A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dog days of December

Sometimes, between the Conex containers and dilapidated buildings, even Camp Eggers can offer a glimpse of a nice wintry view...

This is a strange time of year to experience Kabul...and by "experience", I mean try to appreciate while avoiding going completely crazy.  I'm approaching 7 months of the same tiny camp -- can you blame me?

Quebecois buddy Yan Poirier says Zorro.

The nights have been cold for a while now, and since the Marine Corps didn't see fit to outfit me with the cold-weather jacket that every other Devil Dog was issued, I layer it up when I can under my utilities.  That solution will have to suffice into January, but it's no big deal -- every building of ours has heat.  It's so different than the picture that so many back home and elsewhere in the world have of service in Afghanistan...a picture that is accurate for the average Afghan.  The norm here is to conserve what fuel you have available for heating your home, or just a room of your home, in the evening and morning hours, and throw on a blanket or two to keep you through the night.  The way many of us think of operations in the field or camping trips -- that's simply life in the Winter in Afghanistan, particularly in the mountains.

Esmat demonstrates with me that cold is nothing.

Now THAT is how you filter air pollution!

More jarring than the change in weather here is air quality, which is even lower than usual.  Each evening, a fog of smoke, dust & dirt settles thickly in the air, hanging around through the early morning hours (meaning when I finish this and step outside, it will greet me again -- so I got that going for me, which is nice).  Then another full round of it sets in at sunrise and lingers for a few more morning hours, reminding you that you are breathing in particles of everything Kabul.  Fecal matter is often rumored to be one of those significant components...and when it seems like you've been breathing in a peat fire for hours, that's not hard to believe.  Just part of the fun, really (though I must admit that I sometimes enjoy the campfire smell).

Bitches be sniffin' round here! (I know, totally tasteless.) Casper was STARVING today and super attentive. She doesn't eat; she inhales.

Iranian soil, in between a few of our compounds. Go figure.

The insurgents in their nightcaps have all settled in for a long winter's nap...well, not exactly, but I had to work some holiday theme in somehow.  Although the fighting season has largely wound down in some of the most hard-fought areas (nowhere near here), the roadside bombs -- and the IEDs in canals, fields and alleys -- continue to target troops and civilians in places like Helmand and Kandahar provinces, and increasingly so in other places they have been pushed to.  Not a day goes by without a few incidents, or many.  Sometimes there are strong signs that the training effort is paying dividends.  Today could have been a spectacularly bad one for the coalition: suicide bombers in vehicles attempted to wreck havoc in both Sangin (Helmand, in the southwest) and in Kunduz (in the north).  One survived a guard's shooting to detonate, and though he wounded 5 Afghan soldiers, he claimed none beyond his own.  In the other, an alert guard shot dead the attempted killer before he could act, saving countless lives.  That actually happens more often than you may think.  Sometimes progress has to be measured in such ways, I suppose.

At ISAF, they measure progress in flags. 
The "Nordic Palace" is but one example.

This guy is as confused as I am by the sign... 
Afghanistan is puzzling?  No shit.

In my own corner of the effort to establish effective, independent and sustainable Afghan institutions, it's a helluva lot safer...though perhaps even harder to measure progress.  This past week demonstrated that all the initiatives of the moment we deem crucial to building Public Affairs capacity quickly fall by the wayside, when the spokesperson says something our generals don't like in reaction to a tragic friendly-fire incident.  Damage control mode takes over, and my job becomes an exhausting series of attempts to convince my own side that working with my advisees, who do trust me, on more effective approaches for future incidents is much more in line with our long-term goals than reverting to greater dependence, control, and ultimately, much more time spent here by others who will follow.

In the office of the great and powerful Gen. Azimi...

Continuing my Pashtun 'Stache-Off with Uncle Murad.

The passage of time gets strange at this point.  If one marks by sports season (and really, why the hell not?), I left home when the long baseball season was just beginning...and now the World Series is so far in the rearview mirror that the annual Winter Meetings have already concluded.  There are just a couple weeks of NFL action left before the playoffs, and I left prior to Spring mini-camps.  It's gotten to where I catch a rare moment of ESPN in the gym, see two cities listed on the ticker, and wonder which sport the score reflects.  But those are American pasttimes.  The big news around here was the continued success, still incredibly unlikely, of Afghanistan's national cricket team...following the much celebrated first-ever win over Pakistan in international play last month, and a second-place finish in that tournament, came the first Intercontinental Title for the Afghans!  A huge deal once again for a team born just a few years ago on trashed lots in Kabul, played only by former refugees who learned the game in Pakistan.  Now THAT is progress.
(And no, I still don't know what the hell they are talking about when describing the action...any of it.)


Anonymous Slappy aka Rik Emmet said...

"Damage control mode takes over, and my job becomes an exhausting series of attempts to convince my own side that working with my advisees, who do trust me, on more effective approaches for future incidents is much more in line with our long-term goals than reverting to greater dependence, control, and ultimately, much more time spent here by others who will follow."

When you're right, you're right. Fight the good fight, every moment ... every minute, every day.

December 11, 2010 at 6:33 PM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Taaanks, Slap...for taking such an interest, and thereby always keeping the streak of no-uncommented-posts alive!

December 29, 2010 at 11:05 AM  

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