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...

Friday, December 31, 2010

Salaam alaikum, 2011

My favorite from 2010: The Lineup

It's the first minutes of 2011 in Kabul...and I find that when you consider time, it's weird enough that we make such a big deal out of one moment of a year, and even more so when the entire culture of our hosts doesn't recognize anything significant at all taking place except a new day about to begin (it doesn't change over to solar year 1390 until March).  Here at Camp Eggers, there was some sort of party being held...but honestly, a New Year's Eve party bereft of alcohol makes about as much sense to me as Christmas without gifts, Thanksgiving without turkey, Halloween without a costume, or Labor Day without rest.  And since I did all of those and more, I'm good on short-changing holidays for now, thank you!

Downtown Kabul, late December 2010
Why study hard when you can learn tricks?
And who do you think the English "Stop" is for?
"What is wrong with you people? It's still 1389!"

I don't know about most...judging by what I saw of the camp, the majority were sticking to their usual early bedtimes.  I simply went up to the roof of my work building around midnight, lit up a Swisher Sweet (classy, I know -- failed to plan ahead for a cuban or anything), popped open a nonalcoholic Beck's, and stood around freezing for a while with some sailors and airmen who work in the Public Affairs Office for the command.  Unlike all of those scenes on CNN of every capital city bursting into a party at the stroke of midnight, Kabul was completely and utterly silent.  Honestly, it was refreshing to have a year change over without one of those silly countdowns, which always amuse the hell out of me in a grotesque sort of way.  Have you ever stood on the fringes of a party and simply watched as a roomful of people frantically count down to midnight?  It's fascinating!  But knowing that I could have been doing one of those silly countdowns as it's led by Phish, in Madison Square Garden, with my younger brother...well, that was harder to stomach.  Still, this one will be memorable in its own way.  That is, if the homecoming tour doesn't demolish my memory entirely.

Taliban? Haqqani? Nope, just government thugs. Whew.

Traffic jams in Kabul are fierce...

...and omnipresent.

So what's going on around here as the western calendar turns, you ask?  In Kabul, it's politics, politics, and...did I say politics?  Everything is political in nature here: the alliances, the business relationships, foreign policy, monetary policy, social policy, and on it goes.  Within the bubble, it can be very difficult to gauge how things look to the commanders, foot soldiers, aid workers and others in the field...and as a few seasoned reporters have pointed out, it remains night and day: you get one story in the capital, you see another in the provinces.  Now and then, a piece of journalism stands out, and I thought this one to be an astute and honest look at the challenges taken on by the overall commander (and by extension, all 150,000+ NATO/US/Coalition troops and civilians here)...

Washington Post: Questions for Gen. Petraeus

Why haul around that heavy load?

Just hit the Prestige Super Market for your needs!

Chillin' at the traffic circle umbrella.

You know, I rant plenty about the frustrations of duty in Kabul...while careful always (I hope) to caveat that with the admission that we do enjoy safety and security here, compared to troops in daily danger in some places around the country.  But working under the big flagpole has its upside, which is particularly illustrated when you get to unexpectedly cross paths with some guests of the command you're happy to see around.  (What's that, a teaser?  Damn straight it is...)  Consider especially how marginalized Marines are in the joint forces commands of this city, and everywhere in Afghanistan but for Helmand (aka "Marine-istan"), with very Army-heavy ranking officers, staffs and troops...then you might understand the lift from this surprise.

General Amos, the newly minted Marine Corps Commandant, came to town the other day after spending a whirlwind Christmas visiting every command and outpost in the Southwest of Afghanistan where he could find Marines...which is a lot.  Read a bit about it here from a reporter who traveled with him:

"Say General, can you spare a jacket?"
"Suck it up, Marine."  "Aye aye, Sir!"

A sobering example of the challenges faced around the country can be found in eastern Khost province, where I spent the majority of my last tour.  I'm not sure I agree that it was a model province then, but it did seem to be relatively secure despite a long border with Pakistan, a Pashtun majority, and weak government institutions.  It then seemed to be sliding, and it's unclear still if that slide has been arrested.  This report is worth a read, as a capsule of the many unstable areas we hope to turn around...

And now for some 2010 leftovers.  There are a number of galleries I haven't even sorted through enough to post yet, but a select shot from here or there couldn't hurt.  Here are some of the moments from the past year I don't think I've shared (if I'm wrong, it could have something to do with staying up until 3 am every night)...

No man is an island, unless he wants to be.

The great mosque, downtown Kabul

Helicopter housing an internet cafe, Shamshad TV

Palaces of old...
(Darul Aman, the King's Palace, in ruins)

Palaces new.
(Kabul Shahan, one of many glitzy wedding halls)

Still packin' heat, but in civvies...
(the only time in the past 8 months!)

Pam's photograph: She gets a sly smile from Minister of the Interior 
(and former Chief of Staff of the Army) Bismullah Khan Mohammady

A lazy cat amused us for hours at the Gandamack...

...while I amused myself with an ancient British arsenal.
Those Brits and their colonialism...will they ever learn? ;)

Happy New Year, loyal readers!


Blogger yomistast said...

Happy New Year Jagran Half Brain! Ry and Jules were convinced they would make it up to 12. Ryan crapped out at 10:25 and Julia passed out at 11:54....almost made it.

We celebrated New Years like any red blooded american family- we watched Pee wee's Big Adventure and the end of the final Rocky Balboa movie. Julia doesn't want me to take boxing lessons-"my face will get bloody."

See you soon. Bday and Xmas gifts await.


January 1, 2011 at 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Hoover said...

Miss ya cuz. Caught up on the blog today. Tell me about the motorcycles there. Nice photo with the general!


Chris Huvane

January 1, 2011 at 12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy New Year

Chris & Tim Boyle & the entire staff and customers at
16 Prospect Winebar & Bistro
Westfield, NJ

We drank a toast to you guys last night.

January 1, 2011 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger Jami said...

I definitely agree with the whole countdown to the new year statement. My friends and I have had sort of a sick fascination with watching Dick Clark do the countdown the last few years; it's the highlight of our evening.

Thanks for sharing the articles; very interesting reads as usual. Also, great pictures (and captions) once again!

Happy New Year to you!

January 2, 2011 at 1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, brother. It's funny ... reading this post, and seeing some of your 'random' pics from the past 8 months, I can almost feel that indescribable feeling of being a "short dog" on deployment. It's almost Stockholm Syndrome, in a way ... no matter how rewarding the work might be, you're still always kind of counting down the days til you get home ... and then, when they are within arm's reach, you inexplicably get nostalgic for the place you're about to leave. Enjoy your last moments (for now?!) in the 'Stan, and we look forward to your imminent return.

January 5, 2011 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Happy new year right back at all o' youse...YoMista, yours might rank as more bizarre than mine, given your movie choices. Looking forward to the reunion!

Cousin Chris, it cracks me up to see 'Hoover', one of my nicknames too. We must share the same last name or something. I know jack about motorcycles, unfortunately. Miss you too, brotha...

Chris & Tim Boyle, and all at the Winebar & Bistro - thanks so much, and I look forward to visiting!

Jami, you've been such a sweet supporter of this deployment. Thanks so much!

Slappy, I'm going to listen to some Stockholm Syndrome now. Taaaaanks, bro...

January 6, 2011 at 10:34 AM  

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