By Msgt Mike Ekshtut, USAFR (Ret)
Hope you all had a great Passover. This is my first official update from the United Arab Emirates. I am now on station at Al Dhafra Air Base outside of Abu Dhabi. I got here last Thursday afternoon and already got off on the wrong foot with my boss, the Catholic Priest. When I casually met the CO of the base at the chapel, a full-bird Colonel, on Friday, I asked him if I could symbolically rent the base for a dollar so I could consider it my private domain in order that I be able to carry things in my pockets during Shabbat. (For the gentiles reading this, this is technical Jewish law stuff…) Anyways, the base JAG officer female captain, happened to also be sitting there, and they made a big legalistic deal out of it. And then the CO went and asked the Chaplain what all this is about. The Father did not know anything about it and got mad at me for going over his head and jumping the chain of command. He was already not too happy with me for telling him that I cannot work for two days, because of Shabbat and Passover, the day after I arrived. It is not that they were denying me my religious rights of worship, but I had called him from Qatar on Thursday and asked him if I could stay there for the last days of Pesach and Shabbat, because a Jewish Chaplain happened to be there. I had not known that the Chaplain Assistant I was replacing was leaving tonight. They needed me here!
In the end, of course they gave me the days off. After all, that is our job: to facilitate the freedom of worship to all personnel of the US Armed Forces. I think all has blown over now and they see that I came here to do my job and that I am not a dirtbag
The last holy days of Pesach and Shabbos in the desert were somewhat interesting, but mostly boring. I had to brush my teeth and do everything else in my tent in the dark since turning on a light would mean having to leave it on for two days. The tents are divided up into individual cubicles by black sheets and kept dark, except for individual lamps, because everyone had different work schedules and sleeps at different times of the day. I did not want to violate the Sabbath so I could not carry, not even take my toothbrush to the latrine, which is about 75 yards away. I used bottled water and spit into a plastic garbage bag. I pretty much had to do most other stuff in my cubicle in
almost complete darkness, until I decided to open one of the window flaps of the tent and let some sunlight in.
I don’t really know anybody here yet, so I spent the most of Saturday and Sunday lounging around and reading and
studying Torah. I went for walks around the camp, but it is a small and mostly restricted area, and the temperature is already topping 100 degrees at midday. So you really cannot walk far without seeking some AC and relief from the heat. They say that in a month, it will get into the 130’s or more.
For my Friday night Shabbat dinner, I had matzah, sweet Kedem wine for Kiddush, which just happened to be here in the chapel fridge, canned gefilte fish with that thick gooey broth, which goes surprisingly well on matzah, string cheese and raw baby carrots. And, I did have some semi melted Swiss chocolate for dessert. I have also been able to eat a few things at the chow hall; salad, tuna and fresh fruit. Luckily, the salad dressings here at the chow hall are mostly kosher, but not for Passover.
I should mention that in the Air Force the people who work at the chow hall are sensitive. They want you to call it a Dining Facility or DFAC for short. They get upset at the term “chow hall”, or as we called in the Marines, the mess hall. This sure ain’t the Marines! This is Club Med!
I ended my Passover restrictive diet with a Klondike ice cream bar. It was going to be a beer, but I had not exchanged my money yet into Emirati Durhams, and the bar does not take dollars. Now that Pesach is over, I can finally eat a bit better… or so I thought
I just went to pick up the kosher MRE’s that the Air Force finally ordered for me after a few weeks of e-mailing back and forth with the staff here at Al Dhafra. It turns out that the six cases of MRE’s that they ordered for me are “Meal, Religious, Kosher for Passover”. So I now have 72 more Passover meals! I opened one up, and this is what I get to eat for the next two months: a 4 oz. tin of Rubenstein’s Red Salmon, a sealed pouch of dried cranberries, a pouch of raisins and a pouch of walnuts. I guess they will go well with my daily salad. I am going to make Mike Waldorf salad… but I think I am going to be pretty sick of salad when I leave here. For dessert, the Passover MRE also came with a pouch of coconut macaroons. Oh, and there are two boxes of Manischewitz unsalted Matzo Crackers in each case, which consists of 12 meals. Woohoo!!
That is alright though. This is all part of the Middle East health spa trip I am on. The gym here is decent. One tent has cardio machines and the other weights. I will come back thinner, buffer and tanner. However, they do have as much Klondike ice cream I could want for free at the chow hall, so that may be a detriment to my body sculpting program.
I just took the cranberries, raisins and walnuts and made a trail mix. Later I will go buy some peanuts and M&M’s to put into the mix, and then I will really be eating like a king!
Other than the food choice limitations, which are good for my character building anyway, life is pretty good here. They have a swimming pool, sand volleyball court, of course, a bar which is open nightly, and located just behind the chapel trailer, and all the movies I could want to watch on numerous DVD players in the camp. I should disclose that there is only a two drink limit per night at the bar. They do not want people to be flying or maintaining aircraft with hangovers. Just think what that would do for Russia’s productivity if they imposed that law there!
They also have a nice, well lit and cool library tent, with – believe it or not – leather couches! Life is good here. You almost don’t know there is a war going on around here.
The mail takes about two weeks to get here. I do have a microwave oven here in my office, so I plan to get creative once my self-sent care package, with instant mashed potatoes and rice get here. Magyver won’t be able to even hold a candle to me when it comes to being creative in the kitchen!
Well, that is it for now. Tonight, after the sun goes down, I plan to go for my first jog. Take care all.
Originally published in the Passover 5780 Jewish-American Warrior