Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Birds & The Bees...and the Gardener

Ah, the joy of hired help!  The image that came to mind when we hired our gardener was that we now had someone who would help me determine which plants were best for our new home, how much water our yard really needed, and how and when to trim back the plants that were there.  That was what came with having a gardener, right???  Uh, no...  Not quite.

Arif was a kind, gentle, soft spoken man.  He arrived with the rising sun and was often the last to leave base when it was time for the hired labor to leave.  I liked him.  He had a family that he loved and children he was proud of.  While his English wasn't the best, he was a patient teacher as I worked hard to learn his language.  After all, I was a guest in his country so I should, naturally, learn his mother tongue.

It didn't take long for me to learn that while Arif worked very hard and was completely trustworthy, he really didn't know anything about horticulture.

At first, I thought that my flooded yard was simply a result of his maintaining several yards at the same time.  However, after months of coming home to a swamp instead of a lawn, I very carefully explained that more water would kill the grass, not make it grow better.  There is really nothing quite like being a western woman trying to carefully explain things to a muslim man in a rural area.  After a while, I just knew that I would have to keep an eye on the water myself if I wanted any lawn left at all.

The kicker came when my cucumber plants grew into gorgeous vines....with no fruit.  I had noticed a serious lack of bees in the area.  After talking to a friend who was also having issues with her garden, we both came to the conclusion that our problem was lack of pollination.

One day, while I was outside, weeding my fruitless but beautiful beds, Arif came up and worked next to me.

"Missy, Bad plants."

Stopping, I looked at him, "What do you mean?"

His hand touching the vines, "Bad Plants.  No fruit.  Pull out!"

Carefully, so as to not offend, "No, Arif.  Not bad plants.  No bees"

"No.  Not no bees.  Bad plants.  Seeds no good.  Different seeds."

"Arif, have you seen any bees or flying bugs?"

I remember how he stopped, thought a minute, and said "Hayir..." (no)

"Arif, we need bugs.  Bees, make the plants bear fruit."

Seriously puzzled, he stared at me.  Taking a deep breath, I said, "Bees go into this flower, get dusty, and fly to another flower...and fruit babies!"

Turning bright red, he looked from one flower to another and then back at me.  Quietly standing, he said simply, "no plant babies"...and left.

The Commissary - End of the Supply Chain

Timeline: The Orient

At this point in my military life, we had been assigned to two armpit bases in a row.  What classifies a base as an armpit, you may ask.  One key element that makes a base the armpit of its Major Command is being at the end of the supply chain.  Our Commissary in the Orient was just that.

After being in the Great White North, I was kind of used to the commissary lacking in many regards.  Produce looked like it had traveled too far and milk was put on the shelves just days before its expiration date.  Yes, I had come to think that was normal.  "Yes folks, expired food and empty shelves is how we roll!"  My idea of military normal continued to be supported by our beloved commissary in the Orient.  Honestly, I really could not understand why on earth people glorified the commissary when Whole Foods was out there, beyond my reach, to be savored and enjoyed.  Beautiful produce vs. carrots that limped from side to side??  What's not to love??

Our Orient Commissary was the first time where I saw mothers load their carts down with indefinite shelf life milk in cartons and cans.  Having grown up on a farm, the idea of milk that a: didn't need to be refrigerated and b: didn't go bad seemed really, really wrong.  I remember standing in the dairy section, debating between expired milk and that stuff in boxes that chafed against everything I knew about milk.  Instead of choosing the lesser of two evils, we crossed over to Soy.

I have to give it to our commissary manager.  He was given an almost impossible task.  It wasn't his fault that everything flew through Europe first.  I really got to know him when I discovered that I could actually special order certain things two weeks in advance.  So, instead of praying that they MIGHT have the meat or produce that I needed for a meal, I would craft our menu two weeks in advance and place an order.  Sadly, I didn't learn this little trick until AFTER our first holiday season there.

It was just before Thanksgiving.  I learned a very, very valuable lesson.  If you see something you may need, BUY IT WHEN YOU SEE IT!  I had gone to the commissary to pick up just a few things.  Strolling through the produce section, I was thrilled to see Cranberries.  Making a mental note that I can pick them up the next day (when I was planning on doing my Thanksgiving Shopping), I hurried to get the "must haves" that I had come for.  Boy did I kick myself for that.

The next day, coming equipped to haul a large shopping trip home on my bike, my heart sank when I saw that each and every bag of Cranberries was gone!  There wasn't one left in the store.  The produce manager, who knew me, apologized and told me that one lady came in and bought every bag they had.  Shocked, I asked "WHY??" as I looked forlornly at the bare shelf.  He shrugged and told me that she must have been scared there wasn't going to be any left for her.  It was then that he told me that I could special order items and they would be held in the back for me.  Thanking him for his time, I found the manager and placed an order for Christmas.

When I stated that our commissary manager had an impossible job, I was serious.  Our meat and dairy products were flown in while everything else was driven by truck from Germany.  Perishables were flown in because they were already on the verge of going bad after having been shipped from the US to Germany.  One day, when I was shopping I noticed that he was very on edge.  I finally asked him what the problem was.

Turning to me, he stated that the flight that brought in our most recent, and much needed, dairy and meat had left everything on the tarmac instead of calling to have it picked up. Running my hands through my hair, I shrugged and suggested they hang a sign that said, "Vegetarian Week" on the front doors with a brief explanation of what had happened.  While there would be the crazy bats who would hit the fan, people were bound to at least TRY to understand why we had no meat or milk???

Some of you may be asking why we didn't simply go onto the economy to purchase what we could not obtain at the commissary.  There are several locations where I do that with a huge smile.  However, this location was NOT the place to do that.  There were very different standards of food handling that did not crossover, culturally or hygienically.  The location had an honestly earned reputation for gastro-intestinal illnesses.  The "Ts" (Trots) were a painfully common ailment.  While I ADORED their food, I only ate things that had been cooked at high temperatures or were covered with yogurt.  Upon arriving, we had been informed at our newcomers briefing that, while some things are good to purchase off base, food items had to be approached with much care and caution.  Raw meats and dairy were COMPLETELY off limits...unless you enjoyed being on meds for a bacteria you had never heard of before and enjoyed sitting on the commode.

Honestly, when stationed at a remote location, your normal changes a little bit.  "Needs" often shift to being "wants," and you find that you really need very little.  So, you have to get really good at substituting and rewriting recipes.  Those aren't bad skills to have.  With a little creativity, an end of the line commissary has everything you really need.

You LOST My Husband???

Note:  This post is coming out of nowhere.  It is just something that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  As I am gearing up for a possible vacation in the sand, past experiences are at the forefront of my mind right now.

Timeline:  European Assignment

We, the Military Spouses of the United States of America, are a unique breed.  A little off at times (you kind of have to be), but sharp as switchblades and strong as nails.  While yes, I readily admit, we have a few that wig out every now and then, all in all, it takes a very strong person to be willing to shoulder the loads that we embrace (though grudgingly at times) and survive to tell the tales of our mis-adventures.  We love much, tolerate little from the outside world, and fight like lionesses to protect that which we have claimed as our own.  Just as our men and women in uniform are warriors, we left on the home front are nothing to be taken lightly.  That being said, I have to share one of my mis-adventures as a mil-spouse during one of our deployments.

My engineer was off living in the sandpit.  He had been gone for months when this happened.  Life had been crazy, but thanks to sheer stubbornness and my mil-sisters, life was bumping along, one day at a time.  At times, my one goal for the day was for everyone to make it to bed that night.  I have no idea how many evenings I raised my mug of hot tea to the sky as a toast to a day survived.  As any mil-spouse will admit, small victories are, at times, the very best.    Living in a foreign land, I had a preschooler and a newborn, my engineer was off playing where things got blown could be much better.

One night, when he was able to call, my engineer let me know that he would be out of range and not to worry.  Being a Key Spouse, I knew protocol for if something did happen, and informed him that I would kill him if a group of men in uniform came knocking on my door at 2am.  Laughing, we said "I love you" and hung up.

There is no denying the fact that you can't help but worry when you service member is in a career field that actually spends time on the ground and has training that you wish he didn't have.  Training = Being where you don't belong.  Honestly, I spend my days saying "La, La, La, La" and drowning out the possibilities.  I stay insanely busy, read loads of books, and make sure to exhaust myself so that I can collapse into bed at night.  What can I say?  It works for me.

A couple days after that "I'm outside the wire" call, I get this bizarre phone call at ten o'clock at night.  Pulling my groggy self out of bed, I went to get the phone from downstairs.  Picking up the phone, I hear the voice of one of the other spouses from my husband's team.  Looking at the clock, I hear a distinct edge in her voice.

"Are you sitting down?" says the spouse.

"It is 10pm, I should be sleeping.  Why?  Should I be sitting down??"

"I just got a serious phone call from 'A' saying that they need your husband to check in when you hear from him.  They haven't heard from him and do not know where he is." She continues.

At this point, I am sitting down, on the floor, in the dark, staring at the phone. "What do you mean?  They LOST my husband??"  At this point, I am working really hard on NOT screaming.  My last conversation with my engineer is running through my mind.  Was that my ultimate last??  "I have to go" and I hung up the phone.

Sitting there, in the dark, my head sunk to my knees.  Over and over, I kept telling myself that if something happened to him, three suits would be coming to my door.  I scrolled down the list of numbers in my phone and stared at the commander's number.  M had told me to call at any time I needed anything.  In the end, I decided to wait out the night.  I had a meeting with him in the could wait til then.

I did not sleep that night.  Having a friend recently have to sacrifice her future with the man she loved most in the world, my mind overlaid her life on mine.  I paced that night.  Around 1am, the phone rang.  To my absolute relief, it was my engineer saying that he was back and he would call me at a more reasonable hour.  Telling him I loved him, I said good night.

The next day, at my meeting, I was able to speak of the events in past tense.  However, I wasn't scared at this point.  I was livid!  Luckily, he had my back and took care of it from there.  My engineer had followed protocol and his command downrange hadn't.  They had acted in a way that had caused undue strain on an already stressed situation.

What I am saying is this: Sometimes people make bad decisions.  However, instead of holding those to yourself, speak up!  Make sure it doesn't happen to someone else.  And...if, by chance, you are asked to pass on such a message...DO NOT DO IT!!!  You are not the proper channel and should bow out of doing it.  While you may feel that you are doing a service, trust me, Honey, when I say you aren't.

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