Editor's Note: FNC Producer Kathleen Foster and reporter Rick Leventhal are blogging about their experiences in Iraq.
• Click over to read Rick's perspective!
•Click here for exclusive, behind the scenes photos!
• E-mail Kathleen Foster
• What's a WAG bag?
Kathleen Foster has the inside scoop on bathrooms in Iraq!
Kathleen describes the messy substance that gets everywhere!
Friday Dec 21
Before I tell you about my chaotic day, I want to say thank you, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to all the guys at:
• Camp Ripper at al Asad
• Camp Gannon ant Husaybah
• COP Tripoli
• COP Haditha
• COP Alus
• COP Haqlaniya
• FOB Hit
• The Suicide Charley Company
• COP Qusaybah
• All the little kids in Barwana
Special thanks to:
• Col Stacy Clardy
• Capt Michael Armistead
Also — a thanks to the following: LTC Pete Baumgarten and The Betio Bastards Ssgt Riley Lieut Heinzelmann Iraqi Soldier Mazen Abdul Makat LTC Dave Bellon The Copenhagen Twins - Jared Josh LTC JJ Dil Capt Greg Ostrin Sgt Maj Youngl Manny Munoz Lemelza from Philly Lieutenant Mark Giorno whose bro lives in North Wales Robert's brother Roget Kunkle Spicer - thanks for the Grizzly Doc Boyd (or Bam or Joaquin) Beau Burton (my humvee bruise is a beaut) Mitterando (future PSD) Capt Ruble (thanks for the WAG bag) Lieut Doan Rodrigues, Creed, Sansone and Oliva The Delta Co tank guys Colonel Claws All the guys who signed the Wag Bag All the Maineiacs Fernandes, Savanah, Cindy and Moriarty at CPIC Major Bob Brodie/Aeroscouts Therrien, Wormwuth, DeLoach and Pelusi Brown and Williamson at Camp Victory All the Marine and AF pilots and flight crews who we never got to meet, but got us everywhere safely — forgive me if I left anyone off.
Amman, Jordan —Frisked for an 11th time after arriving in Jordan. Bags and equipment made it. If all goes well with my flight tomorrow to New York, I will be home for Christmas.
I’m finally on the plane, but not without more struggles.
When you get off the bus to go to the plane on the tarmac, you must point out your bags or they won't be loaded. A handler came to take mine and demanded money or he wouldn’t put them on the plane. Believing they were trying to take advantage of me, I yelled to Pierre that they were making me give them money and Pierre hollered at them until they put my bags in the hold. They probably took them out when I wasn't looking. I guess I will find out in Amman.
Then when I rounded a corner, we were stopped again for another carry-on search. Now remember, I have gone nowhere other than the bus since the steel doors slammed in my face. A man rifled through my bag for the 98th time. I was then frisked for a tenth time on the plane. Now I am all for security, but couldn't things be a bit more efficient here?
They've de-boarded everybody who had already gotten on the plane. We're all sitting around, waiting. We are hearing rumors of a take-off in 30 to 60 minutes.
I had just gotten frisked (for only the ninth time this trip), someone was rifling through my bag needlessly for the 97th time (an exaggeration but not far off), but I didn't care. I was steps away from the corridor leading to the plane when, an Iraqi guard shut the steel doors right in front of me.
"Airport closed," he said. "George Bush coming for Christmas. Your friend."
I was stunned and asked if they were kidding. "Joke, right?"
"Yes, yes, joke. Airport closed. Sit. "
They pointed to the window sill. I trudged over to it and put my head in my hands. I wonder if Leventhal's back in the U-S of A yet.
Not surprisingly, the song "I'll Be Home For Christmas" has been playing over and over in my head the past few days.
The ticket window still isn't open and we are hearing the plane hasn't left Amman. There are contracters here who have been at the airport, trying to get a flight to Amman for three days. We hear there might be a flight to Amman on Iraqi Airways at 4:30. Pierre and I are trying to buy tickets for that.
Everyone is smoking everywhere. The stink is killing me. Why can't they just chew tobacco?
Will we ever get out of Iraq?
Pierre and I were picked up at Camp Victory by our security team at 8 a.m. and taken to Baghdad International Airport.
There is only one X-ray machine (the last time I was here the power went out, leaving my things stuck IN IT), so the line to screen baggage ran the length of the building. Pierre stayed in line while I went inside to see if I could buy tickets to Dubai.
Once inside the airport, I found out the ticket counter is on the OTHER SIDE of security, and if you don't have tickets YOU CAN'T GO IN. "It's kind of a Catch 22," an American contractor told me. Luckily, I had a couple of tickets from yesterday's flight to Amman, which got me in.
Once inside, I was directed to a couple different windows until I finally found the right one, Jupiter Air. It's basically a bus that flies to Dubai with no assigned seats. I was told to stand by. I waited and waited, and even shed a few crocodile tears. That garnered me a lot of promises from all the Iraqi men standing at the counter doing nothing, but still no tickets.
I was getting worried about Pierre on the other side of security. I walked the perimeter of the glass barricade, until I spotted his over six foot frame and high floppy haired head above all the others. I climbed up on to the backs of a couple of chairs, popped my head above the wall and called his name. I had his passport and Amman ticket. He couldn’t get in without them.
So, I handed them over to him and started walking back to the Jupiter Air counter (which is right next to the "Flying Carpet" airline.)
That's when I was stopped by an Iraqi guard and his American trainer. I was scolded for passing things over the wall. They checked my passport then let me go.
Back at Jupiter Air, I was stopped by a Security agent who explained to me, the world famous Iraqi bribery system.
Minutes later, one of the Iraqi men who had been standing around doing nothing came up to me and said, "OK. $800. Two tickets to Dubai." He put the bribery issue right on the table, saying it was usually $300 one way, but he wants four.
I handed the cash over and asked for a receipt, staying on him like white on rice.
"No. Full." The guy's buddy/boss/uncle said. No money in the world was going to get us on the flight. So I took my money back and walked away.
Pierre is now in the secure area and we're sitting on the edge of a dried up flower bed waiting for the Royal Jordanian ticket counter to open up in an hour. An airline woman told me we'd get on flight, but the flights have been canceled the past two days ... so we could end up sleeping in this flower bed tonight.
Thursday Dec 20 - 6:15 p.m.
I'm aboard a C-17 somewhere over Iraq.
It was amazing how fast my adrenaline stopped pumping once we stopped working. We topped off our trip with our exclusive report on the Marines' new chopper/plane, the Osprey.
A big thank you to a certain Marine reservist from back in Philly for that one. Thanks for looking out for me, in country and out!
So, on Tuesday night, we patted ourselves on the back for a job well done and started focusing on getting home. Nearly 48 hours after finishing our last piece, I am just now leaving al Asad on a huge C-17 cargo plane.
We spent all last night waiting in a hangar for a flight to Baghdad or anything near it. Chopper after chopper, plane after plane — all left, with no room for us. Temperatures dipped below freezing, so we huddled inside our sleeping bags, heads and all — like three cocoons in the corner.
At nearly 4 a.m., the Public Affairs Officer, Capt Michael Armistead, took us back to our cans. We found out we weren't going anywhere until at least the next afternoon. I tried to stay positive, but when Dragan, the Baghdad Bureau chief, told me all the flights from Baghdad to Amman were canceled on Friday, my spirits plummeted.
Rick is trying his luck with a flight to N.Y. through Kuwait, but Pierre and I are now at Camp Victory, hoping to get a flight to Dubai tomorrow morning. I will then go to N.Y., and if I am lucky, I will be crawling into bed with my husband and cats by 9 a.m. on Saturday morning.
Pierre and are settled into our respective tents at the Camp Victory Billeting center. The tents look like they are right out of M.A.S.H. They sleep eight to 12 people each and are basically crash pads for troops, journalists and contractors coming in and out of Iraq.
This has been my most incredible trip yet, I am almost sorry to see it end. I have been to Iraq three times before, but most of that time in 2004 and 2005 was spent holed in our bureau. I would come home and people would ask, "What are the Iraqis saying? How are the troops?" But, I never had much to say, because then it was too dangerous to hit the streets like we did on this trip.
This time, I saw places, people and things I'd never dreamed I'd see. And yes, being embedded, I only saw what the military showed us, but I can't help but be impressed when I see little kids come running out of their houses when convoys roll by. The cooperation from the local Sheiks in Anbar is key. As one Marine put it, "They don't really like Al Qaeda and they don't really like us. But Al Qaeda is killing them, and we're giving them stuff. So they know they're safer going with us."
Some of the guys I spoke with are starting to grumble, they're ready to go home (after just 10 days, I know that feeling). But most of the Marines I spoke with truly believe in what they are doing here, as part of "Operation Iraqi Freedom." They are taking the time to learn the language, attended the sheiks' dinners and adapt to the culture, even if they think some of the culinary habits are gross. And from what I can tell, the Iraqis like the taste of freedom.
Wednesday, Dec 19th
Let's take a moment to talk about care packages. The troops love them. The big bases are teeming with junk food sent from back home. But the smaller Forward Operating Bases or FOBs could use more, especially since they can't just hit the PX for toiletries. But there are some things the guys at the FOBs want and need more than others.
Here's what they say they want:
• Cup O'Noodles
• Packaged tuna in the pouches
• DVD movies
• Magazines (not just the dirty ones)
• Drink Mixes like Crystal Light and iced tea
• Cleaning supplies (sponges, Lysol wipes and Windex)
The guys at the FOBs are the ones who go into towns and interact with the Iraqis. A lot of the candy you send to them gets passed out to elated children. The Marines ask that you send lollipops instead of hard candies, so there is less chance of children choking.
Also, keep in mind that everyone is sending care packages to the troops at the holidays. That stuff starts to trickle off around March, so if you really want to make a difference the guys say send them stuff in the spring and summer (especially those drink mixes!)
Send them to any of the following addresses:
Al Qaim Bn 3/2
Attn: 1stLt Albert W. Culbreth, III
3/2 H&S Co S-3
FPO AE 09509-3130
Hadithah Triad: Bn 3/23
Capt Manny Munoz
3/23 H&S Co Section
FPO AE 09509-3142
Hit: Bn 1/7
1ST BN 7TH MAR
FPO AP 96426-1510
Tuesday Dec 18th - 12:53 p.m.
We spent the morning doing more troop shout outs. One guy said Merry Christmas to his dog. Another guy gave me a can of Grizzly.
I am now back in a humvee on our way back to al Asad from Camp Hit. None of the guys in the humvee are talking. We are in the first vehicle and are on guard for any possible IEDs or suicide car bombers. As we roll along, Iraqi drivers are pulling over while our convoy passes, as the are required to do. If they don't immediately, the guys sound the sirens until they do. No one told me not to make conversation. I just don't want to distract these guys.
I am going to stop writing now. I should be as alert as my companions.
Monday Dec 17th - 6:14 a.m.
FOB Hit, Hit, Iraq — Pierre and I hit the sack at about 1:30 a.m., after feeding our package to New York and DC. I had just climbed into the top bunk when we heard a loud boom that shook our little wooden "VIP" shack a little.
Neither of us said anything for a moment until I calmly broke the silence with, "Pierre, what was that?" The first time I worked in Baghdad in 2004, louder blasts than this served as my alarm clock, but it was the first one we'd heard during this trip.
“Well, I guess we need something to remind us we're in a war zone," Pierre said, as we discussed what it might have been. Maybe a mortar? But it was only one explosion and mortars usually come three or four at a time, so we ruled that out. An IED? Maybe one blew up while someone was trying to plant one ... a car bomb did blow up in Hit on December 12. Or maybe it was a middle of the night controlled blast?
"What are you guys talking about?" asked the reporter nearby.
Rick had slept through it.
I like to think I am a pretty tough chick. But, the shower I was so very looking forward to, after eating dirt all day yesterday, was so disappointing that it almost broke me down.
There was no heat in the ladies' shower trailer and the door wouldn't close all the way, so all that invigorating 40-degree air was blasting right in. The water was piping hot at least and sprayed in every direction but down.
Update: Last night's blast was a controlled detonation of a cache of weapons found outside the town of Hit, where we are going today. A bridge there was destroyed by a car bomb there just a few days ago As we were putting on our flak jackets and helmets, Rick reminded us not to let the sense of calm we've been experiencing dull our senses. Anything could happen at any time.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We just left the town of Hit where insurgents — who are now referred to by both Americans and local Iraqis as "criminals" — blew up a car bomb on a bridge December 12th. The locals immediately rallied to clean up the mess. They hope to have it fully fixed in just two weeks. And they are paying for it themselves.
A riverside restaurant was wrecked by the blast. We watched as a construction crew replaced windows and put in a new drop ceiling. Col. Dill and his guys contributed $2,000 to the restaurant's owner. They hope to have a nice meal there before they leave.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After visiting the bridge, we walked through the Hit town market, which was bustling! The FOB Hit Public Affairs Officer, Lt. Ostrin, was in charge of keeping an eye on me, but told me pretty much everyone else there was keeping an eye on me too. Turns out we were in an all-male part of the market. I was the only woman in sight. A little boy outside a butcher shop took a break from hammering the horns off a sheep's head to smile at me.
It was right next to this butcher shop, where we stopped to have a cup of chai tea. In the Middle East, it is considered rude not to accept a cup of tea if it is offered to you. You're also expected to sip a second... but it's ok to refuse the third. Luckily for our schedule, we were only offered one.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I might be developing a dip habit. I'm sitting in a humvee driving to another COP (Combat Outpost), with a wad of Copenhagen in between my gums and lip. The guys cracked up when I asked for some. The gunner obliged. Up on the roof of the Suicide Charley base, Col. Dill gave me some Louisian chew. It was sweet, but I think I like the Copenhagen better. Hey, when in Rome...
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We are on our way back to FOB Hit after visiting COP Qubaysah, a joint base for Marines and the Iraqi Army. The base was hit by a suicide car bombing two years ago, and part of it is still crumbling.
The guys showed us around their base, which was pretty rough. No running water here, only piss poles and "wag bags." They got creative with their wash basin area, using discarded rear view mirrors from humvees to shave with bottled water. The guys here are most proud of their smoke pit (a gazebo made out of sand bags and netting) and their COP pet, "Colonel Claws." Colonel Claws is a brown eagle the Marines saved from some locals who were beating him. One of his wings is now lame.
Sunday, Dec 16- 4:30 p.m.
Haqlaniyah, Iraq — We rolled out of bed at 6:45 a.m. after a jarring bang on the door, a Marine version of a wake up call. I decided it was rude to try to shower in an all-male facility, so I wiped my face with a baby wipe, swiped on some deodorant, tied my hair back, put on some of my less filthy clothes and ate some Cocoa Puffs. We did an interview at 7:20 and were back on the road at 7:45 a.m.
I’m now back in a Humvee on our way to Haqlaniyah. We are going to interview a couple of twin brothers who are both serving with the Marines in Anbar.
Things I’ve somehow gotten used to
• The sight of a machine gun
• The weight of a flak jacket
• Being called “Ma’am”
• Brushing my teeth with bottled water
• Overall uncleanliness
Things I just can’t get used to:
• The sound of an automatic weapons being cocked
• Bathing with baby wipes
• The weight of a helmet (I now know why Marines have thick necks.)
• OPBO (Other People’s Body Odor.)
• Words that are not ERMAs (Easily Recognizable Military Acronyms.)
Things Marines say they are still not used to:
• “The smell of this place”
• The weight of wearing all their gear
• Burning the “sh-tters” when the stench becomes unbearable
• Some local Iraqi culinary customs, like the lack of utensils, 30 people sharing a single water glass, and the tradition of presenting a person of honor with a certain “goat part” during dinner. I am too grossed out to go into detail.
•Click here for exclusive, behind the scenes photos!
• Click here to watch an exclusive video — Kathleen describes the messy substance that gets everywhere!
Alus, Iraq — I needed a lesson before going to the bathroom today.
I was at a combat outpost in Alus, Iraq, again the only girl. I asked for a bathroom and a bunch of guys started giggling. I didn’t understand why until Cpt. Ruble told me he’d show me, and subject me to a short class on the way.
We rounded a corner and he gave me a “WAG Bag.” OK, that was not an “ERMA,” so I asked what WAG stood for. Ruble didn’t know, but many guys nearby offered up some rather creative suggestions.
Ruble opened the Ziploc bag and showed me the various “accoutrements,” including a few squares of toilet paper, an antiseptic wipe, and a medium sized garbage bag. Taking me into a stall, he fit the garbage bag over the plywood bench, put down the seat, and told me “have a seat.”
Of course Rick and Pierre were right outside the stall when I came out with a big smile on my face. I had to walk past them to put my refuse in the burn can…
I apologize for all the “scat chat” in this blog, but it’s nearly unavoidable in situations like this!
Haqlaniyah, Iraq — I just saw an Iraqi man slaughter a sheep by the side of the road. The animal was laying on its side, its feet tied together. Its owner, while standing over it, sharpening his knife, yelled “Allah Akbar!” (God is great) before kneeling down. With one quick slice, the animal went limp. The man held the sheep’s head up, so all the blood could pulse into a container. Smiling proudly, he posed for a photo.
While driving across Iraq in these convoys, I have noticed quite a bit of construction. Sgt. Beau Burton from Oklahoma tells me that for a long time, people moved out to the desert because they felt safer there. Now they are not only moving back to urban areas, they are building brand new homes. That, Sgt. Burton says, a show not only is it safer, but there is more money to spend.
Saturday December 15- Late Evening
The Hadithah Combat Outpost — We are at a base with no running water. I am the only girl here so going to the bathroom is a huge production. Every time I have to go, A Marine escort first checks the “sh-tter” (which is basically a plywood bench with a hole cut in it) then stands guard as I do my business.
The Marines put Rick, Pierre, Capt Armistead and me in a room with rows of cots. Concerned I might want some privacy, one of the guys stationed at the outpost, Cpt. Nunoz, rigged up a couple of camouflage curtains around my cot and hung a cardboard sign that says “Kathleen’s Suite.” Our "diva" correspondent was a little off-put. (Click here for the photo!)
Hadithah, Iraq — I was ambushed today … by a gang of more than a dozen little kids.
It happened while on foot patrol with Marines in the little town of Barwana, across the pontoon bridge from Hadithah.
It started with two little girls who, holding hands, kept shuffling up ahead of me, waiting while peering around corners, an then following behind me. As if I was the Pied Piper, more and more children came out of the wood work. I suddenly had a crowd.
“Madame!” They yelled, smiling, waving, and asking for chocolate. They asked me my name in English and told me I looked “very good.” When I ran out of Jolly Rancher candies, I started giving them anything else I had in my pockets. They were thrilled with my pen, but turned their noses up at my ponytail holder.
They pointed at my camera (they knew they couldn’t have that) and smiled goofy grins. I posed for a couple of pictures with them and hugged them. It warmed my heart. The children were not the only ones to welcome us. Men and women smiled and said “Salaam” as we passed by too.
The translator told me they were treating me like a movie star because they rarely see a blonde woman in person, only on TV.
I’m sitting in a Humvee with four Marines, on the road to Hadithah. We’re eating Pringles and M&Ms as we make our way along Route Bronze. It’s a pretty major road that goes through the town of Baghdadi. I am pretty surprised to see a couple of cafes with tables and chairs set up, along the Euphrate River banks. Across the street from them is a big brand new billboard advertising the Iraqi Army.
Before I got in the vehicle, a Marine wrote down my name and blood type and noted my allergy to penicillin — just in case something happens.
Things do happen, but the guys with me say it’s been a while. The last time they were ambushed by machine gun fire was 10 months ago. And the last time they found an IED was in June. It was planted in a dead dog. “There were wires hanging out of its butt,” a Marine tells me, “We blew it up.”
al Asad Airbase, Iraq — Yesterday we were up at 6 a.m., on our way to al Qaim by 7:45 a.m., back home at 6pm, on the air three times starting at 8 p.m., turned a package for Special Report by 1:30am and in our beds again at 2 a.m.
Rick caught up with Col. Clardy at the end of the night. They were smoking cigars in a courtyard. They offered me a puff. Being a lady that doesn’t smoke, I politely declined, of course. But I did ask for a pinch of the Colonel’s Copenhagen.
I sat with the guys for a spell, spitting in a Styrofoam cup. I think the colonel was impressed, but Rick seemed pretty grossed out.
Friday Dec 14 - 7:38 a.m.
Camp Ripper, al Asad Airbase — I got more sleep last night (five hours) than I have since arriving. I'm still trying to get over the jet lag. They say it takes a day per hour of time difference. That means I will just be getting over it when I leave.
We've hit the ground running. Yesterday we recorded some holiday and New Year's troop shout-outs, turned our profile piece on Col Clardy, and ate at every opportunity in between. I consumed more food yesterday than I have since my last trip to Sizzler in 1992.
Thursday, Dec 13
al Asad Airbase — You've probably seen movies or cartoons where a weary traveler is trudging across the desert, dying of thirst. He's overjoyed when he spots a sparkling pool of water: an oasis surrounded by palm trees popping out from the flat desert horizon. He runs toward it … tripping in the soft sand … only to have the pool disappears before his eyes.
Luckily for Abraham, the ancient forefather of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the oasis at al Asad wasn't a mirage. It's believed Abraham and his family (not sure if he was with Sarai, Hagar and both the boys or not…) camped by this pond and drank from it while trekking across the Mesopotamian desert to the town of Ur.
Recognizing the cultural and religious significance of this oasis, Saddam Hussein built the al Asad military base around it, and ordered the water cleaned up.
We are settled into our "cans"— which are basically heated and air conditioned shipping containers — and are really quite comfortable quarters.
I have my own this time and it's the nicest I've stayed in yet ... it's double-wide and it even has a TV! I know Rick has the monopoly on adventures in foreign television watching, but in case you're curious: Star Trek is on ...
Wed Dec 12th - 11:30pm
• Six and a half hours at JFK...
• 12 hours on the plane...
• A day and a half in Amman...
• 25 hours in the Green Zone press center...
• And six more hours at the Camp Victory airport...
We are 20 minutes from Al Asad.
Having failed to get on an overnight chopper to Al Asad, we've been stranded at the Combined Press Information Center in the Green Zone for nearly 24 hours now.
As much as it sucks to waste this valuable time, I can report that conditions for journalists waiting to embed have vastly improved since the last time I flew to Al Asad.
Instead of camping out on a couch in the convention center, we now have access to a couple of computers (my blackberry doesn't work), a big screen tv to watch movies, bunkbeds with clean linens, and a gym down the hall which also happens to be where a freezer full of ice cream bars is kept — go figure. I skipped the treadmill and went straight for a fudgsicle.
•Click here for exclusive, behind the scenes photos!
December 11, 2007- 7:57 a.m.
Amman, Jordan — We just boarded the plane to Baghdad. The well paid South African flight crew is making the final preparations. Royal Jordanian Airlines subcontracts these flights to Baghdad to the South Africans because they are virtually the only ones brave enough to do it. If you ever find yourself flying into one of the world's hottest spots, chances are your crew is South African.
The plane is filled with mostly American contractors. Pretty much all of us are wearing either cargo pants or jackets. For whatever reason, you can't have too many pockets in a war zone.
The flight to Baghdad is about an hour and a half. Flying out of the "Mesopotamia" we all learned about in history class, we see the Euphrates River cut through the dry lands as an unmanned drone keeps an eye out on the area.
The landing is where the South African pilots' expertise is crucial. Unlike most flights, where there is a slow descent, this plane is going to arrive above Baghdad at 22,000 feet and begin a downward spiral, making about 18 turns as if sliding down a corkscrew. Planes do this as to better avoid being hit by a surface to air missile.
In the early days of this flight, there were horror stories about people throwing up. But this crowd looks pretty used to it.
Baghdad International Airport — Landed. Stomach slightly queasy. Not sure if it's from the landing or uncertainty about what's to come. We're met by our security guards who put us in our body armor, load their weapons, and take off down the Airport Road. Our cars are so heavily armored they creak.
Baghdad, Iraq — We checked in with our embed coordinator and found out we have been bumped from the flight we were supposed to take tonight. So we are camping out at the press center and waiting. We know we won't fly before midnight. Our best case scenario is to fly sometime in the wee hours of the morning. If not then, could have to wait until tomorrow night.
Monday Dec 10- 10:00 a.m.
Amman, Jordan — After meeting FNC reporter Rick Leventhal and our photographer Pierre for a quick breakfast, we meet our Jordanian guides and head to the Iraqi embassy for our entry visas. The outside walls of the embassy is papered with lists of passport numbers. Iraqi refugees are squinting to read the list, searching for their passport numbers — a sign they've been approved to go back home and start their lives over.
• Click here to read Rick Leventhal's blog, on the scene
After that we went to the hospital to get blood drawn for our AIDS tests. This is my second AIDS test, at the same hospital, for the same purpose in nine months. You have to be tested every time you go into Iraq. A male doctor draws Rick's and Pierre's blood, a woman does mine.
The hospital will fax our results to the Iraqi embassy in Baghdad. We will need them to obtain our exit visas.
Sunday, Dec. 9 - 8:37 p.m. (Queen Alia Airport)
Amman, Jordan — Our plane took off and landed four hours late. Being that this is my fifth trip to Amman, I know the drill upon arriving at the airport. I exchange cash into Jordanian dinars. Rick and I hand over our passports and 20JD for our entry visas. With our passports freshly stamped, we head dowstairs to collect our luggage and head out on a 45 minute car ride to the hotel.
It's night time. We've lost a whole day traveling.
Saturday, Dec. 8 - 7:30 p.m.
New York, N.Y. — When I told the cab driver where I needed to go, his eyes darted to the rear view mirror to look at me in the back seat. "Royal Jordanian Airlines?" He asked, "You are going to Amman?"
He was even more surprised to learn I had been there many times before — mostly on my way in and out if Iraq. It turns out, we had things in common.
The driver's name was Mabrook, which, he told me, in Arabic means "congratulations" — as his parents heard often the day he came into the world.
Mabrook was born and raised in Jordan, but went to college in Baghdad during the late 70s and early 80s. He said back then the city was, "Just great, great ... great."
His words trailed off as he clearly went there in his mind... A time when the now crumbling hotels where I've stayed in Baghdad were shiny and new and bustling with tourists, instead of dusty and filled with journalists.
Mabrook went back to Iraq for the first time last year. Being a naturalized American citizen, he applied for a job at the American Embassy in Baghdad and got it — but he lasted only four days.
Even though he wanted to support his adopted country, as an Arab, he knew he was being viewed as a traitor and feared for his life. So, instead of ushering diplomats around in armored cars, Mabrook collects fares in Brooklyn... and congratulates himself for that decision.
Getting out at JFK, Mabrook hugs me and invites me to have dinner with his wife and children when I return.
•Click here for exclusive, behind the scenes photos!
• Want to know what's it's like to be a producer? E-mail Kathleen!
Kathleen Foster is a general assignment Field Producer based in New York. She started at FOX as an intern in 1996. She has covered the Iraq war, the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, and the fight for Anna Nicole's body.