When I signed up for this gig, one of the things the powers that be asked of us was to keep a small backpack ready to go in case of an emergency evacuation. They instructed us that the backpack should contain a change of clothes, your passport and IDs, important papers, toiletries, prescription medicines, and some basic rations.
For the longest time (over two years, if I am to confess), I ignored this directive. Too lazy to put together a bag, probably. Or more closer to the truth, I didn’t do it because it seemed to me that to prepare for this kind of event will invariably make it come into being. Superstitious, I know. But lately I have been thinking about packing a small bag for weeks. I don’t know what it is, but now I want to be able to pick up this bag and get out of here, in case I have to.
So I packed. Choosing the bag was easy–I had a camera bag that was roomy and light enough to lug around. It was styled like a sling bag and wraps across the body, the contents made easily accessible, making it more convenient than a backpack that you had to strap to your back.
Into this emergency bag went:
– my two passports, in a ziploc bag
– about $75 in small bills
– cargo pants
– three shirts (sleeveless, regular, quarter sleeves)
– 1 pair of socks
– good underwear in a ziploc bag
– toiletries (mini bottles)
– toothbrush + toothpaste + mouthwash
– spare pair of contact lenses
– small bottle of contact lens solution
– packet of M&Ms peanut
– small folding scalpel
– Gerber multi-tool set
– ballpen + Post It pad
– tissue paper
– Shure flashlight
– roll of mints
I thought, hmm… a book? No, really no time for introspective reading when you need to be on full alert. Maybe one bottle of perfume, less than 100ml? But then I thought that was just giving in to vanity, not crucial to survival. Instead, I added a small bottle of lotion, much more practical. No sense having to suffer dry skin just because I’m a fugitive.
I’ve placed the bag near the door, within grabbing reach. If need be I can get to my room, hoist the bag over my head, grab a bottle of water and a light jacket, then slip quickly out the building. Hopefully, into a waiting Huey/plane and out of harm’s way.
Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?
Lately, I have been re-visiting Vagabonding, the travel site that I have liked for years now. I chanced upon this entry that is about loving and leaving: the perils of falling in love while on the road, or while temporarily ensconced in some place. I can truly relate, and left a comment on the post, something I rarely do.
“For commitment-phobics, this could be a sweet deal, knowing that the relationship already comes with a built-in way out. For me though, while I am not strictly traveling 3-4 months a year, I am a temporary resident in another country and I go home every 3-4 months. It effectively puts relationships in limbo status — you can’t expect to form fully committed relationships where you are currently in country, and yet you can’t keep up a steady one at home because you’re away for most of the year. It does not mean you can’t have any relationships, though, it just means (well for me, at least) that you have to set more realistic expectations. That, and you better be prepared for a lot of goodbyes.”
I wonder if this will be true for me anytime soon.
I’ve been back here only a week and already I feel suffocated. Literally, sometimes by the dust that floats everywhere, and figuratively, by the sameness that characterizes each and every day.
It’s a small, small world that I now live in. In the week that was I got up to speed on work I left at the office, so that’s done. I met the same set of people, just a few new faces. I’ve been to the PX, the gym, the dining halls, the boardwalk. I’ve revisited the bunkers several times, morning and night. And I’m back to wearing the same old clothes, back to eating the under seasoned food, back to talking about mostly the same old stuff.
There is only so much monotony I can take. In attempts to break the sameness of days, I step out from the brown box that is my office and take a short, aimless walk outside. There is the rock-paved ground underfoot, the dust billowing upwards to meet my face. When I raise my eyes to the sky I see the same brown of the horizon and the same hue covers almost every surface, as far as one can see.
Sometimes it feels as though I live in a huge movie set, circa 1940s, setup in a fictional location deep in the belly of the beast that is war. And then I am jolted back to the reality—oh right, I am here—in the midst of a war.
When I arrived here, a place I have never been, the mountains still had snow. Capped in white, they rose like a jagged wall above a horizon that unfolded into rough, monotonous terrain; a land of dust and dryness. Everything seemed beige, brown, gray. It was a world in camouflage, a place that was in perpetual hiding.
It drizzled the afternoon that I arrived; something, they said, that has not happened for weeks. I was walked by Security down a concrete path that connected several rectangular buildings. Every one of them looked exactly the same from the outside. We went into one building, and I was given a room there. A box within a box.
In one of the scant briefings for this gig, I was told to pack for a week, to bring sturdy hiking shoes, the bare minimum of luxuries. I packed just two books. I should have brought more.
I was issued army-style clothes, shoes, a flashlight, a vest, and a helmet. The helmet was a heavy thing. When turned over, it looked like a turtle—all quiet and unmoving—blending right in. Me thinks I should do the same.