The Inmates Take a Trip
The good thing about being in a minimum security prison is that sometimes you get to leave your cell. In some places it’s just so that you can pick up trash on the highway and in other places it’s to the factory to stamp out license plates. Those activities do sound like fun, but we had the opportunity to play tourist and that’s even better.
For our adventure we first travelled downtown to the Grand Mosque. But I’m not really going to waste your time talking about the mosque. I am sure you have no desire to hear about how long it took for them to hand carve the 99 names of Allah into the teak wood or what kind of crystal comprises the chandeliers. It was beautiful, yeah. I enjoyed it. Moving on.
Next were the Towers. I could have done without this. First, it was annoying to me that they did not have enough change for everyone. If you are a tourist attraction you should probably keep enough singles on hand to deal with people who come up there with big bills. As I understand, many of the local nationals are quite wealthy. Maybe they have Mastercard. I don’t know. Whatever.
What I didn’t like was that the observation point was indoors and the windows were absolutely filthy. You could hardly see anything at all. Secondly, the Towers aren’t exactly the highest structure in the city. The views were eclipsed by other tall buildings. But I’m not really complaining because the view from the Towers is way better than the view from my tent. Oh wait, we don’t have windows. Never mind.
We hung around there for a few minutes, wasting money on cheap souvenirs and some very rich cheesecake.
The last stop and the best stop of all was the Saraya Palace. So, in order for you to experience this meal the way I experienced it, I want you to conduct an experiment. For the next week, I want you to eat nothing but canned food. Don’t warm it up, don’t put any seasoning on it, just eat it straight out of the can. Oh, and eat it with a plastic spoon or fork. Vegetables, fruit, meat, whatever. All of it has to be canned, and don’t buy that top shelf shit. Go down the shelf at the bottom of your local supermarket and get the off-brand stuff, not even store-brand…off-brand. This is a fair approximation of chow hall food. Eat that for one week, morning, noon and night. Then on the seventh day go out to a really fancy restaurant known for high quality, fresh food. And when I say really fancy, I don’t mean Red Lobster. Take the wife and kids to the Chart House, Oceanaire or some place that’ll compromise next month’s mortgage payment.
Let the smorgasbord begin.
The waitstaff begins with chilled bottle water and a refreshing lemon and mint concoction that made me think of a mojito sans the liquor. I thought it would be gross because I do not like things that taste like mint but it was cool, sweet and paired well with the dinner selections. Then they brought bowls of fresh raw vegetables that were actually green. This is like a mini appetizer, something you eat before you eat to make you more hungry. These vegetables cleanse the palate and whet the appetite. I could have just eaten that one raw onion and been okay with that, but of course, there was the second course.
The second course consisted of various salads and light hors d’oeuvres: tabouleh, hummus, baba ghanoush, some kind of meat biscuit thing, spicy hot potatoes, chicken livers, etc. They brought this bread that was warm, puffy and soft, unlike the chow hall bread that they sometimes use for skeet shooting. The crazy thing is that when they brought the second course I thought it was the main course. There was enough food to feed the universe. I was border line becoming stuffed when they brought the third course.
The meat course! Oh my goodness, you just have no idea, REAL MEAT! I don’t know what kind of meat that is they serve in the chow hall but this meat here, you just don’t know. Lamb kebob, chicken kebob, some other kind of grilled chicken, some kind of grilled beef, little minced lamb sandwiches. Everything was so flavourful and well-seasoned, along with grilled onions and grilled tomatoes.
After the main course was delivered there was silence at the table for about 15 minutes. All you could hear was smack, smack, gulp, slurp, chomp, smack, smack, smack. Everyone’s eyes were on their own plate. Most of us were double-fisted. I had a chicken kebob in hand, while chewing on a meat biscuit and reaching for the minced lamb sandwich. There was a lot of “are you going to eat that?” as everyone tried to scrounge for the last little morsel.
A lot of us have been dieting, voluntarily or involuntarily. Most of us said that our portions were getting smaller because the food is so bad that we’re really only eating out of necessity to stay alive. We just weren’t accustomed to eating large meals like that, but that did not stop us. My stomach was so full that I had to excuse myself, and I noticed that I was not the only one.
So then you think everything is done and the next thing they would bring is the check. Wrong answer. Dessert time! It was perfect. They brought piping hot Turkish coffee and a teeny little bowl of bread pudding that was just the right size. It was not too big to make you uncomfortable but not too small that you would want more. And then it wasn’t overly sweet, so it was perfect. Along with the bread pudding was another assortment of fresh produce, this time fruit. The apples were not worm-ridden and the oranges did not have black spots. It was just really perfect.
By the time I was finished eating I could have crawled up under that table and went to sleep. I’m serious. After eating slops for the past six months I just truly appreciated a grand meal like that. On the ride home, there was nothing but, “Zzzzzzz.”
So here’s the crazy thing, when we left the base it was gloomy, windy and overcast. As soon as we got downtown the sun came out, the high wind eased into a calm breeze; it was a great day for some sightseeing and hanging out. As soon as we got back on this base, however, it was like Mother Nature and the evil spirit that haunts this place had their vengeance. Thankfully, the bus driver dropped us off so we could sign back in and we didn’t have to walk through one million grains of sand exfoliating the skin off our faces. I think someone was pissed that actually escaped this place for 8 hours.
I informed everyone that I would be signing up for all available trips off post. I’ll wait in the bus while everyone else tours the mosques and the scientific centers; I’m just along for the food. I’m looking at the trip list now and see there are three other restaurants to try. We’ll see how much I can get away with before they put out a memo limiting the number of trips a soldier can take.