FEAR AND LOATHING IN KUWAIT

I arrived in Kuwait on January 28th, 2003.  I lived at Al Jaber Airbase until mid-June.  My initial overall feeling was excitement, at seeing my boyfriend again and to be involved in a unique and exciting experience.  My boyfriend had deployed in November.  I was so naive and had no idea what was really happening.  Did I think this was going to be some sort of party? This complete confusion over world events and naïveté was becoming a familiar feeling, as it happened on 9/11 as well. I have learned gobs more about the world, history and myself since I left the safe confines of schools. I graduated college without a class covering the Middle East with any depth, is that still possible?

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When I was settled at Al Jaber Airbase, I lived with two Air Force Security Force women in a nice trailer with indoor plumbing and a dayroom.  When I met my roommates, one was proudly showing off an Arabic newspaper (souvenir) she had gotten on her last trip off of the base.  The large front page picture has stayed with me ever since, although I haven’t been able to find it on the Internet.  On January 21, two American contractors were shot in Kuwait, a country I had thought was safe, one was killed, the other seriously injured.  The picture showed the passenger of the SUV shot with his head laying on the dashboard.  Up until this point, I had never seen a dead body in the flesh, but this image put a fear in me that I couldn’t acknowledge or admit to anyone at the time.  I pretended not to be bothered by this or to show much interest, but researching it eleven years later, it clearly bothered me.  If you are interested in the story, you can find it here.  Don’t worry this is an American version of the story and thus follows the American journalism “breakfast test.”  The American public does not want to see pictures, that may be unsettling if viewed while eating breakfast.  As important as this is, I do think that it allows us as a country to live in a bubble of naivety.

Soldiers are known for “topping” each other’s tall tales.  During that same first week or two, other soldiers would tell stories for the shock-value.  The key was to always look unaffected.  I did this either by practicing my poker face, zoning out or simply not believing anything anyone told me.  The problem was there was no one to talk to about the nagging fears of which stories were real.  You may think just Google it, but access to Internet was very limited and was used for communication home.

A memorable story was that Saddam had hung Kuwaiti military leaders from the seven arches decorating the entrance to the very base I was stationed.  This is scary because a) you are not so far south that Sadaam’s military could not reach; and b) I remember the last invasion.  This is modern history.  I remember that time… I was in Middle School and had a brother in the Navy.  Remember Kuwait is less than 17,000 square miles – smaller than New Jersey. I had been so sheltered as a child, I had no idea what dangerous was.

Once the war started, there were new scary things like donning our MOPP gear (better know as our gas mask and protective suit).  We had the news on at our work site, and I found comfort watching my childhood hero, Chirstiane Amanpour putting her mask on and taking it off with us.  She was located at another Kuwaiti base.  We watched as Saddam Hussein launched Seersucker missiles at Kuwait.  At the time, I had a brother in the country as well.  It was a lot to deal with all at once, being so far from home and being somewhere where not only should you keep track of what is happening in the world, but you were going to be part of it whether you wanted to or not.

I should have gained some comfort in seeing other people struggling with what was going on and we should have leaned on each other. That isn’t how it worked though. One soldier shot himself to go home. One soldier had such anger issues he punched other soldiers and an air conditioning unit. One soldier nearly shot himself with his antropine the first time the gas alarm sounded. One soldier was stock-piling MRE cookers to make bombs. One soldier scratched at his smallpox shot so much he became infected in multiple areas and threatened to spread it to another soldier who was unable to get the shot. One soldier lost his toothbrush and used a washcloth for a long time (out of laziness not unavailability). These were not the people I grew up around. These were not the people I wanted to depend on during a tough situation, like say…war.  So I closed myself off a bit and didn’t think about any of it much. I learned to depend on myself.

Dealing with Diagnosis

My mom raised me alone from the time I was a little girl. She used to say it was you and me against the world (like the Helen Reddy song).
Last year my mom was diagnosed with dementia. Long before the diagnosis she has battled her own demons alone. I have to remind myself that this is her choice, even though her three children all live out of state. We have all offered her a safe, comfortable and free place to live.
Instead, she has stopped going to the doctor, can’t handle her own finances, doesn’t always recognize her own cat and absolutely shouldn’t be driving.
When you’re on the road and there is an old person driving slowly or a bit recklessly, it is easy to say who let this old battle axe get behind the wheel. When you are the battle axe’s daughter, it is much more difficult than you could ever imagine to take away the car keys and the freedom from the person who taught you to drive.
Back in February, my mom was in a car accident. She was at fault for making a left hand turn when she shouldn’t have. At the scene of the accident no one reported being injured. Weeks later, she got a notice that the other driver is claiming an injury and if not satisfied with the insurance company settlement, could sue her. The collision center kept her car for about a month. I wish it had been indefinitely. In a month, any comfort she had behind the wheel has been lost.
A week after getting the car back, my mom went wandering. She thought she had an appointment with her financial advisor and drove around for two hours in the opposite direction looking for her. Her car was on empty, she doesn’t have a gps or cell phone and she was nervous and frazzled. When she arrived at her imagined appointment, she handed her keys over willingly and the office staff there arranged to drive her and her car home – but at her request kept the keys.
I didn’t know about this for three days. When I learned about it I had to call multiple people to understand what was going on. Her car was safely in the garage, but she was furious someone had been joy riding in her car. How could the car be there but not the keys? She could not explain it to me and didn’t even begin to mention that she had been driving around for two hours and had ended up somewhere with no reason for being out of the house in the first place.
Very recently I found a lovely woman who is going to take my mom on errands and assist her in small ways with her daily living. Her name is Deb. My mom doesn’t trust her and thinks nothing but terrible things about her. My mom does not want help – not from her children, not from Deb and not from doctors. She is terrified that her freedom is about to be pulled out from under her – and it is. She should never drive again. She could kill herself or far worse, someone else.
My brother wrote to the DMV. She will get a letter saying her license will be suspended if she does not go in for a driver’s test. She will not read the letter. It will sit in her stacks of unopened mail until her financial advisor comes to the house and opens it. She will drive on a suspended license.
I have found a way in my heart and my budget to part with $75 a week to pay for a woman my mom already hates (after two weeks) to visit my mom and help her. How do you help someone who doesn’t want it? What happens if she drives Deb away?
In another time and another world, I would call my mom and ask what I should do. Those were simpler times. I want my mom.

Whatever Can Go Wrong…

Murphy’s law is a popular saying that states “whatever can go wrong,will go wrong.”

The day after I posted the “Biggest Money Fears” blog post, Mr. Cabbage got the boot from his employer.

Being in DC during the longest US government shutdown in history (34 days at time of publication) is having effects on more than the furloughed government workers. His industry counted on government funds and is affected as well. Mr. Cabbage was an IT contractor who was not furloughed. He had no notice of his impending doom. He had been told his contract was stable until (at least) November 2019. It is not November.

Luckily, Mr. Cabbage also runs his own business and can take this time to focus on his clients while reigniting his job hunt. He is not strapped for cash and neither of us live paycheck to paycheck anymore. We were not always this lucky, so don’t think we’re unaware that this situation could easily be much more dire.

So far, 2019 hasn’t been the year of our dreams. We’ve had three doctor visits between us, more than $600 in prescription drug costs, one bathtub leaking into our dining room, a storm door that came off it’s hinges and a job loss in a pear tree. It’s only January though people… this year still has lots of potential for awesomeness.

I also should mention that I am also a contractor and my contract ends on January 31. But, Monday I start a brand new job and phew… we are not both unemployed at the same time!

Many of the New Year resolutions, plans and budgets for the year are going to be moved to the back burner while we refocus and regroup. We won’t be spending weekends focused on house hunting for now.

Tell me: How is 2019 going for you so far?

Financial Fear

What are your biggest financial fears? The things that could derail all of your progress toward financial freedom, wipe out your emergency savings or put you into debt all in one fell swoop?

For me, there are really only a few nagging issues that cause periodic bouts of worry.. unforeseen medical costs, family and extended unemployment.

  • Medical Concerns: Does anyone ever have a sound understanding of how good their medical coverage is until they need it? In the past few years I have started using a health savings account (HSA) in conjunction with a high deductible insurance. Because I don’t frequently need to use my insurance, and because my company puts a lump sum contribution into my HSA… so far… knock on wood…it has served me well. 
  • Familial Responsibility: Family starts with an F for a reason, right?  
    As of late, my mom, is my biggest money anxiety.  Last Spring she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  She has very little family living nearby, is afraid of losing independence, and is unwilling to accept help.  Last Summer she told me she wanted to die alone in her house.  A byproduct of her disease has been her inabiltiy to manage paying her bills on time (or at all) and her dependence on her financial planner.  The guilt and pressure of how much money I would need to pay when shit hits the fans has kept me up at night since she has no  money saved for a care facility, home care or future medical care costs.

  • Extended Unemployment: With the Federal Shutdown hitting day 29, the fear of what would I do if I were unemployed or not receiving paychecks is at the forefront of my mind.  Luckily, to date, the longest I have been unemployed is four consecutive months, but the fear of not knowing when or where your next paycheck is coming from is terrifying… especially when you are single and have a crippling mortgage payment.  

Fun Fact: Did you know mortgage payments (including mortgage, insurance, taxes and HOA dues) should not be more than 28% of your gross income?  At one point, my mortgage was 40% of my gross income! This breeds all sorts of fears!  In future postings, we’ll talk about more of these money fears and how you can subdue and overcome your fears because you aren’t bound to hold on to them or the stress that they are causing you.

Tell me, what are your biggest money fears? Have you faced them already, are they looming on the horizon or are you a doomsday prepper and preparing to never ever let them ruin your life? Let me know!