Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Holidays

Oh the weather outside is frightful... well, no, that's a lie. I can still wear short sleeves during the hottest part of the day, but at night it's consistently been below the freezing point, and I find ice on the ground as I walk to work whenever I have the early shift. All the same, the holidays are here, and it's been very evident since December started.

For instance I was walking to work early one morning when I noticed an inordinate amount of sweaty Santas walking away from the boardwalk as I approached. The Santas per sq. ft. increased steadily as I walked to work until I came across an army of santas!
It turns out there was a Santa/Christmas 5k benefit run that morning.
There were a lot of Santas.
The Education Center's halls were then decked:
Andrea and Muhammad decorating the tree.
I put up a little Hanukkah display as well.
Then we took a professional grade seasons greetings picture from the KAF Education Center.
Seasons Greetings from the Kandahar Education Center
Then Hanukkah came!
Good God! Is that what I look like?? I've got to shave!
The first night we did a more formal thing and lit many Chanukiot, but we had a pretty good turnout every night of the holiday! We even had latkes on that Friday night!
We sang some songs.
More singing.
Told the story of Hanukkah.
The focus was far greater on Christmas around here as you can imagine. One day I came across this flyer:
A flyer for a service inside the zombie church!
As I've explained before, I very much enjoy seeing how other people pray, and observe their religions, so when I saw this flyer, and with my fixation on there being an actual church here on base with a steeple and everything, I resolved to attend that service.

Conveniently, I also had the whole KAF schedule of religious services for December 24th and 25th delivered to me through the mass emailing system we've got here, so I also resolved to attend the Catholic midnight mass here that Saturday night.
Makeshift Altar with communion chalices.
When I told him I was going, my roommate and the new Text Examiner here, Bert, decided to come with me to the midnight mass. It was a nice service with a lot of focus on praying for world peace and juxtaposing those prayers against the backdrop of our locale.

Finally it was time to face my fears, and go to Romanian Church.
Who knows what I'll find on the other side of that barbed wire fence? Romania is where Transylvania is located...
Oh... this doesn't look too scary... I assume that means Merry Christmas.
So far it looks like a regular old church... no zombies to speak of...
Oh wow... not at all what I was expecting
The history of the Romanian Church on KAF.
I've been to a bunch of Eastern Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, and I know some of the traditions behind Eastern Orthodoxy, so it wasn't entirely alien to me. Some things are pretty obvious like the serious focus on iconography (the little paintings of all the saints/disciples/representations of god/angels seen in the picture of the sanctuary above). One interesting tidbit is whenever you see a picture with someone holding a model of the church you're standing in, that's a picture of the people responsible for the construction of that church being honored in a painting.
I assume they didn't actually dress like that, but maybe they did?
I didn't stay for the whole service, but that, too, was very nice. Then it was time for lunch and something caught my eye on the way in. Take a look:
Did you catch it?
Oriental bar! Clearly someone way up in the pecking order of whoever is in charge of what we eat around here was thinking about the Jewish residents of KAF, and making the oriental bar an option allowed us to celebrate according to our ancient traditions.

Once again in the DFAC we were treated to the artistic culinary decorations like the vegetable bouquet and so on.
And there you have it!

Happy Holidays from Kandahar!

Monday, December 26, 2011


As far as I understand it, women do not like to be stared at. They're not much different from men in this regard. This fact being a given, women must have it rough here. Keep in mind that women are outnumbered by men by a very wide margin, and also keep in mind the (sort of) ban on sexual relationships in the region, which adds a forbidden fruit angle added to the situation. Women are like unicorns here - if you see one it's hard to look away. That is not to say that women need to be treated like Selma Hayak in any one of her roles as seems to be the case.

When walking with some of the ladies of the Education Center I've gotten an idea of what it must be like to be a woman on base from the perspective of a woman walking (or someone next to that woman walking). Turns out it is really easy to detect the watchful eyes of everyone you pass. Perhaps they could be a bit more subtle, but when it's coming from all directions, I doubt that even if more effort was put into discretion it would much change the plight of the women.

I do try my best to not fall into the habit of staring, but it's hard.

There's a famous photograph taken soon after WWII of an American woman walking down an Italian street. The photo is called "American Girl in Italy", and I think it captures the status of women here on KAF very well.
Picture might as well be titled "Any Girl in any Setting in Which Men are not Afraid to Get Caught Staring"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Honor First Coffee Second

Because so many vices are strictly against the rules here under the umbrella of the US military, the two most popular ones that are not forbidden are caffeine and tobacco. People become experts in what's available to them, so clearly there's a hierarchy of what's considered good in these vices. Far and away the number one choice for a very long time was Tim Horton's coffee.
How do I miss thee? Let me count the ways... I guess it would be one... I miss you one way...
Tim Horton's closed two weeks ago very sadly. With Timmy H, I got into the specialty drinks I'm ashamed to say (normally I'm a regular coffee kind of guy). Not that it has anywhere near as ridiculous a menu as Starbucks does, but they carry a french vanilla cappuccino that is out of this world. I went there every day for the last two weeks they were here. Probably haven't spent more money anywhere else on KAF (and I'm pretty sure the prices were lower here than in Canada). I was never much for Tim Horton's in the past, but you can bet it now holds a special place in my heart. I'll remember fondly my days spent in Kandahar as I order my french vanilla cappuccino and a white-chocolate macadamia nut cookie sometime in the future.

One notch down on the list of coffee available here are the two British coffee places. One of these is the Heroes Cafe where they sometimes sell the lox bagel. I hear they even do a trivia night over there. It's pretty solid.
NAAFI is like the British AAFES
See? These places are like legitimate coffee houses.
The next tier down in the echelons of coffeedom here are the Coffee Time, and the Green Beans Coffee Company. These are franchises that sort of follow the military wherever they go. They have locations in most large-ish bases in the country and were all over Iraq as well. There's a coffee cup sleeve that sort of sums of the view of coffee around here:
It speaks for itself.
After the actual coffee places comes the various forms of home-brew or instant coffees. Most in-demand would be the K-cups that you put into keurig coffee makers. They seem to be a bit impractical for the average consumer (like nearly a dollar/cup for a brew-at-home thing? that's a little ridiculous), but if the military is providing them then great! They come in all sorts of flavors so they have a sort of inner-heirarchy of themselves.
My secret stash of chocolate glazed doughnut coffee (upper-right) is the envy of all of KAF!
I try and limit my coffee/caffeine intake as much as possible, it's hard sometimes.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Microcosm: A Study of Life on KAF through Film and Television

Imagine, if you will, a community. This community consists of people from all over the world. There are barely any members of the community under the age of 18, or over the age of 60, with the vast majority of its members falling within the ages of 20 and 40. There is no unemployment. Obesity is extremely low. The passport ownership rate is nearly 100%. Men outnumber women 8 to 1... maybe by even more.

This is what the population of KAF looks like to me. I didn't perform a survey or anything, the data is simply drawn from estimates from my observations. Also, it's now been four months since I've been outside the 1-mile radius circle with my bedroom at its center, so I've become intimately familiar with the landscape within that circle. Some faces stick out - like the ones I pass at the same times every day.

Before I came here it was suggested to me that life here would be like Groundhog Day, because of the repetitive schedule. I'll sometimes extrapolate the deep thoughts I've had on that film into my experience here. For Instance: How long would it take for me to punch my equivalent of the Ned Ryerson in the face?
It would probably take longer than I'll be here so you shouldn't worry, KAF version of Ned-the head.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is trapped, if he tries to leave Punksatawney the snowstorm traps him there and no matter where he goes, he always wakes up at the bed-and-breakfast with "I Got You, Babe" playing on the radio.

Even if I wanted to, and I'm not allowed to leave KAF, but sometimes when I look outside the base into the haze of dust that limits the visibility I think that if I were to head straight out into that mist, I'd wind up face to face with KAF again not unlike the TV show LOST wherein whenever a character tries to leave on any sort of craft they end up back at the Island, or (another obscure reference) that movie Identity in which the multiple personalities of a mind affected by multiple personality disorder meet at a motel and kill each other off one by one. If any characters in that film tried to drive away from the lonely motel, they'd wind up back at the motel. What I'm trying to say is, it's an overused trope, but applicable to my situation. If only there were a giant unexplained four-toed statue here on KAF...

I sometimes get the feeling that when I do leave here I'll have a sort of time management superpower, at least for a few months before I get used to regular life again. I've often run the scenario in my head of being in a job interview somewhere down the road and the interviewer telling me that I may be asked to work at odd hours. In the scenario I just laugh at this interviewer, because no schedule of hours could be odder than the one I've had here.

My Brother-in-law Paul and I had this conversation online a few weeks ago:

Paul: What do you do on weekends
Me: What's a weekend?

Right now, the concept is mind-boggling. Do you mean to tell me that there are two whole days at the end of a week, with nothing planned out? At this point, the lengthiest amount of time that I've gone without working has been 18 hours. That was way back during the government shutdown, and that was probably a one-time thing. By my calculations, the total number of hours I will have worked in seven months will be the same as working one and a fifth years of a 40-hour-a-week job. I think I'll deserve a bit of time off, but will I be able to handle time off? I won't know what to do with my time. I may have forgotten how to relax!

I'm sure I'll figure it out. If the worse comes to worst I'll just watch Groundhog day a hundred times. I friggin' love that movie.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Survival Kit

Look at this survival kit:
it may end up being the most interesting physical object I take away from my experiences in Afghanistan.

What would you expect to be in a survival kit with camo printing, that is here in Afghanistan?
I would expect some sort of high calorie snack to keep one on his or her feet probably with caffeine in it, some sort of signaling device for flagging down rescue, some sort of help with navigation/survival on/against the elements... you know, survival stuff...

I think it should've been labeled "survival kit for the soul"
Barring the violation (as I see it) of General Order number 1 in Afghanistan forbidding (among many other things) all forms of proselytizing, I think it's just plain irresponsible labeling. Imagine the poor schlub, who finds him or herself in the unfortunate situation of actually needing a survival kit like the one I described above, and thinks, "good thing they were giving out free survival kits at the chapel earlier..." I can think of no worse a cosmic practical joke to be played on said schlub.

I don't want to be finger-pointing and I'm very happy for all Christians in the theater of operations to have every available delivery method of their religion possible. I just find this particular delivery method to be a bit silly.

The silliest element of this survival kit is not, as one might suspect, the purposefully humorous book of Chuck Norris facts. No, the silliest element is the Japanese style comic book of the new testament. 
It just seems like Herod or Pontius Pilate will launch energy beams from their hands at any moment...
WAAOOW! It's Jesus!
I guess I sort of get it. Not everyone has the time or attention span to read an old and complicated translation from the original Greek, it's just the style choice of going with the Japanese style that strikes me as strange.

Should I apologize for calling this silly, and possibly offending people? Maybe. I'm sorry. Just my honest opinion.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Fall was in the air in Kandahar.
Hahaha, not really. The weather remains completely mild. It's now December and I'm still completely fine in short sleeves during daylight hours. It's only rained the two times so far.

Starting in early November something strange did start to happen, though. Grass on the boardwalk started cropping up, or getting rolled out. I didn't know how much I missed the green of a landscape with plants flourishing until I saw this synthetic astro-turf:
Grass in the courtyard of the boardwalk!
Soon enough, the grass was smeared with this black stuff. I'm told it was rubber to improve the grip of shoes on the turf. Also lines were painted on the grass.
Everyone gets where we're going with this, right?
Watch out! Watermelon Alligator!
So Thanksgiving came around. Compared to missing the Jewish High Holidays, I'm not sure if it was worse or better for me being here, but I definitely missed being with my family. Good thing I had these culinary creations to distract me:
Probably a vegetarian Alligator... but if he ate fruit, would it be cannibalism?
Fruit flowers, and fruit birds, and a bouquet made entirely of vegetables, and made entirely by the kindly people who cook the food at the DFACs in KAF. Who knew they were such artists?
I even ate some cake - which I never do.
They served what you'd expect, turkey, potatoes, 4 kinds of pie... there were things missing, and people were sad to be away from home, but they did what they could to make it special for everyone. There was even a brass band!
The Education Center staff gives thanks together.
Thanksgiving ended with something I've never done on thanksgiving - watching football!
Ohhhhhhhh, that's what the astro-turf was for...
So that was Thanksgiving. You'd think Christmas would be less of a big deal for me because I've never celebrated Christmas, but you'd be wrong. Christmas ranks among my favorite holidays - mostly because of the decorations, the songs, and the movies... it just won't be the same here...

Happy Holidays to all!