MY FIRST ADVENTURE |
January 17, 2007
MY FIRST ADVENTURE
Posting date: 1/17/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
I am back from my first adventure, down to Kandahar, a lovely place in the southern desert with daytime temps around 130F. The breeze feels like a hair drier. Plus we're carrying 80 Lbs of helmet, weapons, vest and ammunition. A real joy. At times this feels like another training event, but then something strange happens, like you reach into your pack and pull out a grenade.
After a hot and crowded C130 flight we convoy out to the Afghan army camp. I am there to evaluate the communications for the Afghan corps. In the general's office there are handshakes and chai tea all around. The job I did in Japan really prepared me for talking through translators. It is a metered conversation that has to be direct, with simple words and no slang. Not as easy as you think. Try it sometime.
Then we're off to inspect the brigade's communication center, which is right next to the Afghan mess hall, the building with the goat pen. As we are talking communication, the smell starts to get to me. "What is that, did the sewer back up?" "What's a sewer? We just throw everything in a pit out back by the mess hall." Thankfully the inspection is nearing an end, just in time for lunch. Hey, I saw a Burger King at Kandahar airfield! What? Our inspection includes eating with the Afghans in their mess hall. All eyes turn to the three Americans as we walk in. There is a tub of water in the middle of the room, and a cook is rinsing dishes then putting them back on the stack to use again.
Since we are guests we sit down and a platoon of soldiers starts shoveling trays of food at us. Fresh plums and dates; so far so good. Then a soldier comes out with a sour goat milk yogurt lumpy drink. I focus intently on talking to the interpreter so I don't have to refuse the offer. My brothers in arms are not so lucky. A Major with the look of Opie Taylor graciously accepts the beverage, and all eyes are upon him as he takes a sip. And gags. A source of great amusement to the Afghans, to say the least. Our other guy has gone slowly so he could see Opie's reaction, and in the commotion he deftly hides his glass under the table. Smart man.
Time for the food, a plate of rice and a bowl of some kind of stewed meat and red beans. Out of the corner of my eye I am watching the interpreter and doing what he does. Don't use your left hand, they consider that unclean. So here I am with a plate of flat bread rice and meat. Uh, where is the silverware? There is none. Grab the bread, scoop the rice, and tear off a piece of meat. Oh well. When in Rome...I feel like an infant again; there is rice everywhere. I'm getting about half of everything into my mouth. The rest goes on the Afghan Army corps Communication Officer. After a while he asks if I want to use a fork. He issues a quick command, and the Afghan soldiers around the table scatter to search for one, and one is found. It looks like it has been used as a gardening tool. A quick wipe, and some bending to straighten it out. Voila! Good as new. A nice gesture.
Finally it's time to leave the mess hall. Hey, where did the goats go? I don't want to know.
It's time to train. I see a computer in the corner of the operations center. At least I think it's a computer. It's covered by a sheet, with flowers on top. Does anyone know how to use a computer? Only the major. Would anyone like to learn? Their eyes light up and they immediately start thanking me. Three hours later they can turn on the machine and play solitaire. It's a start.
Time to leave. More handshakes and tea, and it's off to the airport. Our US Air Force airplane never shows up. Gotta love those Airforce guys. For them an order is optional. We wait for the next flight, then pile onto another C130 and are about to take off when the plane turns around and shuts down. Never a good sign. There is a bit of discussion, and we are told we have to reconfigure for other passengers and cargo. Pull everything off the plane, and stand by as three guys looking like something out of Road Warrior drive up and park their truck in the plane. We re-load our baggage and it's off again.
The road warriors never leave their truck. We land and they drive off into the night. I don't want to know.
Now it's time for us to drive cross-country to go to a meeting. I see a few sights that make me think. The first is a Russian army jeep with an inscription on the door: "The assistance of Russia to Afghanistan." My first thought is, "Gee thanks, like you haven't done enough already."
Second is a scene that sums up this entire experience. In the foreground is a fence with a land mine sign. Beyond it, poppies grow wild, and in the middle of the field is a destroyed Russian tank. In the background is a snow-covered mountain.
All over this country there are people working donkey carts, wheelbarrows, trucks; people building and trying to survive. I don't feel so bad about being here. These people want to succeed, they just need our help.
At the end of our journey we meet with the US commander in Afghanistan, in a room so rank-heavy that captains are making copies and getting coffee. And just think, this is only the first week! Tomorrow it's off to Mezar e Sharif to do the entire process all over again. Note to self: Bring lunch.