Saturday, January 26, 2008

This is a post from a young (25-ish) family friend, deployed in the Middle East as a civilian.. I'll just call him Z for now. 


I am 14 miles from the Syrian Border right now, as west as one can go. A long flight in a marine helicopter over the empty heath, moonlight illuminating a wasteland. The dark does not hide the bareness, but dresses it subtly. The lights of this place are swallowed, and the stars shine vividly. My old buddy Orion came, and it is nice to see a familiar face.

The base of Al Qa’im is the death place of trains, the last point, where they come to their eternal respite.
This is the quietude, the place of stillness. They lie hollow, yet are not forlorn. There is a hushed solemnity here. This is the place of endings, but they are dignified.
Old concrete ties crumble, supporting rusting iron. Even now, sparse clumps of fetid brown and green weeds caress these metal footpaths.
The old train station here has something written in a language I cannot read, greeting or wishes for safety. Some other buildings have official looking markings, all in a script unknown to me.

What was this place? I wonder if families were here, time past. Clothed in long robes, small children running around. A few british people, interspersed sparingly, pale skin contrasting with the people of this land. Wearing that look that says minor discomfort at being somewhere alien. Were there once vendors selling food for the trip? The hustle and bustle of the masses. Maybe young men off to school, to seek their fortune. Old men coming back to their families.

Where could you go from here? Damascus to Jerusalem? Baghdad to Tehran to Kabul To Lahore To Calcutta? Mosul to Ankara toIstanbul to Sofia to Belgrade to Budapest to Vienna to Munich? And once you make it to Munich, I can go to Regensburg, or Nurnburg, and then to Weiden and then to my parents house. Wine, Biscuits and gravy, and comic books. The thought that maybe I can get to a home out of time from here is comforting. Now, I am sure those lines do not exist. This was a place of tearful goodbyes, and joyous hellos.
There are no trains leaving from here.

This place is now the terminus.

I mourn the loss of a time I will never know, perhaps that time that only ever lived in an imagination. The train station I romanticize is now full of marines, and humvees, and MRAP’s. These depots are now maintenance and living areas, plywood houses with spray paint, grease stains on the floor. Some of the old trains served as living areas, and are littered with debris. This place is Casey Jones Ghost jones.

I am still captivated by this place. In my bag now is a four inch cotter pin I found, and I will be able to hold it years from now, and see these old trains. Soviet and French derelicts, hollow hulks sitting mute.
Where have they been, where could they go? I thought I recognized the font of the Bundesbahn, the authoritative german font bringing back other memories, other journeys.

It is raining now, cold drizzling, and later today, I will climb into a helicopter and depart this place. The stready hum-thrum of the blades will blot some things out of my mind. And yet, I owe it a debt, for I have the impetus to write again.

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