Thursday, January 19, 2012

Home Sweet Home (Really)

Well, after a very, very, very nice trip home I find myself back in Parwan settling back into my other “home” here in Afghanistan.

While it would be going too far to say I’m happy to exchange the company of my loved ones and the comforts of a life where the toughest decision of the day might be which K-cup to buy at the grocery store, what I CAN say is that I am less unhappy than you might think, and than I expected. My good humor is unrelated to my trip home which was a 48 hour marathon that began with just missing my departure flight due to a blizzard, included two eight hour campouts on airport chairs/floors, and was topped off by an aborted attempt to land in a second blizzard.

Nice weather once things cleared up

Once I did get back, I learned that things have been running so smoothly that I am tempted to leave again and see if more improvements will follow. Despite my explanations about the scientific method and the importance of my taking another vacation to provide a statistically valid study of this phenomenon, my boss didn’t bite, probably because he just returned from vacation and apparently didn’t have the same experience…

So, dear reader, you may be wondering why I am not (yet) wallowing in self-pity counting the days until a trip to the store to get the right size of coffee filters (no K-cups here) doesn’t require a week of planning and a two day trip. (for the record, as a custodian of taxpayer funding I would always combine such a trip with other important business, like getting a haircut…)

The basic answer is that there are just a lot of interesting/cool things going on.

First and foremost, Afghans are wonderful people and live in a stark, but beautiful country. As some of my pictures show, the mountains here are covered in snow, but the donkeys don’t mind.  If I took better pictures you would notice that the local people in these picture look different – more asian.  They are in fact Hazara – a historically persecuted minority that lives in the far west of Parwan adjacent to the better-known province of Bamiyan, home of the two thousand year old giant Buddha statues that the Taliban are infamous for blowing to bits during their reign of terror. Hazaras are believed to be descended from Genghis Khan and his henchmen who swept through Afghanistan a few centuries back.

As I may have mentioned, Afghans (like most non-American cultures) have a far stronger sense of history than we do.  In a recent incident, my boss started giving me annoyed/disappointed looks because my pre-brief left him totally unprepared when a lunch conversation with the governor turned to the subject of “the Chinese minority” and their role in local politics. Just before I raised my hand to interrupt to self-immolate by interrupting him and asking him just who the heck these Chinese people are, it became clear that he was saying the Mongols, and in fact meant the Hazaras, though his word choice implied that they are still considered outsiders having settled here a mere 800 years or so ago…

The preferred modes of transportation in Afghanistan
Toyota Hilux, Armored Vehicle or Donkey

But I digress. The Hazaras live in the far west of Parwan, and I was very pleased that my inaugural mission in 2011 took me to the far edge of Parwan, well beyond the limits of previous trips in that direction. Having suffered badly under the Taliban, the Hazaras are also quite friendly to “coalition forces” and were glad to see us and speak with us.

OK , OK this is a repeat
it's the Alexander the great fort in a new season

Another neat thing of course is the machinery of war. Like all small boys (and we’re all small boys) I am genetically hardwired to find guns interesting, helicopters fascinating, and explosions awesome.  As a result, coming back into this environment I still get a kick that the guy across from you in the cafeteria is carrying a weapon that fires a .50 caliber round (which can easily disable a car) and can be programmed to have that round explode at a specified distance, effectively giving them the ability to hit target hiding behind walls or corners at a distance of several hundred meters. I will say that the cool factor is significantly elevated by the fact that my team has this capability, and the enemy does not. Similarly, confident in the knowledge that the Taliban lack an air force, I could relax and enjoy a live-fire exercise which basically consisted of blowing large and medium-sized rocks on the mountain behind our base into small and tiny sized rocks. I will say that the mere sound of a helicopter letting loose with either its “cannon” or missiles would be more than enough to send me running to the peace table. 

Regrettably, I made the mistake of making an important telephone conversation after I thought that the gravel production practice was finished.  I've been trying to replace my Afghan assistant, and was doing a phone interview with the most promising candidate.  Halfway through a nice conversation both my Korean hosts and the American helicopters moved on to joint firing exercises with the result that I had to pause for a moment as the combined sound and vibrations from multiple heavy caliber weapons and missile strikes drowned out my erstwhile new assistant. Hearing the "uhhhh is everything OK" at the other end of the line I was sure I'd just lost my big fish of the day and quickly explained that our "shock and awe" campaign was purely pre-emptive in nature, then fibbed about calling from outside (it was plenty loud in my office) and did my best to minimize the background noise and finish the call before the mortar outside my office got put in play and destroyed my credibility entirely. To his credit, his enthusiasm never dipped as we finished our talk about what a peaceful province this is, but my fingers will remain crossed until he signs on the dotted line.

Parwan Gravel Pit

Last but not least, and perhaps most surprisingly, is the cuisine. Although there are definitely meals that help me make good on my more ambitious New Years resolutions, I genuinely missed not only my daily dose of BSM (had to throw a few acronyms back at you), but what is fondly known by my younger and more muscular Army brethren as “rabbit food”.  Additionally, the age-old tradition of surf and turf for the grunts is alive and well, and my friends in low places hooked me up with a lobster tail and steak dinner to spare me from what was apparently a very meager offering at the rabbit hutch.

Life is Good
(despite my technical difficulties loading this picture)

So, I’m back, no better than before, but hopefully no worse, and with a commitment (read New Years resolution) to step up the pace on the blog, so stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome Back! Great post! Fascinating about the 800 year settlement and the people still being considered outsiders. Looking forward to more!