Friday, January 05, 2007

Ya Hala!

I am, as they say, 'on the road'! Although, it is hardly the beatnik or Bed and Breakfast experience one might hope for. I think one might categorize my current situation as bare bones 'Survivalist'. True, I have access to a Satellite link-up, but I am also eating dinner out of toothpaste tubes.

A modern army travels on its stomach, but not this one. Thanks be to Allah it at least travels with a satellite dish, and thanks again for Al Jazeera press credentials which now allow me to utilize a multimillion dollar military space communications satellite in order to post to my blog.

No other way of putting this: I’m freezing my Babylonian ass off. When we helicoptered in you couldn’t see any snow from above the trees, just dry brownish gray brush, but hey, guess what, people plan skiing vacations up here for a reason.

I wish I could tell you that at least I have a little toothpaste tube of hot cocoa, but you know what? Visiting armies from equatorial countries don’t travel with emergency rations of Hot Chocolate, and even if they did, military command has decried absolutely no cooking lest smoke curling above the scant cover give away our positions. So, yes, it's damn cold. At any rate, I always knew that I would walk the Appalachian Trail one day. I just never imagined that when I did so, I would be accompanied by an invading Indonesian military unit.

Officially, my job still remains background research, as my reports are used by others for detail in featured stories (composed by experienced reporters). I'm actually supposed to be attached to a war correspondent, but if he or she exists, I wouldn't know. I've yet to see another journalist since leaving Venezuela and arriving in Northwestern North Carolina.

In actual fact, I am embedded with one of five special counter crusader units of the Indian Army which either were airlifted to destinations in the Carolinas, or dropped in via high altitude nighttime deployment by parachute.

The unit I’m attached to goes by the name of Counter Crusader Force Sherpa (CCF–S). Theoretically, it is multi-national team acting under the auspices of Coalition Forces, who are mounting a unified effort to extract of Oliver Lowell and senior members of the Christian Identity group, PURE.

In reality, it contains a few representatives from several select Coalition member countries, a number of Indonesian kids, but is mostly made up by seasoned members of the Indian army, and who represent a mix of Hindu, Christian and Muslim religions.

Oddly, for a unified military mission, not everyone speaks the same language, although everyone seems to understand any order barked at them in English. I know how to order food and all the curse words in Malay. As you know, I also possess a reading comprehension of French and understand a fair bit of Arabizi. But it's nonetheless a confusing polyglot to me. So, how this international affiliation of soldiers are able to execute any mission is beyond me.

Despite all, –the invasion (oh that little thing)– the Blue Mountains are even more beautiful than I ever imagined them, even now in the middle of this unusually cold winter, or perhaps it only feels that way because I’ve just spent the last six months in Malaysia.

From our elevated camp, I see patrol cars pass every once in a while. Cops stop, talk to each other, smoke cigarettes, point at the hills (I don’t think they can see us), and carry on. Northwest North Carolina probably hasn’t seen this much excitement in years.

It is hard to believe that this nation is subject to a dire oil crisis, and that a few hundred, –maybe a few thousand–, heavily armed members of a cooperative foreign militia are trudging through America’s back yard hunting for one man. Nothing, it seems, will stop Americans from living their lives, except maybe the end of the world.

Even then, when that happens –when the world ends–, you can bet the usual EU suspects will mutter that the world has already ended in Europe, and that it’s been doing so for years. But mark my words: I suspect most people from New York to Los Angeles will zap a bucket of buttered popcorn, pop open a beer, pull up their favorite chair and cheer wildly as the Earth slips lazily into oblivion. Because that is what it is to be an American. I know because I am one myself, plus I am feeling like I want a heavily hopped Ale myself, right now.

Unfortunately, beer isn’t available in toothpaste tubes either.

Make no mistake, these I find myself in scary circumstances. Yes, it is also exciting but I am way out of my league.

I must try to write something a bit less frenetic when either this mission is accomplished, or the American military bombs Team Sherpa into Appalachian dust, assuming I can survive such an assault. You'll be pleased to hear –and I am glad to know– that inside of three days –so we are told– the unit will be air lifted out of here with Oliver Lowell –if you can believe it– shackled on the floor of a helicopter. There are three other teams out there who are commissioned with the actual extraction. Shiva Team is actually what they call a tactical support outfit, but I have been warned to stay out their way or risk getting my head shot off.

In the meantime, have a brewski on me, Jasp –oh, why not have a few and make me numb by proxy. –But not before I post an email to Doha. It's almost midnight now, and I still have work to do. Ah, the glamorous life of an Al Jazeera journalist; perhaps in an hour I can crawl into my sleeping bag and inspect my finger tips for frost bite.

Siraj