Sunday, February 26, 2012

The End.

This song pretty accurately and awesomely sums up how I feel:
This, compared to how I felt when I first got here:
So long, Afghanistan...
It's been fun.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rocket Attack Part 3


There was a rocket attack earlier this week, the same night as trivia night at the British coffee place. It took place early enough in the day that it didn't conflict at all with attending trivia night. On the walk back to our rooms from the British compound, one of the people I was walking with said they had been relieved when trivia night wasn't interrupted at all by the rocket alarm. I had to think, "was that today?". I had been so unconcerned by the rocket attack, that I had forgotten that it even took place.

That's definitely the strangest part about the rockets. Not the fact that they exist, or the sound of explosions in the distance, not the physical danger, but how used to them we all become. I'm rereading what I wrote about rocket attacks back in September/October and it's as though someone else wrote those words.

At Shabbat dinner this past Friday, the alarm went off and nobody even ducked to the ground, (I usually do, but since nobody else was doing it I didn't want to look like a loser). As it turned out the explosion sounded to us louder than average and people regretted not having ducked. They resolved then to always duck, but who knows if they'll stick to it or not?

I don't want to scare people too much so I'll clarify - an explosion can sound extra loud even if it's a mile or more away, especially on a cool clear day as last Friday was.


Today I and someone else who works at the Education Center happen to be at the COMKAF (basically KAF headquarters) getting approval for some flyers to be put up on the boardwalk. While she was in the office getting these flyers approved I heard from a nearby office the sound of someone over a radio saying "Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!". I figured, hey, wow! I'm right next to where some mission is being carried out over the radio! It wasn't until when we were leaving the building that the rocket alarm went off and I realized that what I was hearing was the process that leads up to the alarm going off. That was a pretty fascinating coincidence.


A while back, while driving somewhere or another on base we came across some of the more interesting pieces of graffiti art on KAF. It's one of the bunkers painted to look like a quaint little house. Inspecting it more closely led to the discovery of more and more decorations. Apparently someone had gotten bored of staring at the plain concrete inside of the bunker several hours per week and had done something about it. There's plenty of art, a table and benches to sit on inside, and a light switch rigged for night hours spent in the bunker. Enjoy:
Finally! A NAME I can put to some of the artwork around KAF.
For a few more visuals involving the rocket attacks, click HERE.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rocket Attack Part 2


Last night there was a USO show. The show was pretty good... meh it was alright. Anyway, I was there to see the comedian. He was doing pretty well up until the wail of the rocket attack alarm went off about 3/4th of the way through his set. Then he bombed... Haha! Zing!

Obviously he wasn't used to the threat of a rocket being aimed at the compound he's visiting so the sight of the 800 or so attendees of the show sprawled out in front of him all hitting the deck surprised him a bit. With the microphone still at his mouth we all hear him say, "Oh, Shit!" over the speakers. One audience member yelled out, "every damned time!" in frustration.

The evacuation plan for the boardwalk went steadily and smoothly with us all being ushered to rise at the same time and head towards the exits, when another rocket attack is signaled and we lay flat once more. Finally we all get out and headed towards the bunkers.


Yesterday, I was skyping with a friend of mine and the rocket attack alarm went off. It was the first time that the alarm has gone off while I've been skyping with someone back home. I felt bad that someone saw me duck down to kneel while maneuvering the computer mouse to hang up on her for the couple minutes before I could call her back. I hate to worry people - especially as watching me crouch down is not by any means a representation of our level of physical danger here, which is actually quite small.


I find myself thinking a lot about the short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. SPOILER ALERT: if you do not wish to have the surprise ending ruined for you do not continue with this blog post until you read the short story (click the link to get to it - it's not very long). In it, a small American town draws lots to determine who will be the one member of the community stoned to death to ensure a good harvest for the year. The character who is selected in the end has the final line of the story and it's this: "It isn't fair, it isn't right."

I don't actually think of my decision to come here in this way, nor do I believe in human sacrifice to ensure a prosperous harvest, but I keep coming back to the idea that living here on KAF is like putting your name down for a lottery. It's morbid, and to talk about life in these terms to anyone who lives here would some sort of breach in etiquette, but we are all in a lottery of sorts.


Amid a period during which there have been relatively few rocket attacks, one went off while I was in the gym a few days back. I'm hardly fazed anymore, but there was something different about this one. It's very rare to be huffing and puffing doing cardio - and then suddenly be lying motionless on the ground - it felt weird, and you're supposed to do a cool-down and I can't believe the taliban would be so inconsiderate to my leg muscles...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rocket Attack Part 1

Pre-post apology: I'm sorry I kept the subject of the following few posts a secret from pretty much everyone I know. I asked for friends and family to not keep secrets from me while I was away, and I was keeping my own and that's not fair. I was trying to protect people from stress thereby protecting myself from the added stress of other people stressing.

Most of this post was written in September, 2011.

"Rocket Attack. Rocket Attack." So says the cool, calm, and collected British lady's voice over the loudspeakers strategically placed all over the base as a wavering siren blares. People say they get used to and disregard the warnings earnestly being thrust upon us by the powers that be. They even see the alarms as a nuisance to be ignored, rather than the way I see them: an instant jump in heart rate - followed by an intense suppression of a freakout-reflex that I was hardly even aware that I had before I got here.

When this happens, a thought always runs through my mind: "What the hell am I doing here?!"

In truth, the periodic rocket attacks here aren't anything to be really afraid of, not if you have any faith in statistics. If there are 30,000 people who live and work on the base, and you have an equal chance of being harmed by them as everyone else does, you're probably more likely to die in a car crash in the states than in a rocket explosion in Kandahar... and that's what's going through my mind as I turn on my iPod to pass the time spent in the concrete bunker we are meant to stay in until we are given the signal to head back to whatever it is we were doing before Taliban insurgents decided to interrupt our day... how rude.

I've had some hilarious conversations in the bunker. It's like a mixer due to unfortunate circumstances. Most conversations limit themselves to small-talk. Sometimes they evolve into philosophical or shared-interest discussions. One time with the service members who live in my mod building with me, we discussed what would be an incredible irony: if a rocket attack actually hit one of the Muslim prayer centers on KAF. Not that we wished harm on anyone inside any of these centers - but the very idea of the supreme irony tickled us.

I imagine the rockets launched towards KAF can most easily be compared to the rockets launched from Gaza into Southern Israel over the last few years. In sophistication, and method of detection and protection from danger, the situations are a alike.

There are plenty of youtube videos out there relating to the Kandahar rocket attacks and here are some of them:

These guys happen to be outside of KAF at the same time as rockets were falling exactly where they were, and they had a video camera rolling.
In another group, someone had the presence of mind to grab a video camera to document the evacuation to the bunker when the rocket alarm sounded.
Some people have a sense of humor about the whole thing:
Here's what it sounds like when the rocket alarm goes off (this was a test).
And here's what the all clear sounds like when the danger has passed.
Someone even created a KAF rocket attack alarm remix:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Philosophical Discussions at the Kandahar Auto-Shop

"People are the same wherever you go" is a line from Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder's "Ebony and Ivory". Observe:
As ridiculous as that video may be, I've found that one line to hold true in most cases. The best example of this I encountered at the Al Hadi Auto Repair shop on KAF. A quick word about Al Hadi - it's a group of Afghans and TCNs (Third Country Nationals) who are incredible workers. Most efficient group on KAF as far as I'm concerned.

Last time I went to bring the Ed. Center's vehicle for maintenance I was greeted warmly (as is always the case) with many handshakes and small pleasantries, but this time I was going to be in there for a while - needed an oil chance, rotating the tires, radiator needed replacing etc. I really got down to talking with one of the interpreters for the Al Hadi workers.

His name is Mahmoud and he's from Eastern India. He's a few years older than me, has many sisters (although a few more than the number of sisters I have, which is three) all of them married, all living all over this side of the world. There the similarities start, my sisters each live in a different city and are all each in a wide variety of fields and situations. He is single, albeit waiting for a semi-arranged marriage by his parents (there's a difference, but if my parents had there way it probably wouldn't be), and says he's unencumbered by the responsibilities of having a family and so he is free to seek out an adventurous opportunity like coming to Afghanistan - now I'm reeling and break down and tell him, "we are the same".

Without my beard, I suspect we'd even look alike. The similarities just kept on coming. His parents wanted him first to be a doctor of some kind followed by a lawyer or some other profession requiring lots of extra schooling, which he still may pursue some day. I'm practically speechless.

Neither of us breach the topic of religion (I'm fairly certain based on several things that he comes from a Muslim family), but I'm sure we'd find further similarities there as well. The song Ebony and Ivory gets stuck in my head when he starts talking about how hard it is to get his whole family together at a given point when this one lives there and that one lives there. I'd try to rewrite the lyrics but I guess I would just replace the title words to "Mahogany and Cherryyyyyyyy" continuing on the theme of nice furniture building materials and skin colors...

People really are the same wherever you go.


I've come across a few people here whose personalities make it a surprise for me to find them here. Not wanting to use any real names I've chosen to use the euphemism "Dexter".

If you bring a (large) set of matching luggage filled with mostly clothing that needs to be dry cleaned- you might be a Dexter.

If you can't stand to have your living quarters inspected/electrical work done in your corner of a shared room... you might be a Dexter... (see below)
Apparently the Dexter in this case couldn't handle the idea of his area being violated in order to install internet in the room...
... so he made these feelings clear by spelling them out with sticky notes on his walls.
If you make more or less a speech about how much you've grown in your experience in Afghanistan especially in your teamwork skills, and then not more than a half an hour later say that you don't care what the majority opinion is, or the fact the no one else wants it - for movie night we are watching an artsy french movie that my girlfriend sent me because it's my choice and only mine... you might be a Dexter...

If you are so passive-aggressive, that one might call you aggressively passive-aggressive... you might be a Dexter.

I guess it's not too surprising that personalities like these crop up downrange. You have to be a little wacky to even consider doing something that takes you to Afghanistan for 4-6 months at a time and the people who are a little wacky in one way may spill over in their wackiness into several other categories of wackiness.

That having been said, to successfully traverse a situation in which you may be both working 12 hours/day with the same people AND sharing living quarters with the same people, one must have impeccable compromising and accommodating skills. Skills that I've found are not possessed by everyone.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Six Month Contractversary

Wow, It flew by! I'm not quite finished - I extended my tour by about three weeks in order to make my travel plans afterwards easier, but it's been whole six months since I started out for Kandahar!

The Continued Tales of Beardle the Beard
I've discovered that having a great big bushy beard has at least one completely ridiculous perk aside from inadvertently storing food that I was trying to eat for later and that is it can be used as storage space for writing utensils and other similarly shaped objects.
Twenty total pens and other such objects! And yes, that IS a candy cane!
Another set of before and after pictures:
I have ALLL the permissions!
One of my many accolades for growing an awesome beard:
No, this is a joke from a friend - but can you imagine?
Seemingly, there is no end to the found art splayed across Kandahar Airfield.
It's your patriotic duty.
Being protective concrete wall can be very rewarding.
Poo Pond
Now there's a third major gym on KAF.
Countdown Mode
I'm clearly not the only one excited to leave.
Well, Kandahar, it's been a good run, but now it's nearly time to say goodbye. It's been real. I'll mostly think of you fondly.

Whenever I'm counting down to a big change, I get the song "one day more" from Les Miserables stuck in my head. Enjoy:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Alien Landscape

Over the months, I've collected a lot of pictures that wouldn't fit into any individual post, so I mushed them all together into this post. Although, I've gotten pretty used to the locale that is Kandahar, I'm still struck sometimes by how strange what I'm looking at should seem, so I'll snap a picture of that thing.
Power cables don't really make KAF unique, but sometimes they strike me as picture-worthy.
I wouldn't be surprised if this was once a watering hole for the area wildlife, now it's a driving range every once in a while for those who love golf enough to get clubs and balls shipped here.
Some things look like they actually are from an alien landscape.
This is the sun. Some days, it's so dusty you can look right at it without even a trace of glare.
The roads can be treacherous when wet.
It snowed for a few minutes the other day!
...of course it was all melted an hour later, but still - snow!