WINTER IN KABUL |
January 08, 2007
WINTER IN KABUL
Name: Capt Doug Traversa
Posting date: 1/8/07
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog url: http://traversa.typepad.com
Kabul is currently enduring a massive bout of cold weather, which our interpreters Wali and Hamid assure us is far from normal. They say this winter is the worst in 15 years, and many people here are suffering. I don't doubt it, as I've seen endless numbers of people, both adults and children, wearing only sandals on their feet while walking through the snow. Gloves are a rarity here, as are heavy jackets. When it gets really cold, most people wrap themselves in blankets when going outside. People do not have enough wood for their stoves, and are always scavenging for something to burn. For those lucky enough to have their homes hooked up to electrical lines, the government has managed to keep electricity flowing throughout many nights. But this has been a very tough beginning to the winter for the Afghans.
It all began on Christmas Eve. Snow started falling that night, and we were all excited about the possibility of a white Christmas. Sure enough, when I looked outside on Christmas morning, I was greeted by a thick layer of snow everywhere. I went back inside and got my tape measure out to see how deep it was. We started the day with seven inches, and by Christmas night we were up to 11 inches.
The day after Christmas a heavy ice fog covered Camp Phoenix, but by noon the sun came out and everything started melting. What happens when 11 inches of snow melts? You get nice big puddles of water and slush everywhere. Nature's Slurpee, as it were. I still marvel at the folks who insist on wearing their PT uniforms (and thus sneakers) even when the camp is flooded. They would rather have wet feet than wear their DCUs (Desert Camouflage Uniforms) and boots. Not me. I like dry feet.
However, by evening the problem wasn't wet feet, but rather killing yourself on the ice that coated all walking surfaces. The most treacherous were the areas that had been shoveled. Melting water had coated these spots with a lethal smooth layer of ice. As I was walking to the shower, I thought how ironic it would be if I were to kill myself in a war zone by slipping on the ice. Despite my caution, I still had several close calls.
As the week wore on, the temperature continued to drop until we were into the single digits each night. It wasn't long before I woke up freezing, even under all my covers. It was almost approaching North Dakota levels of cold. Not quite, but close. When I got back from work, I would climb back in bed, pull all the covers up, get my laptop, and settle in to watch DVDs, read, or write, but most importantly, stay warm. By 5:00 PM the hut usually warmed up to maybe 60 degrees, which is positively toasty here. As of today, January 7th, snow still covers the ground everywhere. Only the snow on the roads and sidewalks has melted. We have about three inches of solid ice on the paths between the huts, where the sun never shines.
The deadliest place to walk is the chow hall floor. It is tiled, and for some reason, cold and the melting snow from our boots has turned the floors into death traps. They had to put down long mats everywhere to create safe places to walk. Unfortunately, there is still far too much bare floor to walk on, and we do so at a slow, shuffling pace, trying not to fall. It's positively ridiculous, but as with everything here, we adapt and grow.
The last few mornings I could see my breath when I woke up, and the guys a few doors down measured 49 degrees in their hut. Getting out of bed now entails an exciting race to get on as many clothes as possible, in the right order, and then heading to the latrine trailer, which unaccountably has heaters that actually work. The only problem is that after doing all the morning stuff in there, you have to head back to the refrigerator that is your hut.
Surprisingly, there are guys who walk to the latrine in shorts, t-shirt, and sandals. Among the certifiably insane people who do this is Maj Apple, my boss. I told him he was crazy, but he said his hut wasn't any warmer, so once he got out of bed he was already freezing. Whatever. Does not compute. My boss has lost it.
I love winter, and I love the cold, but I love being able to go into a warm house and look out the window at the cold OUTSIDE and be thankful I'm warm INSIDE. Well, I don't have windows, and I can't be warm inside until late afternoon. Of course, inevitably, the temperature will drop as our solar heating unit hibernates for the night, and the cycle starts all over again the next morning.