Friday, September 30, 2011

Government Shut Down

On the very day that I watch the episode of The West Wing in which the opposing party jerks the Bartlet White House around in the budget negotiations to the point of nudging the President over the edge and him ending negotiations by welcoming a government shut down, I get the worst news we could possibly get here. We will in effect see a government shut down of funding for Army Education Centers across the board. Starting Tomorrow, the Ed Center will shut down. Here's the pivotal scene:
The actual funding process for the education centers is pretty complicated and I don't want to bore anybody, but much like the West Wing, or a real government shut down for that matter, we don't have any idea when it'll be over. The predictions are all around "a few days". Unfortunately, this will mean the closing of the education center and all of its services to service-members and civilians at KAF and throughout the country (at least - haven't heard yet about Iraq, Kosovo, Qatar, Kuwait etc.). This means no computer lab, no testing center, no counseling services, no classrooms, no nothing.

It also means no work for me. This could be a blessing or a curse. I would welcome a day or two off, but I can't imagine going for more than that at KAF without work. Crushing boredom exists just around every corner as things currently stand, and without work the wave of ennui will be overwhelming. I guess I'd get more sleep in those couple of days for sure... And I'd get in some super gym time... Maybe it won't be so bad. No, it'll be terrible if it lasts even a full week so go education center funding!

Bartlet for President.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Tales of Beardle the Beard

I've spliced into this blog portions from an online conversation I had with my friend Seth about my recent beard situation. Also, for reference, here's what I look like when I'm clean shaven:
I'm in the where's waldo sweater. There's Seth on the left. Also there's Ari and Willie. Props to the crew. And to melt, and to trivia night.
jlk: I forget what my face's skin feels like
not with my hands
but I forget what feeling things on my face feels like
there's a protective shell
sas: haha
jlk: like if you wear a ring too long and take it off it feels all tingly because you're not used to things touching your finger
that's what it's totally going to be like when I shave
sas: definitely
jlk: in six months

I stopped shaving during the last week of my training in Germany. That would mean my beard has been continuously growing since around August 1st. At the time of this posting, that means the beard is nearly two months old. I've gone for longish periods of time without shaving in the past, but my record had never passed the five week mark. Here are some pictures from past beard growing periods (for some reason it very often coincides with AEPi's winter semi-formal and also ends with a fu manchu and then a mustache):
Freshman year at OSU I went two weeks without shaving - thought it was pretty cool - retro phone.
jlk: It's going to be beardtober followed by novembeard and decembeard. janbeardary
sas: hahaha
jlk: Febeardary
im trying to say "there will be beard"
sas (sarcastically, I suspect): It's crazy how beard fits into all these months. It's not forced at all
AEPi winter formal 2009.
We are schnazzy dudes.
jlk: beard diamond
rambo: first beard
the winter of our beard content
the lord of the beard the return of the beard
star wars a new beard
star wars the beard strikes back
star wars return of the beard
SAS: what a beard obsessed culture we have
for a man with a handsome beard, it appears george lucas has a bit of a facial hair complex
So at the end of that iteration of the beard I shaved a K for Kramer into my chin.
Then the fu manchu.
Then the Mario.
jlk: "in cold beard"
lawrence of arabeardia
sas: are you quite finished?
jlk: no I think I can think of more
sas: well alrighty
AEPi Semi-formal 2010
As I recall, this picture was taken on the same night as the opening ceremonies for the winter Olympics, 2010.
jlk: schindler's beard
sas: there seems to be absolutely no standard for these
jlk: the three musketbeards
harry potter and the half beard prince
the old man and the beard
sas: no
I refuse to allow this to continue
This was at some themed party 2010, these girls were dressed as the three little pigs and took a picture with me because I was "the wolf".
I actually went a whole Sunday looking like this because I thought it was funny.
jlk: beard-22
sas: no
Wow! A lot of people making it to the blog today.
jlk: the beardfather
sas: there needs to be some standard
Time for a change!
In the past, just by looking the way I do, I've been mistaken for all sorts of nationalities: All sorts of Middle Eastern... Italian, Spanish, Greek etc. It has something to do with the darker complexion and the scruff. I walk into a Lebanese felafel place and they greet me in Lebanese Arabic. At the Cleveland JCC I am greeted in farsi because an Iranian guy just thinks I look like I speak his language. At Arlington cemetery, a tour guide simply starts speaking Italian to me and so on. How have my Polish, Russian, Hungarian genes produced this chameleon of Indo-European nations? The world may never know. 

jlk: indiana jones and the temple of beard
sunset beardevard
the princess beard
it's a wonderful beard
beard for vendetta
sas: ok i'm leaving now
Mario makes another appearance.
jlk: the beard brothers (the blues brothers)
the bearddock saints
come on that one was really good!
beauty and the beard
sas: nope, you ruined it
So this is what I looked like when I first arrived at KAF.
Funny anecdote: At age 16, I was nicknamed Old Man Kramer on a camping trip (and a song was written to the tune of "old man river") because over the six days of the trip I became quite the scruffy kid.

sas: all subsequent good ones after the initial bad ones lose their goodness
jlk: oh come on
some of them were great!
sas: schindler's beard????
list to beard
jlk: that one is funny because of its absurdity!
sas: nope

Now I'm here in Afghanistan. I've grown a beard because I'm less concerned about appearances than say in a normal work environment, and I find shaving to be a time-consuming chore during which my face rarely escapes unscathed (see picture above in which I shaved a K into my chin).

Here's an oft-quoted beard-related youtube video:

jlk: elie wiesel's beard.
sas: beard instead of night?
jlk: yeah
sas: oy
jlk: I know
About a week after arriving in KAF.
jlk: the good the beard and the ugly
sas: that one would be good
if you hadn't ruined it
jlk: and granted I screwed up earlier with star wars
it should've been the empire strikes beard
sas: well you blew it

I've been telling people that I'm growing a beard in solidarity with myself, like all those causes and sports related periods of time that people will grow beards for... mostly I'm just seeing how far I can go with it before it gets too far out of hand or I get too bored with it. I know that I'll never beat the record I'm setting of longest-I've-ever-gone-without-shaving, barring my becoming a monk or joining some sort of cult.
Skype photo taken a few weeks into my downrange experience.
For now, my beard isn't functional, but in just a few weeks it'll be very useful keeping my face warm. It gets pretty cold here at night already - into the 50s. We're still breaking 90 degrees F every day though. I'm told it gets down to the 30s in the middle of winter.
A-OK in Afghanistan!
This one time while I was driving around the base trying to find some supply tent somewhere when I pulled into what was clearly not what I was looking for and a TCN (third country national) from somewhere in the Near East politely listened to me ask him for directions. He gestured vaguely in a nondescript direction (in many cultures over here it is uncommon for someone to admit that they don't know the answer to your question) and before I pulled away he said to me in highly accented English "I think you are Pakistan".

jlk: dr. strangelove: how I learned to stop worrying and love the beard
sas: again would be good
but you ruined it
jlk: to kill a mockingbeard
come on! I've improved!
sas: true but you cant unruin the ruined
A couple of weeks ago.
Another time, I was sitting at my desk in the computer lab and Christian brings a couple of Afghan men who spoke English pretty decently. One of them turned to me before sitting down to a computer and greeted me in Pashto, the local language. This isn't uncommon, many of the shop owners at the bazaar greet me in Pashto, my normal response is a nod and a "hello", but this time he was waiting for a real interaction. I just said "good evening". The man was really startled. He asked, "You are not Afghan?" "No, I'm from Ohio". "Oh! I think you are Kandahari (from Kandahar City which is the second largest city in Afghanistan) and if you are not Kandahari I think you are something close like Palestina'i (Palestinian)".

jlk: beardrunner
the tales of beardle the beard
million dollar beardy
bringing up beardy
three men and a beardy
the beard ultimatum
the incredibeards
a beard's life
ok I think I'm done
for real

At this point my eyes lock with Christian's and I give him a death stare. It's not beneath Christian to make candid jokes about my being Jewish, often to the discomfort of anyone else around. Have I mentioned he spent a few months in Tel Aviv learning Hebrew? Also, several years in Beirut as a journalist. It's not that I thought the man was going to get into a discussion about Israel and Palestine with me right there, but I didn't want to risk it. Christian just smiled back at me. Later, he said he wasn't planning on saying anything about it - but I'm not so sure. The man just went about his business on a computer - shaking his head in disbelief that he and I weren't from the same country.
This is what I look like driving around the base. Just smiling my day away.
I'm not sure yet just how long I'll keep this beard thing going. The shock value of being able to see my friends and loved ones' faces when they see me those first few days I'm back in a few months would be very high, but I'm not positive it's worth 6 or 7 months of beard growing for it...

jlk: les miserabeard
nailed it.
sas: a good one to end on

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Graffiti and Zombies

I see enough interesting graffiti art all around KAF to make it blog worthy.
Some unit's decal.
Stop signs are a popular place for graffiti -many of them make reference to something called hammertime - what time is that? Just kidding.
Can't tell if the plane is coming or going.
The place is pretty graffiti conducive with all of the concrete barriers around...
Thundercats! Ho!
I like the cultural references.
This one is both a reference to The Shining and Johnny Carson... get it?
One of my favorites, Ron Burgundy shows up all over KAF.
Most of the graffiti consists of stencils and decals like above, but there are a few that are a bit more impressive like these:
Very impressive.
Outside the french PX/cafe.
If this were 40 plus years ago these graffiti pieces would make cartoon wolves go like this.
I pass this collection every day on my way to work.
That last one has a good point. Not because there are hordes of walking dead attempting to eat all of our brains of which we should be wary, but because those hordes wouldn't feel out of place here. Bleak landscape, lots of concrete, place is divided into sectors, large speakers giving us announcements with creepy echo effects, no entrance or exit... I'm told it bears a resemblance to the resident evil series, but I've never seen or played those.

Couple all of this with an active imagination and you get all sorts of fun scenarios running in my head of what would make a good setting or more dramatic post-apocalyptic imagery. Look at this church:
Not scary.
Ok, it's not very scary. You can't really tell that it's the creepiest church I've ever encountered. It's within the perimeter of some eastern European forces' compound and therefore surrounded by fence and barbed wire where clearly there was some bizarre experiment gone awry in which a disease was created that causes the brain to shut down almost entirely except for the motor skills required to seek out brains to eat. Also, you're not looking at it while it's at night:
click the picture to enlarge - it's hard to see.
That picture was taken from about the same angle, and as you can see it's very eerie.
One more, but this time with all the barbed wire.
In the zombie movie that takes place on KAF, there would be a climactic scene involving the church in some way.
Graffiti like this doesn't really help the situation:
Demon trying to escape from the concrete barrier
Or this one:
Clearly sector 3 is where you have to wear your gas mask.
I've grown used to it, and pictures don't really do it justice but here's some more samples of KAF at night, when the things that go bump in the night crawl out of the woodwork.
Creepy - picture taken from the roof of the Education Center.
There you have it. The art scene of KAF condensed into a blog post.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Moving the Computer Lab

It was decided long before I came to Kandahar that the computer lab was in the wrong place and instead it should be located across the deck one building over. It was rough going, but we did it.
View from my old desk.
As can be seen in the picture above, the computer booths in the Ed. Center are very large/ The booths were made out of lots of wood and were made to last. Whoever built these things decided to build them nailed and screwed together every which way so the only way to move them was to strip a lot of wood off and really rip them apart. Here are the highlights (pictures were taken on the Ed. Center's camera by Dee, the education services officer - pretty sure the flash was turned off so it's sorta blurry).

So first we unplugged everything and got it out of there. Then it looked like this:
But as you can see, there are still wires connected.
Those wires were built into the computer desks.So we got to the nitty gritty. There were a lot of jokes made about Jews doing manual labor... to be fair, I started it.
Assessing the situation.
Into action.
Christian takes a break.
Paul steps in.
No no no! This one goes here, that one goes there.
Meanwhile, decisions were being made about how to wire the new computer lab.
"I say we wire it over there"
"No! Up there!"
"Over there!"
While they were arguing, Brandan climbed on top of the roof of the deck.
Basically, he's spiderman.
Mission Accomplished.
While all this was going on I was still trying to get the wire's out from the desks.
Knees starting to hurt.
Finally it was all ready for the hardest part - actually moving them:
Starting to come together.
Dee and Major Wishart in the new computer lab, sans computers.
Now it's been nearly 2 weeks in the new computer lab and the new location has got its perks and drawbacks. Here's the new view from my work station:
The end.