Then it was time to go to work. This is my fifth trip to Baghdad, but this time I am bureau chief. That means I have to deal with all of the other stuff outside of the story. People have to be hired, fired, fed, transported, clothed, housed, exercised, amused, caffeinated, medicated, showered, cooled, bribed and comforted.
That first day we didn't have a story, and that was a good and a bad thing. We work long hours in Baghdad. We are eight hours ahead of the East Coast. That means when I get up at 9:30 a.m. in Baghdad it is 1:30 a.m. in Atlanta. So when New York wants a story they tell us at 9:30 a.m. New York time, which is 5:30 p.m. Baghdad time. We end up working until 2:30 a.m. Baghdad time. So the nights are long too. But when we don't have a story we try to make the most of it. On this day that meant badminton.
One of our local guards loves to smash the shuttlecock. And he has attitude. "I beat you? You ready? I beat you." Such entreaties cannot be denied, even with a game that seems to move in slow motion. The last time I played badminton must have been high school, and it showed. He beat me. He beat me badly. He told me about it. Over and over.
At every meal, "You are not ready. We should play. You need the practice. I give you five points. 10! I give you 10 points. You are not ready." That was dinner. That night we filed for World News.
The next night we worked on a story
On the third day I cracked. "OK, let's play. I can't take this any more. Let's go play." I won the first game.
He was satisfyingly quiet, except for "Again. We play again." Fourteen points into the second game I sprinted to return an overhead smash. That's when I found out how dangerous Baghdad is. My leg gave, someone screamed (me) and my calf muscle went "pop."
My first and, so far, only injury during my time in Iraq happened on that badminton court. I pulled a muscle.
It is the kind of story you're not sure you really want to tell. But I couldn't walk for the next week and had to tell it over and over again. I went limping around here with a cane while random gunfire and mortars broke the silence. The staff is now calling their bureau chief "House" after the Fox television show.
And every time I eat a meal, I am asked, "How is the leg? You play? Now I give you 15 points!"