29 July 2011

We All Live in a Yellow Submarine

To be perfectly honest with you, I'm a little sick of being here, and it's mostly because my life in Afghanistan lacks the balance I try so hard to find in my life back home. Every day here revolves around very basic needs...water, food, safety, sleep (and once in a while coffee). I feel like I live and breathe Army tactics, which is getting really annoying. I dream about convoys and how to make them safer. I spend a lot of time walking around with guns, talking about guns, thinking about guns, and cleaning guns. I miss regular things.

Instead of correcting people's horrible spelling mistakes over here (and there are some absolutely ludicrous interpretations of the English language published by the U.S. Army all across base) I seem to spend time correcting their convoy tactics, or at least forcing them to explain the logic (or lack thereof) behind their decisions. It's probably the verge of a very bad day when it takes an Air Force personnel officer to ask those kinds of questions. Let's go ahead and stop thinking about that.

Lately life here feels a lot like how I imagine life on a submarine. I know that somewhere people I know and love are living their normal lives where they think about things that have nothing to do with wars and guns. But my new friends and I are here in Afghanistan where we may as well be 800 feet below the ocean. We can look out at our normal lives through a periscope (regular people may commonly refer to this apparatus as Skype), and we struggle to remember what it must feel like to eat a home cooked meal, to wash our clothes in an actual washing machine, or to have any amount of privacy.

No, none of us would change anything about being here (we do have each other, and that makes a huge difference), but it's certainly easy to feel isolated.

So instead of being 800 feet below the ocean, we're some 6,000 miles from the States...but the effect, as I imagine it, seems similar. I'm thankful every day for my incredible "shipmates" on Catalina Wine Mixer (the name of our team...and oddly enough our logo is a boat, but as usual I digress).

 Living in a yellow submarine isn't half bad when your friends are all aboard. And in the end, that's what it's all about.

26 July 2011

These Are The Times You'll Remember

Every day as we weave our way through the streets of Kabul to make our way to work, I find myself humming those lyrics as we all bounce around in the MATV.

It's amazing to me how quickly the everyday things that happen in Afghanistan have transformed into my new normal. As we're driving down some of the roads, we are always on the lookout for things that look "unusual," which when you have just arrived here is basically everything. And in a month, the chaos has become in my eyes, well, less chaotic. Young kids dart fearlessly between our vehicles as we barrel down the road (and by barrel, I mean drive somewhere between 25 - 30 miles per hour). Older Afghan men stand on the side of the road wearing long, flowing shirts that brush their knees, matching pants that remind me of scrubs, and scarves carefully wrapped to protect their hair from the harsh air. Granted that scarf probably serves a different purpose, but for right now, I'm happier thinking about it in my own terms.

The streets are lined with an assortment of small shops, windows coated in a film of grimey moon dust, and colorful jewels strewn across the facade. Sometimes we'll see a mountain of treasures...pots and pans hanging from the ceiling with string, or gas can "art" where rainbow-colored gas cans are gingerly stacked in towers across the median. But mostly we comment on the animal carcasses hanging from store windows by large metal hooks. The usually skin-less animals may be stripped of their fur, but their full anatomy is there for all to see. On the most interesting days, we see the black and white skin still attached to cows, blood already drained, hanging from the hooks with a cart full of skins and entrails steaming close by.

My version of normal now includes Oakleys protecting my eyes, a pair of gloves on my hands (despite the 100 degree weather), a kevlar helmet on my head, and a 20 pound bullet-proof vest draped around my torso. But what hadn't, until earlier this week, felt quite normal was the constant reminder of the M-4 rifle clinking against my left leg. I wasn't particularly confident that should the need arise, I could bring that weapon to my face, pull the trigger, and actually hit (or at least scare) a bad guy. In Afghanistan, the solution to lack of confidence on the weapon was simple...time to go put some iron downrange.

So off I went with my quasi-official Personal Security Detail (the two lovely cops attached to our team) and a few others for a morning at the firing range at our Afghan base. While I was busy pulling the trigger of a gun, one of my PSD guys was having a field day with the shutter of my Canon 30D and caught the above shot of a shell leaving my weapon. Some 200 or so rounds later, my confidence was much improved (and dare I suggest that the other members of my team breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Lipstick Girl proved that she can kill some simulated bad guys.)

The real joys in Afghanistan are in the food, which was also not normal (and was actually quite intimidating) before this week. Remember those animal carcasses that collect moon dust on the side of the road? My post-warrior celebration included a trip outside the gate (all geared-up) to purchase the all-in-one Afghan lunch...a wrap sandwich with hardboiled eggs, cilantro, french fries, a slice of mystery meat, and all kinds of spicy and delightful sauces. Yes, I will have you know that this same smile was still apparent several hours after mystery meat consumption.

And there you have it. A "normal" day in Afghanistan is nothing like a normal day anywhere else in the world. But these truly are the times I will remember, perhaps more fondly than times spent anywhere else.