Dust in the Wind

dusty guard 1.jpgIve been indoors for a few hours now. My eyes are still burning. And my throat is still scratched, red-raw. Im picking and blowing chunks out of my nostrils that are brown and sticky, like the resin of hashish. But at least Im starting to be able to breathe halfway-normal again.For the last day-and-a-half, the air over Baghdad has grown more and more clogged with sand. Yesterday, it pushed my helicopter flight down to Ad Mahmudiya back in three hour blocks, until the trip was cancelled altogether. This morning, there wasnt even a discussion about going airborne. Visibility has shrunk to 30 feet, maybe. The highway signs to Abu Ghraib are unreadable, until youre right underneath. The blimps watching over the base have become invisible if theyre even flying at all. The sun has vanished. And the wind has grown razor tips.The guards here contractors from Nepal, Im guessing wear surgical masks at their posts. Outside the gates, the locals wrap scarves around their heads, and go right on selling their tires and their watermelons and their marbled meat from ramshackle wooden stands.dusty scene 1.jpgIraqi insurgents are almost certain at work, too. Its a perfect time for a bomb planting, the captain of the unit Im embedded with grumbles. Perfect fucking cover.On Route Michigan, the American militarys name for a trash-heavy road near the Baghdad Airport, plastic chairs sway in the sandstorm. Humvees gather. Soldiers peer into the dust, looking for snipers. But if there are any shooters out there, they cant be seen through the desert fog.There is a small silver lining to the dust clouds, though. The temperature is a relatively temperate 113 degrees. Not bad, considering the previous afternoon peaked at 128. Yesterday, I had sweated through my t-shirt and camouflage in a few minutes, wetting the inside of my body armor. It took a good hour to achieve the same effect today. Thank heaven for small favors.THERES MORE: So much for vegetarian, wi-fi paradise. Hours after I posted my note the other day about the comforts of Camp Victory, (be sure to read the comments) my situation turned upside-down. My unit is stationed on the far side of the sprawling enclave, near Camp Liberty. It is miles from Victorys palace headquarters. And some of the joys of top brass life have yet to reach to the grunts stationed here wireless Internet access, for one.dusty scene 2.jpgI do have a bed in a trailer now, which is mighty nice. But I lost the memo granting me access to the local mess hall. Its not that big of a deal. My unit on the secretive side, and continually on the go, even during meal times gets food brought back to its station house. But its taken a few days for the supply sergeant, a soft-spoken Haitian, to get his head wrapped around the idea of a herbivore. Vegetables arent food, another sergeant here joked. Theyre what food eats.Things are getting themselves sorted out, however. The Captain pulled rank loud and hard on a poor sergeant who offered up a lame excuse for why I didnt have a new chow pass. Within a few minutes, his boss was literally running to hand us one. And tonight, when I got back from Route Michigan, there was a plate of boiled broccoli and fried rice waiting for me. Freedom is on the march.AND MORE: Chris has an incredible account of the day from the Green Zone.

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