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.

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.