Sunday, July 1, 2012

No Primary Attachments

One of the most interesting parts of life in a confined space is the interpersonal dynamics which evolve.

Living in a "fishbowl" is not an uncommon experience in the Foreign Service; indeed, many of the expat communities we have been a part of over the years were effectively much smaller than my circle of acquaintances at the PRT, on Bagram and at the Embassy.

All the same, the mix of stress, nationalities, and weapons make for a pretty weird dynamic, and each location is itself unique.  FOB Shangri-la is almost eerily calm, relaxed, and peaceful with the luxuries of space, a great view and the Koreans insisting on maintaining a 5-day workweek, holding church services and otherwise making things about as "normal" as possible. 

BAF is hectic, brusque, and militarized and I get stir-crazy there despite the availability of Pizza Hut, a free movie theater, and the closest thing to mall you'll find in Afghanistan.

The Embassy takes the cake for oddity and population density - making it my least favorite spot, despite it having a pool (which I've not yet used) that is the source of endless ribbing by military colleagues. It is commonly and aptly described a third-world country club/construction site. It takes about 24 hours to test drive all of the dining facilities (the neighboring ISAF compound has easily the best chow), find the post office and otherwise experience life in the big city. Then you settle into the life of the thousand plus full-time residents, of working, or at least hanging out in the office for a long day, then sampling the nightlife. 

This is when those awkward dynamics can come into play and you see the effects of stress and monotony. Truth is, I don't have crazy tales to tell about shenanigans at the "Duck and Cover" as the Embassy bar is known. Of course that is probably due to my decision to "duck and cover" back to my own hooch before anybody progressed from merely goofy to embarrasing or offensive.

Mostly though, what is evident is the odd combination of comraderie and distance. I had a total stranger buy me a beer simply because I was a friend of his friend (by virtue of having been in the same training class 16 years ago and trading emails at least twice in the intervening years...).  Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining.  At the same time though there is a staleness to the predictable track of conversation which I am convinced stems from all of us wanting a measure of companionship but limiting almost all of our conversations to a superficial level due to the transience of our stay and the high improbability that circumstance and inclinations will combine to allow a genuine friendship to flourish. Consequently, a conversation typically starts with work, takes an obligatory meander into how the family is, and then often stalls out, or is replaced with an extended discussion of the local cat population, or a similarly marginal topic of conversation.

A friend (yes they do still exist) explained it simply as a result of the fact that few of us have any "Primary Attachments" so we drift around our fishbowl passing our time with pleasant chatter, time-consuming hobbies (like exercise), and work.

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