A VERY KABUL CHRISTMAS |
December 25, 2012
Name: Ross Magee
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Christmas is a tough holiday for a lot of folks here. Last night my roommate asked “How are you doing?” and it took me a moment to realize he was asking about Christmas and then the light came on. “I’m fine. Thanksgiving is the tougher one for me. How are you holding up?”
“I’m Ok, this one is tough for me.”
We met back in the room on Christmas Eve and cut up a bunch of summer sausage and cheese, brewed mugs of tea and talked about life outside of this compound. We talked about travel and distant countries and where we’d go if we had nothing to do. We wondered what it’d be like to go back to some places we’ve been and experience them without the weight of a rifle in your hand. We did not talk about Christmas.
I worked a bit longer than normal yesterday to get ahead just enough to justify not working at all today.My roommate’s alarm went off at 04:47 this morning and he was up in the dark and off to the gym. I just practiced my “rollover drill” and went back to sleep. Christmas had come to Kabul. Finally.
The city stands ringed by snowcapped mountains, but in town, the snow only remains in dirty piles in the darkest corners of alleys. The day broke clear and cold with a bright sun and a promise of warmer temperatures. I was up by late morning drinking coffee in my room and alternating between reading and writing. I ate too much candy, felt guilty, and then determined that the run I had been thinking about would suffice for an atonement.
I covered five miles, slowly winding a giant figure-eight over and over around the compound. It was largely deserted. I saw a few folks out in uniforms with bright red Santa hats and on the corner, close to the gym, there was a brightly wrapped box with candy canes stuck in neat rows across the top. There must have been 50 of them and the sign read “MERRY CHRISTMAS. PLEASE TAKE ONE!” with the word “ONE” rubbed over in neon yellow highlighter. I watched their numbers dwindle with every lap.
On my last time around the compound I encountered an officer who was standing on the corner holding a gift wrapped box and wearing a Santa hat. He was wishing everyone that walked by a Merry Christmas, and passing out small individually wrapped presents. As I went by he said “I know you’re running… but Merry Christmas!” and handed me a gift. I ran the last mile with it in my hand.
As the sun set, I dragged myself out of my room and across the compound to forage for coffee. The pale blue sky was slowly darkening, and the birds were swooping into the pine trees to roost. A nearly full moon rose over the city as the last light of the day faded and the call to prayer went out. I stopped in to check on my roommate who was hammering away at his computer. “Hey man, you going to go to dinner?”
“No, I’m not really hungry, thanks for asking.”
I found coffee and wandered back to the room and turned on the Counting Crows album August & Everything After because it was absolutely American and melancholy enough to match the tone of the day. I read for an hour, fell asleep, and when I woke up I realized that it was time to open presents.
I ate the minted walnuts and cinnamon pecans my mom sent and talked with my wife as I opened presents. Then I wandered to the chow hall in my Santa hat.
Christmas has come and tomorrow it will be gone. It’s a major milestone on the road to spending a year in Afghanistan. I don’t wish days away, but I’m glad that this one is over. Next year I’ll be home.