, even after Shawn’s ramp, I was able to pull my composure together and open the store with a smile on my face.

In doing my job and putting my feelings aside it was sometimes hard to feel what I truly wanted in that moment. I could no longer cry when I felt hurt or sad and I became cold and emotionless in moments that would normally make me shed tears. I was in essence a wall at times. I became scared that when I went home that this wall would become permanent, or at the least very hard to break.

A week after I got home I got a tattoo to commemorate the soldiers and friends we knew that died or had been killed overseas, and also to commemorate the soldiers that had been killed during the six months I was overseas. The thought to me was emotive, and I had anticipated to weep the moment I seen the finished product, instead though I was happy, if even that. I realized in this moment that my wall had yet to be chipped away, I was fundamentally in that bubble I hear so much about.

After two weeks of being home, it is a hard-hitting day. It has now come to my sudden attention that I am not on vacation; I am not going back to Afghanistan to continue the job I did with such attention to detail and with such passion.

It is also September 11, the reason we are in Afghanistan right now fighting the “war on terrorism”. It is this war that has killed so many of our young troops, and it is today that our Prime Minister has announced that he is promising to “not extend the mission in the Afghan region past 2011”. It is to me and many soldiers a job that is unfinished in the Afghan region. The 97 soldiers that have been killed since the war started will have died in vain if our work goes unfinished, and the territory in Afghanistan cannot thrive before it is time to on its own.

Nearly a month after Shawn was killed in Afghanistan, and two weeks after my return home, I have mustered up the courage to try and get a hold of Shawn’s wife, my friend Lisa. I’ve been putting this off for lack of words to say to her. I fear that even when she does talk to me, she won’t want to because her husband and I came from the same place and even though had very different jobs; I am here, back in Canada, safe and sound whereas he is not.

It is today that I wish I could curl up in my husband’s arms, lie on his chest and cry. For today along with everything that is going on inside my head and inside my heart, I am missing my family, especially my kids, and it is today that I have found my emotions again. It is today that I am in need of a morale boost.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Grandma's House

My grandma’s house is nestled on a small quiet street off the main intersection of Woodbine and Gerrard. By day there are streetcars and vehicles moving by the second, none of which you could recognize. Instead the sound of crickets during the day, birds and children fill the small tiny street. It hasn’t changed much in years, there are trees as tall as those that would be in any forest, the houses that surround are quant, made of brick, and snug next to each other. It seems though that the yards, once filled with lush green grass has now mimicked my grandmother’s own colourful yard with an array of flowers that fill more than half the properties.

Grandma’s house inside hasn’t changed much either. There’s no longer carpet, but the wood floors are still warm throughout. There are little figurines, statues, and trinkets throughout the house, all on top little dollies and hankies. Little dust collectors and nothing but junk to me, but to her, something else, although I’m not quite sure I’ll ever understand. Old pictures of family, her grandkids; I included, and great grandkids can be seen throughout the kitchen in various mismatching frames from the dollar store. There are fake flowers in various spots through the house, oddly enough, none are dusty.

Upon my return to Canada and my visitation at my grandmother’s house she quickly offered me her bed. It was much convincing that I took it, more like harsh looks she can give when she wants her way or is displeased with you. In my younger years I use to sleep beside her in a queen size bed, myself always next to the wall, and on the wall, a soft blanket with deer. It was always comforting to me as I lay there trying to fall asleep with the screeches of raccoons and the old noises of the furnace running my hand across the blanket, petting the deer. As I lay here now I do the same, the racoons no longer make the awful noises in the walls, the chimney long being fixed, and the old furnace has long been replaced. The old blanket still lays there and still gives me comfort though. Something I find myself in need of in my current state.

Up until I turned around fifteen or sixteen my grandma would drag me to church every Sunday. Something I never enjoyed. There were always religious relics throughout the house, and it seems as the same as the figurines and other dainty ornaments, the amount of religious statues, pictures, and books have also increased in amount. There was a time I thought it freaky, as if God was always watching what I was doing, and judging my every move, now with everything even though I still by any means hold no particular religious values, these treasures of hers bring me comfort.

These things and the comfort foods, the favourites of which she cooks for me, her need to care for, take care of, and do for everyone. Amidst her dark and tough exterior sometimes, she is often soft. She is from an older harder generation from a hard time. All these things and her house are after all what make my grandma who she is. They are what makes my grandma her and for that I love her.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Celebration of Both Life and Death

September 4 - It is the day after a celebration of sorts. Today marks the day after my now thirteen year old son’s birthday. It also marks the second year our dear friend Shane’s death. I say death lightly as he was actually killed two years ago while serving in Afghanistan. Yesterday also marked the day that three more brave soldiers were killed overseas.

This year I am unable to be home with my son for his birthday. I am instead here in Toronto patiently awaiting my visa so that I can join him, my other son, and my husband in Russia. So instead of dwelling on the fact that there will be no birthday party for me to join in, a good friend of mine and I decided to take a trip downtown and lay flowers on a memorial site dedicated to all those who have died in either war or peacekeeping for Canada.

The site was not as we expected. Either we had high expectations, or we had the wrong spot. We had thought at the very least and from what we had read that the “War on Terrorism” memorial would have the names of those that had died for the cause etched into the wall. Instead there was a wall, beautifully etched artwork from past wars, but nothing commemorating Afghanistan and the efforts that are going on there. All over the park there were sculptures as high as the eye could see, one for firefighters, one for policemen, both with names of the fallen. To date we have lost 96 Canadian soldiers to the war in Afghanistan, less than the number of firefighters names etched into numerous marble walls, so certainly there would have been more than enough room on the huge wall that was displaying the depictions of WWI and WWII. Maybe it was something they planned for the future.

It is obvious that my friend and I did not need to put an etching to remember those we lost. Instead we placed our flowers, sat back, and remembered. For those we knew, and for those we didn’t. I am almost glad that no name was there to be read, for that would have meant reading something that was already etched in my head.

Yesterday was a celebration of Robbie’s 13th birthday, him becoming a teenager, him growing up and becoming a young man. It was a celebration of his life thus far and all that is to come.

Yesterday was a celebration of Chris, Gilles, Shane, Shawn, the other thirteen soldiers who never made it home during my six months stay in Afghanistan, and those three young soldiers that coincidently lost their lives yesterday. Yesterday was a celebration of their lives, their deaths, and those they left behind.

Today, I say CHIMO once again, for CHIMO in greeting or in goodbye, means FRIEND.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

For Shawn - Written August 21

It seems that every week here during my last month gives me a better appreciation for what my experience in Afghanistan has given me, the people I’ve met, what our troops do here, and most importantly what I have left at home for all of the above.
I had hoped that the ramp ceremony I attended a week ago would be the last one, then my worst fear came true. Ron, my husband knows a lot of guys here. A lot of the same guys he was here with are here again. I as well have come to know a lot of guys serving here, and you’re biggest wish for all of them, especially those outside the wire are that they will “stay safe”, a departure I always leave with them till the next time I see them, one I always left with my husband before saying goodbye to him on the phone, or through emails.
This is the same departure I had given to Shawn almost two weeks ago. I had seen him at New Canada House when I went up for a little relaxation, change of pace, and music from DJ Dusty. He was outside waiting for some friends and I thought it friendly of myself to take a seat and say hello. He was reeling, perturbed by a recent situation earlier in the day while outside. I listened and even giggled, the story while quite irritating to him and rightfully so, was still a little on the entertaining and amusing side to myself. He after all had gotten over it for the most part from what I can tell and was ready to sit with the boys and have a cigar, being back safe in KAF. I didn’t overstay my welcome, I said my hello’s, asked how Lisa, his wife and the girls were doing, etc. I at this point can’t remember half the conversation, although now I wish I could.
Today was the hardest day of my tour. Canadian soldiers were coming into the store rather bleak, one commented on the fact that it was a tough day for soldiers in Kandahar. With news of a comms (communications) lockdown, that could only mean one thing. Not long after I had learned that three soldiers were killed, all of them Engineers from 1CER in Edmonton, a scary thought considering we had just come from Edmonton only a couple years prior and had been there for five years.
I didn’t have to wait for long to find out one of the names of the soldiers killed. I had asked one of Ron’s friends’ who had come into the store. He clearly told me that one of the guys was on their last roto with them, a soldier by the name of Shawn Eades. I almost immediately excused myself; it was like a crushing blow to the chest.
You see Lisa and I knew each other from back in Edmonton my last year there. During the time that our husbands were in Afghanistan together, we were part of a group of women, “The Yellow Ribbon Girls” that had gathered to provide support to one another over the course of the six months that our husbands tour would see them overseas. We attended birthday dinners, Christmas dinners and secret Santa gift exchanges, coffee at each other’s houses, and martini nights. We all became very tight, and during that time saw one another through some very tough and trying times. Not all our husbands came home the same way they had left, although thankfully all came home. This time regretfully, would be different for Lisa.

Now only nine hours, I find myself sitting here, waiting; waiting for the comms lockdown to be lifted so that I can be reunited with the outside world. Waiting so I can try and get in contact with my husband to see how he is dealing with the news, waiting so that I can email Lisa, although I know she probably won’t get my email right away and probably for quite a many days away, waiting to read the news and find the names of the other two soldiers, and finally waiting to be able to post this little piece so that all of you reading can know that we have yet again lost another brave soldier, and that I am still here, and although a little changed and a little broken at the moment, am still thankful for my time in Afghanistan.

Thank you Shawn. Or should I say CHIMO.

A Little Catch Up - Written August 14

Tag! I guess I'm it. No sense in starting a blog and sharing your life if no one knows where you've been and who you are prior to that. Since I'm sure a lot of what I write will have to do with where I am now and where I'm heading to shortly, then I guess my background proves to be a little important.

In essence my little adventure as I call it started two years ago with a thought of applying for what I proposed to be the job opportunity of a lifetime. An opportunity to do something good, serve my country, travel, see a different side of the world, and maybe be a better person because of it.

The process was long, taking me nearly a year to decide if it was something right for me and my family. After finally applying it took nearly as long for the long chain of events that was to follow. An interview over the phone, screenings, and a two week training course away from home. The few days that followed the training were some of the longest I've spent in my life. I can't describe the aniticipation waiting for that yes or no answer. The answer was yes, as so here I am now.

Finally after a year of decisions, five months of waiting for an interview and another four months till I left home, today I serve our troops in Afghanistan, today I am a retail attendant rotating between six Canadian retail stores. I have been here for five months already, with less then two weeks left till my six month contract is up.

As the end approaches, it is bittersweet. The hours have sometimes been long, the days never ending, and no days off, but I have accomplished all that I came here to do, plus. I have met some of the best people I could ever meet, and learned a lot from them in the process. I come away from here with a better understanding of cultures, of what Canadians and other colalition forces are doing here in Afghanistan, and most importantly I come with a greater pride in my country and those who serve it on a daily basis.

I thought I was proud before, but nothing can make you more proud, then standing on a tarmac that is so hot it melts the rubber off your shoes, as you watch a casket carrying one of your own drapped in your nations flag. Nothing can make you more proud.

What ever happened to Paper and Pen? Written August 14

Whatever happened to good old paper and pen???

The last few months have proven to be quite the adventure for myself. It's also proven to be a new era of reinventing myself with my lost passion.
A few weeks ago after speaking with a new found friend (we'll call him D), I was eagly persuaded to start sharing my love of writting through a blog. Since my situation at the time did not allow for many photo opportunities, this provided to be a feasable second choice. He, my new friend, anxiously awaits by my side and even helps me in my search for a faithfull and worthwhile free blog site to begin.

I have my options narrowed, however one such site is unallowing me to connect from my part of the world at the moment, ironically this is the site which D frequents, this would be blogger.com. The others ease of use is, well, not so easy to use. Who would have thought that the task at hand would be so hard. It seemed so simple. All I was looking to do was to share my thoughts, and my adventures of the last five months, those of the next few years, and to begin writting again. All of a sudden what was once suppose to be fun and relaxing, was no longer. Writting is suppose to be hard, after all that's what makes it so good sometimes, but not for this reason.

Being back in Canada, I have been successful with the mission at hand, for the moment at least. I have finally made it to Blogger.com, and can finally start blogging.
I for the time being can at least begin my new adventure in blogging.
I'm wondering though if the next time I just might use that trusty paper and pen.