Random Memories from The Middle East: The Road to Sharm el Sheikh

Parts  One  Two  Three  

*** 

I sped off still heading south. I observed her fade fast in my rearview mirror, but not before I saw her mouth hanging open in wide disbelief (As if I were actually calling her bluff). After about a half-mile and her no longer in sight, I stopped, opened a beer, popped in a Joni Mitchell–Hejira–cranked it up, lit a Marlboro and waited.

Presently I could make out her petite form marching through the sandy haze, her skinny arms flailing back and forth, not unlike a power-walker. As I watched her approach I snuffed out my second cigarette, tossed the empty beer bottle onto the back floorboard, turned down the volume on Joni’s Black Crow, and waited to see if she was getting back in the car.

She opened the door, threw herself in and off we drove, not saying a word until we got within about five clicks of Sharm el Sheikh. Her face was dirty with trails of sweat running down, making small rivers of mud, her hair windblown and looking to have absorbed quite some substantial part of the Sinai.

She did not look happy.

“Are you sorry?” she finally blurted out.

“Sorry? Sorry for what?”

“Sorry for being an asshole,” she said.

“Oh, that… What!?” I was genuinely confused.

“For refusing to have sex with me this morning after that Israeli dude left.”

Now I am laughing. She wasn’t.

“Are you fucking serious Janet?” I asked after I had regained some composure. “You heard the man. We had to vacate. Did you think I was in the mood for love? With the IDF watching us? Shit Woman! It was time to go.”

“There was time enough… in the tent,” she said somewhat between clenched teeth and somewhat subdued—at the same time—a talent she had perfected over some years. (Ed. Note: Janet had five years on me)

“You are unbelievable. Okay, ‘I’m sorry for not fucking you’. Gimme another go? Right here. Right now. In this fuckin’ heat and in this fuckin’ sardine can of a car? Or would you prefer it on the burning sand with the scorpions and spiders?! For Chrissake Janet!”

“There was a time when you’d never refuse me, no matter where or what,” she said and then clammed up, starring out the window.

Fine! I thought as I gave the volume back up to Joni.

Just on the outskirts of Sharm (The whole Sinai Pennisula was ‘Outskirts’) we came upon a Bedioun ‘roadside do drop in’ sort of place.

“Hey Janet! Let’s check this out.”

“Can’t we just go in to Sharm?”

“No. I wanna talk to these folks. Besides they may have some stuff we need.”

“Fine.” (And then someday too soon, this woman would be my wife…)

I parked the car and got out. Janet cleaned her sunglasses and remained behind. I walked up to the ramshackle place and was greeted by an old grizzled Bedouin.

“Salaam alaikum,” I said.

“Salaam alaikum,” he said back. Then, “Amer-ca?”

“Yes,” said. “English? Speak?”

“La’, (no)

(I spoke just enough Arabic (and Hebrew) to get me into trouble back then.)

“Sodas? Coke-a-cola?” I asked.

“Naam,” 

“OK. Baksheesh?”

“Naam.”

I gave him a pack of Marlboros. He gave me two cokes. Apparently inflation had set in here. I smiled though and shook his hand, happy to have made some cultural advancement. Jimmy Carter shoulda seen me that day. Got back in the car. Janet, still incogneto, remarked,

“Was that worth it?”

“Yes. It was. Thank you. We are reps of the State Department. WE are suppose to be ambassadors. Don’t you git it?’

“Yeah. I ‘git’ it. I get that I want this trip to end soon. I am tired and hot and sweaty and thirsty and hungry and horny. And I see no end in sight for me.”

We drove on into Sharm.

As I have reported, Sharm back then was not much. There was one hotel, but who had money (or desire) for that? It had a tentative look about it anyhow. This was ‘Israeli-Occupied Egypt’ after all and finding investors to pump money into a region, however beautiful, must have been difficult, given the  volatility of the times and the probability that Israel would eventually give the desert back to Egypt (even though Israel had ‘held’ the Sinai for more than ten years at this point)

Past the hotel was a small ‘camping ground’ of sorts. There were ‘bird houses’ for rent: ten bucks per night and a communal shower/latrine area. I say ‘bird houses’, because that is exactly what they resembled: Thatched roof, two wooden ‘bunks’ side-by-side, and too small for a six-foot-one cowboy to sleep on. I lay down and test-drove one. I discovered that by leaving the door open I could be fine with the sleeping arrangements, letting my feet hang out, though if Janet and I were to have some privacy for any ‘Woo-Hoo’ / ‘Whoopee’, we would have to pretend we were in the back seat of a compact car and make due. (Unless we opted to keep the door open: an option my shyness would never allow me to consider)

At this point I must admit Janet was always a trooper during such times. She was of course a soldier, albeit a weekend one, and had previous experience with less-than-pristine habiliments. After we had decided to spend the night at this place, taken our showers, had some drink and sandwiches, her mood (and mine) improved as the sun went down and the heat subsided. Behind us were the mountains. In front of us, the sea, and ahead of us, our future.

We were after all, two lovebirds deep in love and in our own private birdhouse.

We made love in that birdhouse after sundown.

And with the door open.

And why not?

We were young.

(And we had all that ‘Diplomatic Immunity’  bullshit to boot)

*****

I love Joni’s smile. She don’t smile often, but when she does… magical shit happens. Shoots bolts right through my heart Baby!

To Be Continued…

Five Random Memories from my Three Years Spent in Israel, Egypt, Gaza, and Sinai

The music is the best part of this post.

Trust me: I’m with the Government.

My very first morning at the Tel Aviv Sheraton. I had a ‘raw fish’ breakfast buffet at zero five hundred. (And there were cucumbers, cheese, olives an’ shit too! Outrageous!) I had never had raw fish for breakfast until then. Cost me five bucks (a lot of money for breakfast in 1977 for a twenty-year-old-kid). I only gagged once and I drank a lot of orange juice, which was the only thing remotely resembling ‘breakfast’ to me. Well, “When in Rome…” I later discovered I could have had scrambled eggs and bacon down the street at the U.S. Embassy for a buck and a half…

My first R&R in November, 1977. I went to Tel Aviv for one week. This just also happened to be the same week Anwar Sadat made his historic visit to Israel and most important, to speak to the Knesset in Jerusalem. The Israelis actually fell in love with Sadat. I did too. Peace was in the air! Sadat was front page news every day in the Jerusalem Post. The atmosphere in downtown Tel Aviv every night was ‘Party Down!’ (Sadly, this could not last)

First Israeli Love. Her name was Gladys Lehani and she spoke French, English, Hebrew, and Lies. I was instantly enamored. She worked nights at the Tel Aviv Sheraton in the ‘Kum Kum’ Lounge, a bar. During the afternoons she was a cashier in the little lobby area of the hotel. A place where one could look out the huge windows at the Mediterranean, have a cocktail, read a book, and flirt with her. I spent many hours there doing all four.

Driving through Gaza. After I had been with SFM for some months, I was ‘promoted’ to driver (see this story). The most expeditious way to get to Tel Aviv was to drive straight through the Gaza Strip, so of course we did just that. Never felt any wisp of danger. Not once. Then one day someone threw a brick into the windshield of one of our vehicles. This prompted management (And S. State: Our ‘Client.’) to suspend all travel through Gaza.

Now let me tell you, this was bullshit. At that point in time we had been travelling through Gaza for many, many months. This was surely an isolated incident—“Just kids havin’ fun,”–to quote Croc Dundee. Hell! I had friends in Gaza. One in particular comes to mind. His name was Mohammad (go figure) and he ran the gas station where I would always fill up my vehicles when I passed through. We often shared gifts. I gave him American cigarettes and T-Shirts from Texas and he gave me various little Arabic statuettes and such. Once (on his request) I brought him a fifth of Jonnie Walker Red. I thought he was gonna adopt me over that!

The new route we were instructed to take took us through Beersheba and added two and a half hours to our travel time. This was unacceptable, so we (we drivers), ignored it, unless there were ‘uncool’, read, “USG” people riding along as passengers. Most of the rest were in a frantic rush to get to TA and did not want to waste one minute of their well-earned R&R over some State Department Bullshit, so I always conducted a poll before taking the turn off to Gaza: “Any of y’all got a problem with getting to TA in an hour via Gaza? Or do y’all wanna go through Beer’Sheba and get to TA four hours after yer girlfriends done give up on you?”

The usual response was something like this: “Marcom, I will risk Gaza, not ‘cause I am afraid my girlfriend will give up on me, but because I just can’t stan’ one extra minute of listening to your music!” (I had a boom box on the dash and ‘treated’ my passengers to four or five hours of continuous Bob Marley on my trips. I was famous for this. Sometimes I would throw in a little Joni Mitchell, if I were feeling benevolent on that day.)

The Orphan Benjamin. One night, I think it was in late ’78, I was staggering back to my hooch from our little bar. My walk took me through our game room: Two pool tables, a jukebox, shuffle board, ping pong… etc. Anyway, just by the exit door there was a table. On this table was a carton of Marlboro’s, a case of Heineken, a ‘doggie bag’ from the galley, and a one hundred dollar bill. Thinking nothing of it, I just kept on tacking toward my hooch, some fifty meters down the way… I woke up the next morning and instantly thought of all that unclaimed booty and for just an instant hoped that no one had stolen it.

We had a brother/sisterhood there in Sinai. I managed to drag my hung-over ass out of my rack and head in to breakfast in our galley. My trip took me past the table in question. Everything was just as it was the night before; waiting for the rightful owner to sober up and claim. If I had not already been in love with my Co-SFM’ers till then, I certainly was now. Two hundred folks at SFM, and nary a thief amongst us. I will never forget that minor little memory. It touched me deep.

And then I just went into breakfast. You see? This was not… ‘different’ then! Shit! Can’t explain. Won’t try.

You see? We had love. And respect.

***

I am thinking of continuing this series in light of the recent news from Israel and Gaza. Not saying that my experiences are relevant today, but I do feel the need to write them. Please let me know if you are interested to read of my times spent in the region.

Q&A: Have you ever been to The Middle East?

Do you live there?

Do you care? Have you ever had a desire to visit the ‘Holy Land’? (ahem). Do you find me abrasive? 😉

Do you know that I love all comments?

Salaam and Shalom,

Lance

Half-way to  Jerusalem

Vid Credit:

Käyttäjän leopahta kanava

Video Credit: andrew91118

Sinai Field Mission. Or The Story of How Lance Lost His Mind and Later Found it Ferreted Away in His Pocket

This Post is a Continuation of a Promise I made to Me (And to Y’all, Gentle Readers) to write about Sinai Field Mission. For brevity’s sake (The Soul of Wit), I am breaking it down into snippets. To catch the back story, actually the forward story, please go here:

“No Bare Feet Beyond This Point” (This is a ‘Re-Constructed Old Post.’ No Alcoholic Beverages Were Harmed, Nor Consumed While Operating The Requisite Heavy Machinery For The Successful Completion of This Project)

********************

Me and Boeing’s 747 partners: Wheels Down at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv Israel late one afternoon, October 1977, just a couple of days before Halloween, found the Talmud. I mean tarmac. 

My final destination, however was not Judea; it  was The Sinai Desert, to live for eighteen months-plus on a mountain-top base camp, Dubbed ‘Caddo Mountain’, (In deference to the Texans who built it and ran it and to whom I would soon become a compadre) some shit-hole between the Gidi and Mitla Passes: Historically, the only two routes armies could pass from east to west or west to east across burning Sinai to thwack upon each other’s opponents’ heads.

I was 40 days leeward of twenty years and a little more than apprehensive. (These Two States, Egypt & Israel, were still technically, At War)

UNEF BUFFER Zone

I knew some of the history, but I couldn’t be bothered that day about ‘Ancient’ History (Yom Kippur War, Six-Day War, ‘Suez War’ of ‘56, Holocaust. Nope: I was here for ‘New History’, ‘My History’, ‘My Adventure’: A Dangerous Desolate Gig (my first). I had never been out of CONUS (Continental United States) before.

And I was stoked. A fresh-faced, bullet-proof Texan Kid newly escaped from Louisiana and cock-strong! Fuck did I care for Mid-East Politics? I am here! Step right up! Texas has arrived! “Step aside, Son!”

Gathering my luggage (my father’s old sea-bag left over from his USMC Korean War days) and a few other bags, laden with tennis shoes, workout gear, books and magazines… way too much superfluous shit, I scampered to find my liaison, struggling with all my kit.

Finding him, a tall, skinny, thin-haired, gaunt-faced, ‘Middle-East-Hardened’ Texan Veteran (four months here previous to me, I discovered later), man who spoke with an air of, ‘Oh, you’re the ‘New Kid’… Follow me’ he said laconically.

He looked an old thirty-five to me. (Later I found out he was twenty-nine, but we were all so young there. Back then.)

Ignoring his attitude, I tried very hard to ‘get into the groove.’ It was hellishly hot, even for an October—a Texas October. I had jet lag and fatigue like a pup that had been crated too long. Even though I was ‘stoked’, all I really wanted was a gallon of really cold orange juice, an air-conditioned hotel room, and a bed. The ‘plane ride’ from Dallas to Tel Aviv had robbed me of some (I thought) important part of my young life and my health. I was severely dehydrated, completely spent, and pretty much left wondering if I had made some horrible mistake.

But, I sucked it up.

After a hot and hotter and even hotter bizarre drive (The Road signs looked so foreign to me, some form of hieroglyphic—never having seen Hebrew before—had not at that point read the Old Testament) from Ben Gurion Airport, through the busy streets of Tel Aviv (me resisting the urge to ask, “Hey! are we there yet?”) we arrived at the Mediterranean Sea and the Sheraton Hotel.

My ‘liaison’ deposited me at the front desk of the ‘New’ Sheraton Hotel on HaYarkon Street Tel Aviv, telling me in parting,

“The R&R Vehicle leaves at 0800hrs; meet here in the lobby. Don’t be late. Goodbye.”

“Thanks Asshole.”

I checked in, and got me that room, such as it was. It was more a closet than a room, but it was cool and clean, and there was that bed tucked away in the corner…

I hit it, and slept like the dead.

To be continued…

“No Bare Feet Beyond This Point” (This is a ‘Re-Constructed Old Post.’ No Alcoholic Beverages Were Harmed, Nor Consumed While Operating The Requisite Heavy Machinery For The Successful Completion of This Project)

I grew into manhood in the Sinai Desert: 1977-1980. Missed out on Disco, but it was damn well worth it.

Who needed Disco anyway? I served a ‘higher’–figuratively and literally–‘calling’.

What you may choose to read below is the first installment of a personal history I am determined to write about the men and women I had the honor to know, to love, to work and walk among, and to call ‘Friend’, as we all tried in our way, to bring peace between the Egyptians and the Israelis after the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

Yom Kippur War / 3 Minute History

(Your Humble Author Highly Recommends You Invest Three Minutes Watching This)

Content Credit: Jabzy

The conditions were harsh, the boredom at times mind-numbing. Seventy-five percent of us were under thirty. Almost all of us were Texans. Roughly eighty-five percent of us were male, fourteen percent female, and one percent ‘other.’

We were not actually building anything discernible, tangible, touchable. We were in fact, merely acting as civilian ‘Paid Political Hostages,’ not construction contractors, not U.S. Military Special Forces, not United Nations Representatives.

I suppose a more euphemistic term for us would have been “Observers.” Which, as I recall, was how the U.S. Foreign Service ‘Officially’ referred to us and our mission.

Yet we still preferred ‘Paid Political Hostages’, as it seemed to more accurately and honestly describe how we saw our role there.

But however you referred to us, we ended up ‘constructing’ something immensely more important than bricks and mortar:

The Camp David Accords

Peace! Peace between two enemies who had not known peace since before Moses was a pup, if ever…

This ‘Peace’ would never have come to fruition if not for men and women (and ‘other’) of The Sinai Field Mission.

This paralyzed fact can never be disputed, nor ignored.

Page one from the letter linked below

SFM_Letter

***

Our efforts were not entirely without cost.

Some of us who spent too many years there, went slowly, yet surely insane there…

Lance Marcom was one such man who fell victim to “The SFM Madness.”

(In a ‘Good’ way of course…)

1979 Sinai Field Mission

Excerpt from the article linked above:

A faint laughing snort escaped as I shook my head upon seeing that sign duct-taped to the door of the hooch belonging to some of my fellow drivers:

‘Rocket Tom’, ‘J.R. Mog’, ‘Jet’, and ‘Big Mo’. Big Mo wasn’t a driver per se; I mean he didn’t drive trucks or R&R passenger vehicles: He drove dozers, road graders,  front-end loaders, and the occasional fork lift, although he considered fork-lifts “Too wussy for a Texan named Big Mo” to drive.

I gave the door a hearty knock.

“Enter!”

Opening the door, I was enveloped in a cloud of smoke shoved out by the cold air conditioning.

The contrast from the hot Sinai air shocked my senses, but felt oh, so… inviting. I stepped inside the doorway and paused, giving my eyes a moment to adjust to the subdued lighting in the hooch.

(The sun in Sinai is blindingly bright, and extremely so.)

My ears were loudly and violently assaulted by ZZ Top’s ‘TUSH,’

Blasting from Mog’s Boom Box.

Video Credit: wiieje

***

Seated around an empty cable spool (about three feet in diameter), were three fourths of the usual suspects: Mog, Jet, and Rocket Tom.

“You just gonna stand there, or ya gonna have a seat?” Mog demanded. Then added, “Hey Rocket! Crank down th’ volume on that shit. We dun got us here a ‘special’ guest!”

“ZZ Top ain’t “Shit”, Mog. An’ I ain’t seein’ no ‘special’ guest. I jes’ seein’ Lancer.” Rocket yelled back over ZZ, as he got up, walked over to the box and ‘Turned that “Shit” down’.

Laughter all around. And at my expense. It was just our ‘way,’ our good-natured way–

Crates full of great, and sincere, camaraderie.

None of us took life (nor one another) too seriously.

***

J.R. Mog, was a corpulent, charismatic, boisterous, ‘talks too loud’ Texan who generally had the first (and last) word in any conversation.  

His full, Proper, Official Title was “J. R. Mog, Half-Man, Half-Alligator, Part-Time Hog; Tamer of Wild Women and Other Assorted Interests.”

Or… simply just ‘Mog’ for short (Thank God).

“How y’all?” I said, taking a seat on one of the camel saddles which served as chairs.

Scattered about the tabletop were a couple of small pipes, a chunk of hashish the size of a pregnant golf ball, an overflowing ashtray, three or four empty beer bottles (Amstel), a couple of magazines, a crumpled pack of Marlboros, a Moët & Chandon bottle with a burnt up candle stuck in it, wax coating it all around and down to the top of the table thus cementing it there, and something that looked like it might have been an orange in a former life.

Mog answered, “We just finer ‘n frog hair. Wanna beer? You know where the fridge is.”

“Matter of fact, I do,” I said, getting up and tacking back and forth through the piles of dirty clothes, homemade furniture, shards of beer bottles, and stacked-up cases of Amstel, Heineken, and Tuborg Squash—a heavily carbonated orange soda from Denmark—the best thing on Earth for the morning cotton-mouth most of us suffered more mornings than not.

(May have had something to do with smoking hash and drinking late into the night, but that’s just my theory.)

I returned with a Heineken and sat back down, taking a swig as I did so.

Jet said, “Well, Lancer, now that you’re all settled, we can fire us up a bowl.”

(I had not done anything noteworthy enough up until this point at Sinai Field Mission to warrant a moniker other than my given Christian name).

Using a Buck Knife, Jet proceeded to carve some hash off the golf ball, then mixing the slivers with some tobacco, stuffed one of the pipes and lit it with a Zippo.

We passed the ‘bowl’ around, refilling it a few times here and there, then settled back with our beers.

Jet, the oldest at the table–about thirty—wore a goatee, long brown hair on top of a head that looked a little too big for the rest of his frame. He had a laconic manner, but was not what one could ever call ‘brusque’. He just didn’t say much. He seemed to save his words like cash money is what I’m saying.

Presently, he asked, “Mog, when’s your next run to TA?” (‘TA’ = Tel Aviv).

Mog (who spent words with reckless abandon) replied, “I got the fuckin’ R&R run tomorrow. Shit! Hey Lance, what you got? Wanna trade?”

Mog hated the R&R runs mainly because R&R runs involved taking passengers. He loved driving the trucks into ‘Town’. Two reasons: He loved trucks and he loved to drive trucks very, very fast. Mog was a great driver, but riding with him scared the shit out of me.

“Sure Mog; I’ll trade with ya.”

“Which run you got?” he asked, now slightly wary at my all-too-quick agreement.

“Canal Run.”

See THIS Recent Post:

“Aw Shit No! Forget it,” Mog said loudly.

SFM Basecamp lies roughly thirty ‘klicks’ from the Suez Canal. Every day an R&R vehicle left SFM to rendezvous with the one coming from Cairo. Passengers and mail were exchanged via a small boat. Then continue on to Cairo or back to SFM.

Having ‘The Canal Run’ meant getting off-base only for an hour or two or three, dependent upon how the ‘Sand Storm Gods’ were disposed on any given day.

Going to Tel Aviv meant driving only four hours, checking into the Sheraton and having the rest of the day and night to paint the town red with Per Diem and whatever else one wanted to contribute or muster out of his own purse.  

Mog had an Israeli girlfriend in Tel Aviv, actually she was his fiancée, and he took all the Tel Aviv runs he could get, so he could go see ‘The Little Mama’.

In fact, all the drivers had Israeli girlfriends except Big Mo. His ‘Honey-Co’ was a Big-Boned, Brunette ‘Tall Drank O’ Water,’ Texan Gal, working for SFM, just like the rest of us.

Her moniker was ‘Big Mammu’ and if those two didn’t eventually get united in hellish matrimony, then I say ‘Fuck it.’ There is no hope for the rest of the world. Perfect for each other they were, is all I’m saying.

Rocket Tom was a wiry, slightly nervous-energy type about five-foot ten, with long dark brown hair and a full beard. Even though he was Pure Texan, his accent spoke ‘Tennessee’ to me: Probably genetic since most Texans have Tennessee bones buried somewhere in their family closets.

“Y’all just gettin’ back from the TA?” Rocket drawled in my direction.

“Yeah. Had the Reefer Run. The KP’s unloading her now.”

“Well,” he went on, “I hope y’all brought back some ah that Israeli choc’late milk this time.”

“Sorry Bro; they still fresh out at the market.”

“Well shit-fire!” he yelled, suddenly jumping up to his feet. “How they spec’ us to keep our mo’ral here in the Middle-of-the-Fuckin’-East, Sinai fuckin’ field mission, hot-ass desert without no Goddamn choc’late milk?”

(He did love his chocolate milk, especially after a smoked bowl or two of the hubbly-bubbly, which for us was another word for hashish, although technically, it means the water pipe we sometimes used to smoke it in, often mixed with a sticky sweet Egyptian honey tobacco—very pleasant aroma, that.)

Mog chimed in, “Hell an’ God-awmighty Rocket! Calm the fuck on down Son!  Y’all need to lay off that shit anyhow. I believe you done put on a pound or two just this week, ‘specially round yer middle section there.”

(Rocket Tom weighed about 140 pounds, soaking wet. With-his-boots-on).

Mog continued on the roll he was working himself up to, “Lancers, that reefer truck still got both its mirrors attached?”

Laughter all around.  (Rocket, now sated and satisfied by his outburst, had sat, and ‘calmed-the-fuck-down’…)

I had become notorious with the drivers (and somewhat despised & infamously regarded by the mechanics) for losing the driver’s side swing-out mirrors off four trucks in the past two weeks.

The roads through the desert were quite narrow with no shoulders at all. And in fact, there was usually a sharp drop off which if hit, would cause a fast moving, top heavy, loaded-down truck to flip over. I was cognizant of this and would never give up my half of the road.

No Matter What.

Too often I would encounter an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) truck with some pimple-faced kid, fresh off the Kibbutz at the wheel barreling down upon me from the opposite direction, taking his half of the road from the middle.

Inevitably our mirrors would collide. And violently so. Since SFM’s trucks all had air conditioning, my windows were always rolled up, saving me from being smacked by the mirror as it smashed against the side of the truck.

The IDF guys, well probably not, as their trucks, to my knowledge, did not come with factory air.

“Yeah Mog. She still got both her mirrors.”

“Well, did ya leave any crippled jackasses in yer wake this time?” Mog laughed.

On my very first R&R run to Tel Aviv I was driving our Chevy Van loaded full with twelve passengers, two of whom were high-ranking State Department pukes. I was a bit nervous, and was trying to drive oh so carefully and safely, as I felt my future as a driver depended upon it.

Somewhere just south of Al Arish, we came upon a couple of donkeys in the road.

I started slowing down, but not wanting to hit the brakes too suddenly or too hard, thereby throwing my passengers forward, I misjudged and hit one of the jackasses square in the ass. His hind legs flew out from underneath him and his butt hit the road.

He managed to get back up on his legs, then turned and glared at me as he stumbled off. I drove on down the road as if nothing had happened and saw a Bedouin in my rear view mirror shaking his fist and spewing what I theorized were some choice words at me in Arabic.

“Naw. Overall it was a borin’ trip,” I said. Then added, “Mog, you sure you don’t wanna take my Canal Run tomorrow?”

“Son, you know Goddamn well I don’t. Last time I had that run…”

(Here it comes, another ‘Mog Story’)

“I got stuck for two hours behind a broke-dick-of-a’-Egyptian-lame-ass-broke-down-convoy. They had the whole damn road covered up with their doubya-doubya-two wrecks-on-wheels. Musta been twenny of ‘em. I’m tryin’ to figure out how to get around, but they had the unmitter-grated gall to break down ‘tween two fuckin’ sand dunes…

Nothin’ I could do but set an’ wait ‘em out. I’ll be Goddamn-go-to-Hell if their tow truck finally shows, and she pro-ceeds to break down her own damn self! Jesus, Mary and Yosef!

My passengers goin’ all stupid worryin’ an’ frettin’ they ain’t gonna get to Cairo in time to catch their planes for R&R back to The Land of the Big PX and the All-Night Restaurant.”  

I tells ’em the other vehicle gonna wait there at the crossin’, ‘So why don’t Y’all just shut the fuck up!’”

“Uh… Mog,” Rocket interjected, “There weren’t no USG types in your vehicle, were they?”

“Ah Hell No! Rocket. You know I am always po-lite as pie when those State Department assholes are on-board. Anyways, as I was sayin’, we settin’ there wonderin’ when the next tow truck gonna show, so I call ahead to Mohammad to see if he at the canal yet. Finally managed to get him on the radio and tole him to set tight. I’d get there when I got there.“

A word here about the convoys that travelled through the ‘Buffer Zone’. The Egyptians had nothing but World War Two era Russian trucks and every time they attempted a convoy, they broke down.

Sure as God made Texas, they were gonna break down.

The Israelis, on the other hand, had all-new trucks and tanks, and planes, most of which they got from the U.S. when Nixon bailed them out during the first half of the two-week-long Yom Kippur War when the Egyptians were actually kicking the ever’-lovin’ shit outta their Israeli asses.

There was a massive air-lift of new military hardware to the Israelis so they would not get pushed into the Mediterranean.

Now, I’m not saying the Israelis didn’t deserve credit for ‘winning’ that war in the end, (and some would still call it a ‘draw’), but without the infusion of new equipment from Tricky-Dick and Hank Kissinger, well…

Mog continued, “Well, with nothin’ to do now but wait her out, I went to see if I could find some ‘Gyptian could give me an idee of just how much longer they gonna be blockin’ my road.

After wading through some wearing they jammies and wantin’ baksheesh, I found an officer who spoke some English.

He tole me, ‘No worries. No worries.’ Well, d’rectly here come another ‘gyptian tow truck. Took ‘em another hour to clear the damn road. We got to the canal just ‘bout an hour ‘fore sundown. I swear, I ain’t takin’ no more canal runs. Oh-Fuck-No!”

There was a lot of bullshit talked at SFM, but for the most part, it was what you’d call pretty damn good bullshit (for the most part.)  I enjoyed it terribly.

If you have come with me thus far, then you may be happy to know that there will be is more to this story.

Too much more.

Way too much more.

See Below:

Here,  and Here,  and Here…

Thanks for reading.

–Lancer of Arabia

****

Just a footnote here, as this part actually happened much later in the timeline from the stories reported above.

And Lifted from this post:

The Orphan Benjamin. 

One night, I think it was in late ’78, I was staggering back to my hooch from our little bar. My walk took me through our game room: Two pool tables, a jukebox, shuffle board, ping pong… et cetera. Anyway, just by the exit door there was a table. On this table was a carton of Marlboro’s, a case of Heineken, a ‘doggie bag’ from the galley, and a one hundred dollar bill.

Thinking nothing of it, I just kept tacking on toward my hooch, some fifty meters down the way…

I woke up the next morning and instantly thought of all that unclaimed booty and for just an instant hoped that no one had stolen it.

But then I remembered where I was and knew that would never happen.

We had a brother/sisterhood there in Sinai.

I managed to drag my hung-over ass out of my rack and head in to breakfast in our galley. My trip took me past the table in question. Everything was just as it was the night before; waiting for the rightful owner to sober up and claim.

If I had not already been in love with my ‘Co-SFM’ers till then, I certainly was now. Two hundred folks at SFM, and nary a thief amongst us. I will never forget that minor little memory. It touched me deep.

And then I just went into breakfast. You see? This was not… ‘different’ for us back then!

Shit!

Can’t explain.

Won’t try.

For you see?

We had love.

And respect.

We respected one another.

***

Ponderin’ Just a Little Bit Though,

I’d Venture A Theory:

Our Mutual Respect Partly At Least,

Came From The Fact That

We were Living & Working So Closely Together,

Isolated, For The Most Part, From The Rest Of The World In Such An Isolated And Desolate Place.

However, I Believe The Main Reason Was Because

The Vast Majority of Us Were Texans.

(But of Course, It Is Within The Realm Of Possibility That I may Be Just A Tad Bit Biased)

Throw-Back Thursday: “If You Don’t Mine, It Don’t Matter”

There is sand in the Sinai Desert. Lots of sand. There is wind in the Sinai Desert. Lots of wind. There are landmines in the Sinai Desert. Lots of landmines, some dating back to the ’56 war. Most of them are still functional.

When wind and sand collide, the sand moves. In waves. The sand does not respect manmade things. Manmade things such as roads or landmarks, or mine fields. Sand does not care if it inconveniences you. Or puts your life in danger. Sand has no conscience and actually does not give two shits about you or me, or anyone or anything.

Sand is just sand.

These truths about sand were to become blatantly obvious to me one day back in 1978. I was driving my Chevy Van Passenger Vehicle to the Suez Canal to rendezvous with a similar R&R vehicle coming from Cairo. My vehicle was loaded with ten passengers, all very happy to be headed out on R&R. It was my simple job to get them to the rendezvous point so they could take the little boat across the canal, climb into the other van and head on to Cairo and their scheduled flights back to The Real World.

From SFM Base Camp to Suez is about thirty klicks.

untso_map3

SFM Base Camp Located Between
The Giddi and Mitla Passes

Travel time on average, an hour and change, depending on how long the Egyptians wanted to detain me at the check points along the way. I always brought along some packs of Marlboros to provide them when they insisted on ‘baksheesh’. No big deal. I could afford the bribe. Hell, in our little BX (Base Exchange) cigarettes were three bucks a carton.

This particular day back in ’78 was a day after a particularly savage sand storm. The roads to Suez are passable most days. And safe. Off-roading is not safe.

Stay on the pavement.

I can compare it to the line from Apocalypse Now: “Never get out of the boat.”

As I drew closer and closer to the canal the roads began to get more and more difficult to discern. Now mind you, I had made the canal run many, many times, but I am a guy who can get lost in his own hometown of Honey Grove Texas, Population 1800. This is a small town, not too many ways to get lost, unless you are real creative. I am real creative.

I came to a point whereby I just could no longer make out the paved road. I took a turn in the general direction of the canal, hoping to pick up the road again after a few minutes. As I was bumping along I noticed one of those landmine signs:

mines

So did my passengers.

They freaked. I suppose this could be considered a normal reaction. They all started jabbering at once. I invited them to shut the hell up, and then I calmly backed the fuck out of the mine field, carefully retracing my inbound route.

Once I got back to the spot where I had obviously taken a wrong turn, I took the other turn and eventually made it to Suez. Picked up the inbound passengers and didn’t even have any shit to clean up in my vehicle, but I think at least one of my passengers had shit his pants.

Now all I had to do was make it back to Base Camp without any more drama. I gave it fifty-fifty.

postcard

Home, Safe Home

 

SFM Base Camp

After Abandoned

Credit: Google Earth

 

 

More to come on SFM

Here is a related post.

And another “Hello Minefield In The Sand”

And one more here

Thank You For Your Visit.

Comments always welcomed.

“No Bare Feet Beyond This Point” (This is a ‘Re-Constructed Old Post.’ No Alcoholic Beverages Were Harmed, Nor Consumed While Operating The Requisite Heavy Machinery For The Successful Completion of This Project)

I grew into manhood in the Sinai Desert: 1977-1980. Missed out on Disco, but it was damn well worth it.

Who needed Disco anyway? I served a ‘higher’–figuratively and literally–‘calling’.

What you may choose to read below is the first installment of a personal history I am determined to write about the men and women I had the honor to know, to love, to work and walk among, and to call ‘Friend’, as we all tried in our way, to bring peace between the Egyptians and the Israelis after the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

Yom Kippur War / 3 Minute History

(Your Humble Author Highly Recommends You Invest Three Minutes Watching This)

Content Credit: Jabzy

The conditions were harsh, the boredom at times mind-numbing. Seventy-five percent of us were under thirty. Almost all of us were Texans. Roughly eighty-five percent of us were male, fourteen percent female, and one percent ‘other.’

We were not actually building anything discernible, tangible, touchable. We were in fact, merely acting as civilian ‘Paid Political Hostages,’ not construction contractors, not U.S. Military Special Forces, not United Nations Representatives.

I suppose a more euphemistic term for us would have been “Observers.” Which, as I recall, was how the U.S. Foreign Service ‘Officially’ referred to us and our mission.

Yet we still preferred ‘Paid Political Hostages’, as it seemed to more accurately and honestly describe how we saw our role there.

But however you referred to us, we ended up ‘constructing’ something immensely more important than bricks and mortar:

The Camp David Accords

Peace! Peace between two enemies who had not known peace since before Moses was a pup, if ever…

This ‘Peace’ would never have come to fruition if not for men and women (and ‘other’) of The Sinai Field Mission.

This paralyzed fact can never be disputed, nor ignored.

Page one from the letter linked below

SFM_Letter

***

Our efforts were not entirely without cost.

Some of us who spent too many years there, went slowly, yet surely insane there…

Lance Marcom was one such man who fell victim to “The SFM Madness.”

(In a ‘Good’ way of course…)

1979 Sinai Field Mission

Excerpt from the article linked above:

A faint laughing snort escaped as I shook my head upon seeing that sign duct-taped to the door of the hooch belonging to some of my fellow drivers:

‘Rocket Tom’, ‘J.R. Mog’, ‘Jet’, and ‘Big Mo’. Big Mo wasn’t a driver per se; I mean he didn’t drive trucks or R&R passenger vehicles: He drove dozers, road graders,  front-end loaders, and the occasional fork lift, although he considered fork-lifts “Too wussy for a Texan named Big Mo” to drive.

I gave the door a hearty knock.

“Enter!”

Opening the door, I was enveloped in a cloud of smoke shoved out by the cold air conditioning.

The contrast from the hot Sinai air shocked my senses, but felt oh, so… inviting. I stepped inside the doorway and paused, giving my eyes a moment to adjust to the subdued lighting in the hooch.

(The sun in Sinai is blindingly bright, and extremely so.)

My ears were loudly and violently assaulted by ZZ Top’s ‘TUSH,’

Blasting from Mog’s Boom Box.

Video Credit: wiieje

***

Seated around an empty cable spool (about three feet in diameter), were three fourths of the usual suspects: Mog, Jet, and Rocket Tom.

“You just gonna stand there, or ya gonna have a seat?” Mog demanded. Then added, “Hey Rocket! Crank down th’ volume on that shit. We dun got us here a ‘special’ guest!”

“ZZ Top ain’t “Shit”, Mog. An’ I ain’t seein’ no ‘special’ guest. I jes’ seein’ Lancer.” Rocket yelled back over ZZ, as he got up, walked over to the box and ‘Turned that “Shit” down’.

Laughter all around. And at my expense. It was just our ‘way,’ our good-natured way–

Crates full of great, and sincere, camaraderie.

None of us took life (nor one another) too seriously.

***

J.R. Mog, was a corpulent, charismatic, boisterous, ‘talks too loud’ Texan who generally had the first (and last) word in any conversation.  

His full, Proper, Official Title was “J. R. Mog, Half-Man, Half-Alligator, Part-Time Hog; Tamer of Wild Women and Other Assorted Interests.”

Or… simply just ‘Mog’ for short (Thank God).

“How y’all?” I said, taking a seat on one of the camel saddles which served as chairs.

Scattered about the tabletop were a couple of small pipes, a chunk of hashish the size of a pregnant golf ball, an overflowing ashtray, three or four empty beer bottles (Amstel), a couple of magazines, a crumpled pack of Marlboros, a Moët & Chandon bottle with a burnt up candle stuck in it, wax coating it all around and down to the top of the table thus cementing it there, and something that looked like it might have been an orange in a former life.

Mog answered, “We just finer ‘n frog hair. Wanna beer? You know where the fridge is.”

“Matter of fact, I do,” I said, getting up and tacking back and forth through the piles of dirty clothes, homemade furniture, shards of beer bottles, and stacked-up cases of Amstel, Heineken, and Tuborg Squash—a heavily carbonated orange soda from Denmark—the best thing on Earth for the morning cotton-mouth most of us suffered more mornings than not.

(May have had something to do with smoking hash and drinking late into the night, but that’s just my theory.)

I returned with a Heineken and sat back down, taking a swig as I did so.

Jet said, “Well, Lancer, now that you’re all settled, we can fire us up a bowl.”

(I had not done anything noteworthy enough up until this point at Sinai Field Mission to warrant a moniker other than my given Christian name).

Using a Buck Knife, Jet proceeded to carve some hash off the golf ball, then mixing the slivers with some tobacco, stuffed one of the pipes and lit it with a Zippo.

We passed the ‘bowl’ around, refilling it a few times here and there, then settled back with our beers.

Jet, the oldest at the table–about thirty—wore a goatee, long brown hair on top of a head that looked a little too big for the rest of his frame. He had a laconic manner, but was not what one could ever call ‘brusque’. He just didn’t say much. He seemed to save his words like cash money is what I’m saying.

Presently, he asked, “Mog, when’s your next run to TA?” (‘TA’ = Tel Aviv).

Mog (who spent words with reckless abandon) replied, “I got the fuckin’ R&R run tomorrow. Shit! Hey Lance, what you got? Wanna trade?”

Mog hated the R&R runs mainly because R&R runs involved taking passengers. He loved driving the trucks into ‘Town’. Two reasons: He loved trucks and he loved to drive trucks very, very fast. Mog was a great driver, but riding with him scared the shit out of me.

“Sure Mog; I’ll trade with ya.”

“Which run you got?” he asked, now slightly wary at my all-too-quick agreement.

“Canal Run.”

See THIS Recent Post:

“Aw Shit No! Forget it,” Mog said loudly.

SFM Basecamp lies roughly thirty ‘klicks’ from the Suez Canal. Every day an R&R vehicle left SFM to rendezvous with the one coming from Cairo. Passengers and mail were exchanged via a small boat. Then continue on to Cairo or back to SFM.

Having ‘The Canal Run’ meant getting off-base only for an hour or two or three, dependent upon how the ‘Sand Storm Gods’ were disposed on any given day.

Going to Tel Aviv meant driving only four hours, checking into the Sheraton and having the rest of the day and night to paint the town red with Per Diem and whatever else one wanted to contribute or muster out of his own purse.  

Mog had an Israeli girlfriend in Tel Aviv, actually she was his fiancée, and he took all the Tel Aviv runs he could get, so he could go see ‘The Little Mama’.

In fact, all the drivers had Israeli girlfriends except Big Mo. His ‘Honey-Co’ was a Big-Boned, Brunette ‘Tall Drank O’ Water,’ Texan Gal, working for SFM, just like the rest of us.

Her moniker was ‘Big Mammu’ and if those two didn’t eventually get united in hellish matrimony, then I say ‘Fuck it.’ There is no hope for the rest of the world. Perfect for each other they were, is all I’m saying.

Rocket Tom was a wiry, slightly nervous-energy type about five-foot ten, with long dark brown hair and a full beard. Even though he was Pure Texan, his accent spoke ‘Tennessee’ to me: Probably genetic since most Texans have Tennessee bones buried somewhere in their family closets.

“Y’all just gettin’ back from the TA?” Rocket drawled in my direction.

“Yeah. Had the Reefer Run. The KP’s unloading her now.”

“Well,” he went on, “I hope y’all brought back some ah that Israeli choc’late milk this time.”

“Sorry Bro; they still fresh out at the market.”

“Well shit-fire!” he yelled, suddenly jumping up to his feet. “How they spec’ us to keep our mo’ral here in the Middle-of-the-Fuckin’-East, Sinai fuckin’ field mission, hot-ass desert without no Goddamn choc’late milk?”

(He did love his chocolate milk, especially after a smoked bowl or two of the hubbly-bubbly, which for us was another word for hashish, although technically, it means the water pipe we sometimes used to smoke it in, often mixed with a sticky sweet Egyptian honey tobacco—very pleasant aroma, that.)

Mog chimed in, “Hell an’ God-awmighty Rocket! Calm the fuck on down Son!  Y’all need to lay off that shit anyhow. I believe you done put on a pound or two just this week, ‘specially round yer middle section there.”

(Rocket Tom weighed about 140 pounds, soaking wet. With-his-boots-on).

Mog continued on the roll he was working himself up to, “Lancers, that reefer truck still got both its mirrors attached?”

Laughter all around.  (Rocket, now sated and satisfied by his outburst, had sat, and ‘calmed-the-fuck-down’…)

I had become notorious with the drivers (and somewhat despised & infamously regarded by the mechanics) for losing the driver’s side swing-out mirrors off four trucks in the past two weeks.

The roads through the desert were quite narrow with no shoulders at all. And in fact, there was usually a sharp drop off which if hit, would cause a fast moving, top heavy, loaded-down truck to flip over. I was cognizant of this and would never give up my half of the road.

No Matter What.

Too often I would encounter an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) truck with some pimple-faced kid, fresh off the Kibbutz at the wheel barreling down upon me from the opposite direction, taking his half of the road from the middle.

Inevitably our mirrors would collide. And violently so. Since SFM’s trucks all had air conditioning, my windows were always rolled up, saving me from being smacked by the mirror as it smashed against the side of the truck.

The IDF guys, well probably not, as their trucks, to my knowledge, did not come with factory air.

“Yeah Mog. She still got both her mirrors.”

“Well, did ya leave any crippled jackasses in yer wake this time?” Mog laughed.

On my very first R&R run to Tel Aviv I was driving our Chevy Van loaded full with twelve passengers, two of whom were high-ranking State Department pukes. I was a bit nervous, and was trying to drive oh so carefully and safely, as I felt my future as a driver depended upon it.

Somewhere just south of Al Arish, we came upon a couple of donkeys in the road.

I started slowing down, but not wanting to hit the brakes too suddenly or too hard, thereby throwing my passengers forward, I misjudged and hit one of the jackasses square in the ass. His hind legs flew out from underneath him and his butt hit the road.

He managed to get back up on his legs, then turned and glared at me as he stumbled off. I drove on down the road as if nothing had happened and saw a Bedouin in my rear view mirror shaking his fist and spewing what I theorized were some choice words at me in Arabic.

“Naw. Overall it was a borin’ trip,” I said. Then added, “Mog, you sure you don’t wanna take my Canal Run tomorrow?”

“Son, you know Goddamn well I don’t. Last time I had that run…”

(Here it comes, another ‘Mog Story’)

“I got stuck for two hours behind a broke-dick-of-a’-Egyptian-lame-ass-broke-down-convoy. They had the whole damn road covered up with their doubya-doubya-two wrecks-on-wheels. Musta been twenny of ‘em. I’m tryin’ to figure out how to get around, but they had the unmitter-grated gall to break down ‘tween two fuckin’ sand dunes…

Nothin’ I could do but set an’ wait ‘em out. I’ll be Goddamn-go-to-Hell if their tow truck finally shows, and she pro-ceeds to break down her own damn self! Jesus, Mary and Yosef!

My passengers goin’ all stupid worryin’ an’ frettin’ they ain’t gonna get to Cairo in time to catch their planes for R&R back to The Land of the Big PX and the All-Night Restaurant.”  

I tells ’em the other vehicle gonna wait there at the crossin’, ‘So why don’t Y’all just shut the fuck up!’”

“Uh… Mog,” Rocket interjected, “There weren’t no USG types in your vehicle, were they?”

“Ah Hell No! Rocket. You know I am always po-lite as pie when those State Department assholes are on-board. Anyways, as I was sayin’, we settin’ there wonderin’ when the next tow truck gonna show, so I call ahead to Mohammad to see if he at the canal yet. Finally managed to get him on the radio and tole him to set tight. I’d get there when I got there.“

A word here about the convoys that travelled through the ‘Buffer Zone’. The Egyptians had nothing but World War Two era Russian trucks and every time they attempted a convoy, they broke down.

Sure as God made Texas, they were gonna break down.

The Israelis, on the other hand, had all-new trucks and tanks, and planes, most of which they got from the U.S. when Nixon bailed them out during the first half of the two-week-long Yom Kippur War when the Egyptians were actually kicking the ever’-lovin’ shit outta their Israeli asses.

There was a massive air-lift of new military hardware to the Israelis so they would not get pushed into the Mediterranean.

Now, I’m not saying the Israelis didn’t deserve credit for ‘winning’ that war in the end, (and some would still call it a ‘draw’), but without the infusion of new equipment from Tricky-Dick and Hank Kissinger, well…

Mog continued, “Well, with nothin’ to do now but wait her out, I went to see if I could find some ‘Gyptian could give me an idee of just how much longer they gonna be blockin’ my road.

After wading through some wearing they jammies and wantin’ baksheesh, I found an officer who spoke some English.

He tole me, ‘No worries. No worries.’ Well, d’rectly here come another ‘gyptian tow truck. Took ‘em another hour to clear the damn road. We got to the canal just ‘bout an hour ‘fore sundown. I swear, I ain’t takin’ no more canal runs. Oh-Fuck-No!”

There was a lot of bullshit talked at SFM, but for the most part, it was what you’d call pretty damn good bullshit (for the most part.)  I enjoyed it terribly.

If you have come with me thus far, then you may be happy to know that there will be is more to this story.

Too much more.

Way too much more.

See Below:

Here,  and Here,  and Here…

Thanks for reading.

–Lancer of Arabia

****

Just a footnote here, as this part actually happened much later in the timeline from the stories reported above.

And Lifted from this post:

The Orphan Benjamin. 

One night, I think it was in late ’78, I was staggering back to my hooch from our little bar. My walk took me through our game room: Two pool tables, a jukebox, shuffle board, ping pong… et cetera. Anyway, just by the exit door there was a table. On this table was a carton of Marlboro’s, a case of Heineken, a ‘doggie bag’ from the galley, and a one hundred dollar bill.

Thinking nothing of it, I just kept tacking on toward my hooch, some fifty meters down the way…

I woke up the next morning and instantly thought of all that unclaimed booty and for just an instant hoped that no one had stolen it.

But then I remembered where I was and knew that would never happen.

We had a brother/sisterhood there in Sinai.

I managed to drag my hung-over ass out of my rack and head in to breakfast in our galley. My trip took me past the table in question. Everything was just as it was the night before; waiting for the rightful owner to sober up and claim.

If I had not already been in love with my ‘Co-SFM’ers till then, I certainly was now. Two hundred folks at SFM, and nary a thief amongst us. I will never forget that minor little memory. It touched me deep.

And then I just went into breakfast. You see? This was not… ‘different’ for us back then!

Shit!

Can’t explain.

Won’t try.

For you see?

We had love.

And respect.

We respected one another.

***

Ponderin’ Just a Little Bit Though,

I’d Venture A Theory:

Our Mutual Respect Partly At Least,

Came From The Fact That

We were Living & Working So Closely Together,

Isolated, For The Most Part, From The Rest Of The World In Such An Isolated And Desolate Place.

However, I Believe The Main Reason Was Because

The Vast Majority of Us Were Texans.

(But of Course, It Is Within The Realm Of Possibility That I may Be Just A Tad Bit Biased)