Settling In and Re-Creating Normalcy

Well, where do I begin?  I guess I finally made it to Afghanistan and it has been nothing short of a roller-coaster to get to this point.  At least for today, I just don’t feel like talking about car-bombs, suicide-bombs, IEDs, Taliban, blah blah blah.  It is exhausting, and  even though it’s very important to be ready for any “bad things” if I keep my mind on high alert for days on end, I might not come back with my sanity.

Still, there is so much to comprehend in the first few days of deployment and it’s a challenge to think back and put the pieces together.  From Edmonton to Kabul, there were many hours of flying, what felt like just as many hours of waiting for flights, and then waiting some more to just get settled into a new routine. In total, there were probably around 2 straight days worth of flying, and this time I changed my sleep strategy.  Normally, I set my watch forward or backward to the time of my destination, and do my best to follow that schedule from the start.  If it’s 9 am at my destination, I’ll refuse to sleep, if It’s 11 pm, I’ll try to force myself to sleep. It usually works, but it always takes a couple days to adjust.  This time, it was so much different.  We had no idea where we would be in the coming days, and what kind of work schedule we might be on.  I was just as prepared to go straight to my camp and take a few days to relax as I was to sit around in a transient warehouse-type building and sleep on floors while waiting for the next stage of the “trip”.  The latter was closer to what actually happened, and so my new plan was to sleep at every possible moment throughout the trip.  It was definitely a smart move.  On every flight, while waiting at airports, and even in vehicles between places.

Now, the difficulty is getting into a healthy and normal routine.  Life in general is so so so much different.  Going from having my car to drive around, house to hang out in, wife to be with, grass and trees to look at etc, to being in a heavily secured environment with concrete barriers, guns, dust/dirt/grime everywhere is a change.  It’s an easy routine, but it’s important to set one early.  With Kimberly, I’m hoping we can talk at the same time on most days so she can prepare for it, and I am not fighting to get the deplorable internet service to work during peak hours. At the same time, I know that she is doing the same in re-settling with me gone.  It’s saddening not to be there to help her through it.  But, the way I see it is that this is OUR deployment and it’s not just me that had to serve on this tour.  She’s facing just as much challenge as I am and we have to get through it together.

At the very least, I hope to make this a very personally enlightening experience for us.  This kind of thing is usually a once in a lifetime experience, and the memories will last a lifetime.  This is just the beginning though, and I hope to be able to tell you more about my quest for normalcy in this abnormal environment.  Now that my sleep times are getting back to normal, I think it’s time for bed.


Nothing but blue skies

It was with huge excitement that my wife Kimberly and I began to realize that a summer vacation this year was beginning to look more and more possible.  Given the overseas deployment coming up soon and a tight training schedule, we were willing to accept that there would be no time for leave, and that we might have to forego a vacation to Greece for yet another year.

When summer leave was granted and we realized that ticket prices hadn’t yet skyrocketed, we quickly decided that going to this beautiful Mediterranean corner of the earth that I call my childhood home was going to be the trip of a lifetime.  It absolutely was, and I could never have predicted to what degree it would be a beautiful trip.  Getting the chance to show Kimberly my birthplace has been something I’ve been longing for; she as well.  Not only that, but I haven’t been to Greece for at least 4 years and I had been feeling the pull for a while now to go feel the dry heat and swim in the salty sea.

We spent half a day in downtown Athens which is a necessity for any first-time visitor to Greece.  As hot, congested, and smog-filled as it is, there is nothing that compares to the history and architecture that pack this metropolis.  It leaves you in awe imagining a different age when people walked around here many centuries before the birth of Christ, going about their daily routine.  Although I’ve been to the Acropolis about a dozen times, it never gets old and I love going back.

I could go on at length about Athens, my childhood playground (Petroupoli specifically is where I lived.)  My deeper family roots extend to the magical island of Santorini, where my father escaped as a 4-year-old in the last major earthquake, and my grandparents owned several shops.  This island seems to host just about everything you could imagine for such a small place.  That includes beautiful beaches, ancient cities, good people, and rich flavorful food.

It’s hard to describe, but there seems to be a richness to most meats, fruits, and vegetables that is sometimes attributed to the dry volcanic soil on the island.  The wines are another story and are unfortunately hard to find outside the island.  I wish I could have imported about a dozen bottles of Nykteri, and maybe another dozen bottles of Vin Santo(desert wine sweetened with honey.)  I’ve taken much away from this culinary inspiration and hope to try and cook more island-inspired foods at home for Kimberly.

Besides our week long trip to Santorini as tourists, we managed to dig into my family history a little.  I took a rare opportunity to ask the owner of a small bakery in Perissa whether or not he knew my great grandfather. After looking at a picture on the wall showing the bakery in 1935, I figured it was impossible that he wouldn’t have, as my great grandfather was well known in the area and had a house where he lived into the 1980s.  The kind old man at the bakery shared all kinds of stories, but the most profound thing was how he described our family relations and the fact that dating several generations back, our families are linked.  So now the nice lady from whom I bought frozen freddoccino (like an Iced Cap) every morning became my cousin.

It was fascinating and I could have spent many more days researching archives at the local municipal office, church records, and asking more locals about the family history, but I decided that one day I will make this a more in depth project.  I sincerely hope to do it one day and to be able to share it with my other relatives.
A popular thing in Santorini is the sunset, and almost anyone who has traveled there has set aside at least one evening to have a meal, drinks, or both on the cliff-side restaurants in Fira, the island’s capital.  It is breathtaking and beautiful and deserves all of the credit it gets from travelers.
What we found to be very underrated was the equally beautiful sunrise.  Kimberly and I decided to take an early morning walk to the beach where not a person could yet be seen, and the famously hot black sand was still cool from the night.  As I had hoped, the sun rose from the northern edge of Perissa beach and added to the natural beauty this island exudes.
Forget the economic crisis, and the politics that splash the international headlines.  The impressions that I was affraid I would get with bad attitudes and hurting public services were absolutely not there.  I can’t overstate the genuine kindness that I saw in every person I met there and have a new found hope that Greece will soon come away from their economic and political problems with a young generation able to contribute the skills and knowledge they have.
A small piece of my heart stays in Greece, and soon I hope Kimberly and I will go back and see it all over again.  With the deployment deadline looming, this trip was special not only for the beauty of what is Greece, but for the priceless time spent with Kimberly.