Back in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — Yesterday was an uneventful arrival day, spent meeting with the staff, saying hello and enjoying the labors of our new chef (who can make a mean lasagna, oddly enough.) All was well. Until 9 p.m. or so.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Three loud explosions, close ones, split the quiet of the night. All the journalists in the house — three of us — ran outside to see a white plume of smoke rising close by in the north. One of our guards told us another explosion happened behind a building to the west. And the third dropped a little to the left of that one. In short, three mortars or rockets hit close to the perimeter of our compound. By and large they hit empty buildings, and no one was hurt, but it was disconcerting.

We all piled into a single car with cameras and guns to look for the damage. Not the smartest of strategies, because as it turned out, everyone of us had forgotten phones, press IDs and other necessary items for traveling around Baghdad and interacting with police. The idea to head out was our photographer’s, who is so bored stuck here in Baghdad he’ll go chasing ineffectual mortar attacks. After about 20 minutes of cruising the streets and getting nervous that the cops were not really cops, we decided to head back and we made it to the house without incident.

A real danger in Baghdad, and one which is has apparently gotten worse, is the fake checkpoint scheme. Insurgents and/or bandits will set up a checkpoint while wearing stolen cop uniforms. Once they see you’re a westerner, they’ll rob you, shoot you, kidnap you or attempt some other ghastly action against you. The way to stay “safe” in Baghdad is to Trust No One.

Our guards all joked that it was the insurgents’ welcome for me back to Baghdad. It had been quiet for two weeks until I showed up, they said. And then they laughed. Such a nice a wake-up call. Car bombs in Beirut seem almost quaint compared to this place, and I’d forgotten how casually violent it is here.

But it’s good to see everyone again. All our staff were all glad to see me and I returned the sentiment. It’s amazing that these guys continue to put their lives on the line to work for us and help us, and I just can’t believe it’s only for the money. We pay them well, but not that well. There’s a real affection among these guys for us.

Anyway, that’s the latest from Baghdad this morning. No real news to speak of, just what’s happening around our home.

On a somewhat related note, my latest article for TIME is online and available.