Sunday, April 01, 2007

Baghdad days: Playing at being a tourist in the Green Zone

“I’m bored,” I told my bunkmate this morning. “I’m tired of just hanging around the Green Zone. I want to get out there and see the REAL Baghdad!”

“No you don’t. You only THINK that you do. It’s a disaster out there. Just relax and enjoy your down-time here while you still can.” So I took her advice and enjoyed sight-seeing in the Green Zone today. Come along with me and be a tourist for a day!

Our first stop will be the El Rashid Hotel. “This where the journalists all stay. It’s a dump.” A dump that charges $200 a night by the way.

Next we visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then we saw a world-famous archway formed by two giant crossed swords. And next to the archway was a man selling souvenirs. You can’t call yourself a tourist unless you buy souvenirs so I got a key chain, three post cards and a small rug for $9. Yes, I know that John McCain only paid $5 for his rug but I guess I didn’t drive as hard a bargain. Oh well.

Next we stopped by an Iraqi bakery and bought bread that was hot out of the oven. Delicious. “And over there are high-rise apartments for Iraqis. About 15,000 Iraqis live in the Green Zone.” I didn’t know that.

From there we went to tour the PX. Now the thought of going to a post exchange might not seem at first like a very hot tourist attraction but think again. What was it like? It was awesome! Imagine a Wal-Mart with a parking lot filled with rows of SUVs, sedans and Humvees. It was surreal. But inside the PX it was even MORE surreal. All this American stuff was for sale – just like at Target back in the states. But there was one very big difference. 2/3 of the shoppers had M-16 rifles strapped to their backs.

Back in the parking lot, we got to tour a Humvee. “As you can see, the armor is made of iron and is three inches thick. At first Humvees didn’t come with armor or anything but now they are almost invincible except for explosively formed penetrators.” I got to peek inside. It was cramped and small and uncomfortable and when a soldier in full body armor sat in the front seat it was like driving around with an inflated airbag. “And here is the rotating gun turret.” Photo op!

The next tourist attraction we hit was Saddam Hussein’s former palace. Seriously. It was lavish, it was gaudy, it was TACKY. I was very impressed. I actually went to the same bathroom used by Saddam himself! Geez Louise. I expected Marie Antoinette to walk through the door at any minute. How touristic can you get!

Then we saw where they were starting to build the new U.S. embassy and then we saw the CASH – formerly called the “MASH”. It's a trauma unit. We didn't get to go inside however and we certainly didn't stop to buy souvenirs!

I may eventually get to see the REAL Iraq while I’m here. It may be profoundly informative and moving and tragic and danger-filled or it may be hopeful and inspiring and the nascent democratic paradise that GWB leads us to believe that it is. But in any case it will probably be hecka more interesting than the Green Zone. But for today, I just enjoyed being a tourist.