Sunday, January 11, 2009

College Again

Bike porn: My new Cervelo P2 set up in my room in Bloomington. It'll be trainer rides for a while. It's snowing out here today.

I just arrived in Bloomington, Indiana for a paramedic course that I need to take. Bloomington is a college town, home of the University of Indiana, and I'm staying at a large apartment building that houses hundreds of college students. I ended up getting a sub-let off a kid that was going abroad for the semester and needed to get out from under his lease. Subsequently I'm sharing a suite with three students. I can't tell you what an educational experience THIS is going to be.

Last night one of the 20-something students told me that he was going to travel Europe after he graduated so that he could enjoy the experience "before he got too old". "You're kidding me, right?"

The medic course is going to take up the vast, vast majority of my time, demanding 14-16 hours every day. Added on to that are twice daily triathlon workouts amounting to 14 hours a week. I don't expect to see much of my student room mates, but I'm sure there will be the occasional entertaining episode. More to follow.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Fixer

An Iraqi father poses with his two sons.

"Fixer" is apparently an Arabic word that means, "I don't wait in lines". Like almost all western companies in Iraq, we employ locals to act as "fixers; to get us through the snags and complications of operating in a foreign land. They use any means at their disposal, some of which can be pretty unsavory, to get us in a position to do our job.

I went to the airport this morning, our lead fixer and I were flying out of Baghdad on the same flight to Amman. At the first sight of a line he didn't even break stride, walking purposefully right the the front of the 30-person line, grabbing my passport as he went. The cacophony of groans and gripes was deafening to my sensitive western ears. The fixer seemed to be energized by it, and pressed on; business class seats, boarding passes, luggage tags all within seconds. I was looking for a corner to hide in as the symphony of disgruntled passengers grew.

This scene transpired not only at the check-in desk but also at Immigration, the boarding ramp, and the bus taking us to the plane. Nothing would deter him. He was like a pitbull. I meekly followed along, afraid to get lost in the throngs of unhappy (pissed off) travelers. I secretly reveled in the "fast track", but was painfully embarrassed at the means to get there.

On a side note, while on the airplane we were handed a form, what at first I thought was an Immigration form for Jordan. Dutifully filling in the blanks I got to the question, "Do you have diarrhea?" It went on from there; "How long have you had it? Medications? Doctor's note?" Not something that you see everyday. They were apparently looking for cholera coming out of Iraq.