Beer by Candlelight, or Star Shell

Mamba Armored Personnel Carrier parked near the entrance to the Blue Star Restaurant

Cracking open a beer at the end of a long work day is a practice long enjoyed by American laborers.  Whether blue collar or white, reaching deep into the refrigerator to retrieve an ice cold beverage after quitting time is a time-honored tradition across the country.

However, this practice becomes challenging when working in a war zone, where such simple conveniences as electricity are in short supply.  Many years ago now, I found myself in just such a situation: sitting in a plastic chair, staring up at the stars with a beer in hand, smack in the middle of a near civil war. 

Unwinding with a drink while deployed abroad is a unique combination of risks and rewards.  Inebriation is clearly foolish and reckless; oftentimes it is outright prohibited.  But we civilians (vice military) are granted special permissions along with special responsibilities.  That means balancing your limited free time with healthy doses of caution and maturity. 

Low on the priority list then, are drink selection and locale ambiance.  Yet the Blue Star, a tiny local restaurant hidden near the heart of Baghdad’s International Zone (or ‘Green Zone’) had both: dimly-lit colored lights wrapped around palm tree trunks; tea lights atop the worn plastic patio furniture; the sweet clouds of shisha smoke wafting from hookah pipes; and a few different kinds of beer, wine, or tea.

If electricity was flowing, your beer might be a little cooler than room temperature.  Selection was limited and determined by the successful arrival of supply convoys.  Yet even when only one option was available, it was still desired – the Turkish beer Efes.  The light and hoppy pilsner, brewed in the Aegean-coast resort town of Izmir, was consistently available and sold for what amounted to pocket-change – usually about a dollar.  And although lukewarm, the crisp taste of beer greatly assisted in managing one’s sanity amidst indiscriminate mortar and rocket attacks.

It is for this reason that Efes has held a special place among my favorite beers.  It brings back memories of exhaustion, anxiety, elation, and achievement; those with whom I served shared experiences others cannot understand.  One of which is the taste of warm Turkish beer, savored slowly and carefully, under the thunder of helicopters passing overhead and by the glow of illumination shells drifting lazily down through the night sky.

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To commemorate the anniversary of September 11th, this month I’ll reflect on my time serving in the Middle East.  This is the first in a series of three posts.

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Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 11:40 pm  Comments Off on Beer by Candlelight, or Star Shell  
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