The coffee franchise Green Beans has carved out a foothold in the Middle East over the last few years. Several months ago, a Green Beans opened up in Ramadi; the deck outside has become a nightly oasis of sorts for like-minded individuals across the post.
Some of Bravo company is there almost every night; I'm there every night that I'm in Ramadi. Other people drop in occasionally- some from other companies in the task force, some from other units. There are a few shadowy figures that come and chat now and then- they are happy to talk, and we are happy for the company. Neither party talks much about Iraq, which is fine with both sides. The deck is normally an Iraq-free zone; mission talk is loosely banned (although exceptions are made for particularly exciting or hairy stories)
Every night, the Green Beans becomes a refuge of sorts- a place about what Iraq isn't. That worn and dirty deck is a place to sit around and talk about home, play some chess, draw in sketchbooks, or write poetry. In between cups of tea and chai and Indonesian clove cigarettes, there's good natured flirting with the baristas- lovely young ladies from Kyrgyzstan. They've taught most of us a few words in Russian and memorized our regular orders; we keep them supplied in smiles and tips.
Last night was a little different, though. We broke the only "rule", and talked about Iraq. Everyone gathered on the porch was out of work- we had all run our last missions out on the road. We sat and talked for hours about the year; about the friends we'd made, the battles we'd won, the lives we'd saved. We talked about the successes and the failures; we talked about the prospects of the new guys. We talked about how exhausted we were when we got in from our last missions- how a year's worth of tension unraveled all at once, and we felt like sleeping for days.
Mainly, we talked about going home.