Photo Update #3

A view of the street near my office.  You can tell it would have been a very nice neighborhood in decades past.  I hope one day soon families can once again walk along these roads.

A view of the street near my office. You can tell it would have been a very nice neighborhood in decades past. I hope one day soon families can once again walk along these roads.

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Photo Update #1

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A pigeon found himself trapped in our office after flying in through the open window. I assume he made his way out eventually since he was gone later. Or, he liked the air conditioning so much he found a place to hide.

Cravings For Home

It was a warm summer evening….. That’s right, that’s how this starts.  I was sitting outside by a crackling fire-pit.  Sharing time with friends and family surrounded by trees, grass, and cheerful conversation, it couldn’t have been a more perfect evening.  A favorite pastime of mine, I happened to be in possession of a bag of marshmallows.  Nibbling away at a raw one that I decided not to roast for lack of patience, I enjoyed the squishy sugary texture of it.

I continued chewing as it got softer and softer.  But, something wasn’t right.  Within a matter of an instant, I had a strange feeling that something was wrong.  I didn’t know what, yet.  But, the flavor of this marshmallow wasn’t exactly as it was a second before.  It seemed…. different.
Within another instant, I realized that I was in a dream, but had not yet woken up.  Still chewing on a marshmallow, I had a weird image of a foam earplug go through my mind.  Very strange, but now I had a weird dream going on about chewing on a foam earplug.  We use these all the time at shooting ranges and I have a bunch of them in case I need them.  So maybe I was recalling images of earplugs because I had used them recently during training.  In fact, I had just started wearing them to go to sleep about a week ago to block out background noise and people walking through the hall.
As this strange image of me chewing on an earplug continued, it started to feel more and more realistic.  WHAT THE???…  I snapped awake lying on my right side in my ranger blanket (a very thin sleeping bag) and realized that I had one earplug in my left ear, and the other one had been completely chewed and was in my mouth with the rubber string hanging.  With a mixture of emotions including disgust at eating my own used earplug and feeling stupid about what just happened, I jumped out of bed, ran out the door barefoot ignoring the filthy floors to the nearest garbage can in the hallway, and started spitting it out until the chemical rubbery flavor in my mouth faded only a little.
I repeatedly asked myself for the next 15 minutes: “What the hell just happened?!?!”  “That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced!”
Have you ever had a rude awakening similar to this?  Please write in the comments below and tell me if I’m either uniquely weird that this happened, or do people once in a while have strange things happen during sleep?
I officially declare this my first nightmare/night terror in Afghanistan.  Please comment and let’s see if we can share some similar stories.  Happy marshmallow roasting this long weekend!  🙂

A Breath Of Fresh Air

It wasn’t long after stepping off the airplane, even before taking the first steps down the wobbly aluminum airplane stairs that I knew a different kind of air lingered in the capital city of Afghanistan.  Anybody who has ever been to Kandahar, a place I have not been to, will tell you that there is a piercing smell of sewage that plagues that southern city, only second in population size to Kabul.  I expected something similar in Kabul, where up to 3.5 million Afghans live in close quarters with little to show for a proper sewage and waste disposal system(besides the Kabul river).  That’s not exactly the case here.  With only about 15% Oxygen at this high altitude compared to 20 or 21% closer to sea level, there are many other things sharing the space in your lungs here.

There are many things that make the air quality here literally deadly(about 3,000 deaths per year linked to air pollution), the least of which is airborne feces.  There are many rumors and even official government warnings, but the science doesn’t back up that theory, and there is about as much feces in the air as there is in any other place that has birds, insects, and other animals wandering around.  Add to that the incredibly dry climate here that makes you wonder how any trees or birds are able to survive.  I’m slightly more curious that the air will smell like when fall weather comes around and Kabulis use absolutely anything and everything that is flammable for cooking and heating their homes.  One study I read suggests that approximately 1.6 million car tires are burnt annually in Kabul.  So either there are lots of cars here running on their rims (would not surprise me) or this is a viable solution that provides a source of fuel to people.  What’s left of their beautiful mountainous skyline is said to be reduced to a visibility of only a couple hundred meters when the air gets bad.
Never mind the 714 tons of Carbon Monoxide released from tires in addition to tons of other wonderful cancer causing compounds.  A lot of toxic metals come from incinerating used motor oil, which gets burned at a rate of ohhhh……only about 20 million liters a year. That leaves us with about half a ton of chromium, a quarter ton of cadmium, and in conjunction with the use of leaded gasoline, about 240 tons of airborne lead.  If I can get through this, it’ll be just me and the cockroaches after the apocalypse.
In all seriousness, I guess it’s just another part of experiencing Afghanistan.  People here are a long way  from worrying about environmental issues.  To an average family here, any source of fuel will get them through another day.  The odd time I see a patch of green grass growing under an air conditioner that’s dripping condensation and I find it’s very telling of how life is wanting to bloom, but something as simple as water is holding it back.  So many seeds and spores are lying dormant until a bit of water ignites them to life.  I’m very curious to see my first Kabul rainfall, where I imagine plants popping up everywhere, and bugs and birds buzzing around all over.  I imagine a moist freshness that smells like the pine trees just took a deep breath and exhaled their sappy aroma through the streets.  The local street cleaners with their long beards won’t be needing to walk up and down the roads with their watering cans to keep the dust down.  More likely, we will all enjoy a bit of cool rain as it relieves the heat that penetrates and accumulates in the lifeless concrete and gravel around us.

The Awkward Lull and Being Prepared

I’m still a bit hesitant to talk about security and all the bad things that Afghanistan has come to be known for in the western media.  The last thing I want to do is make people back home worried.  But the overall truth is more comforting than the uncertainty of simply counting down the days.  This country has come a long way and the national security forces are light years ahead of where a lot of people think they might be.  That doesn’t mean that things are all happy all the time.  Kabul still makes the news once in a while for attacks attributed to any number of groups trying to gain influence.  Now, that puts me in an awkward position!

I’ve been here for a couple weeks already and all I’ve come to know is the routine that I last wrote about.  I work in an office all day fighting to make MS Office co-operate.  I get to the gym at least once a day (usually twice).  I sit down for a coffee at least once a day and try to get a Skype call through to Kimberly.  And, once a day I lay down in my bed (with huge gel cushion from Costco) and fall asleep.  With no weekends(c’mon, this is war!), this routine has repeated daily, and it’s not bad.  But, in the back of my mind I’m always listening for an out-of-place “boom” or thump to catch my attention and have me either diving for the floor, or running for a bunker. This makes me nervous when I’m in the shower or lying in bed.  It’s different in training because your life is not actually in danger.  But if the alarms go off when I’m literally caught with my pants down, I’m not going to be happy about it.

So, I have a new bit of mental readiness given that I’m literally waiting for chaos to break loose.  If I’m in the shower, I always mentally rehearse running to grab my pants, shirt, and boots.  If I’m going to sleep, I lay things out just right so all I have to do is click on my flashlight, grab stuff, and go.  You might think it’s stressful to be on alert like that all the time, but honestly it’s not that bad.  I’m still more worried about getting some strange lung infection or meeting a scorpion than I am about facing the Taliban.

I hope it’s of some comfort to know this:  It is very unlikely for me to be in downtown Kabul for several months and NOT be very close to a horrible attack of some kind.  I’m OK with knowing that it’s coming at some point.  I just don’t know when.  But like any other situation in life, all you can do is go about your daily routine, work hard, be kind to people, and pray for all good things.  I sincerely hope nobody becomes more worried after reading this.  My message is really that preparedness is better than crossing our fingers and hoping nothing happens.  Be it mental or physical.

Now, I’m looking forward to my morning coffee in several hours and hearing Kimberly’s voice.  Good-night, good-morning, or good-afternoon depending when you read this.

Settling In and Re-Creating Normalcy

Well, where do I begin?  I guess I finally made it to Afghanistan and it has been nothing short of a roller-coaster to get to this point.  At least for today, I just don’t feel like talking about car-bombs, suicide-bombs, IEDs, Taliban, blah blah blah.  It is exhausting, and  even though it’s very important to be ready for any “bad things” if I keep my mind on high alert for days on end, I might not come back with my sanity.

Still, there is so much to comprehend in the first few days of deployment and it’s a challenge to think back and put the pieces together.  From Edmonton to Kabul, there were many hours of flying, what felt like just as many hours of waiting for flights, and then waiting some more to just get settled into a new routine. In total, there were probably around 2 straight days worth of flying, and this time I changed my sleep strategy.  Normally, I set my watch forward or backward to the time of my destination, and do my best to follow that schedule from the start.  If it’s 9 am at my destination, I’ll refuse to sleep, if It’s 11 pm, I’ll try to force myself to sleep. It usually works, but it always takes a couple days to adjust.  This time, it was so much different.  We had no idea where we would be in the coming days, and what kind of work schedule we might be on.  I was just as prepared to go straight to my camp and take a few days to relax as I was to sit around in a transient warehouse-type building and sleep on floors while waiting for the next stage of the “trip”.  The latter was closer to what actually happened, and so my new plan was to sleep at every possible moment throughout the trip.  It was definitely a smart move.  On every flight, while waiting at airports, and even in vehicles between places.

Now, the difficulty is getting into a healthy and normal routine.  Life in general is so so so much different.  Going from having my car to drive around, house to hang out in, wife to be with, grass and trees to look at etc, to being in a heavily secured environment with concrete barriers, guns, dust/dirt/grime everywhere is a change.  It’s an easy routine, but it’s important to set one early.  With Kimberly, I’m hoping we can talk at the same time on most days so she can prepare for it, and I am not fighting to get the deplorable internet service to work during peak hours. At the same time, I know that she is doing the same in re-settling with me gone.  It’s saddening not to be there to help her through it.  But, the way I see it is that this is OUR deployment and it’s not just me that had to serve on this tour.  She’s facing just as much challenge as I am and we have to get through it together.

At the very least, I hope to make this a very personally enlightening experience for us.  This kind of thing is usually a once in a lifetime experience, and the memories will last a lifetime.  This is just the beginning though, and I hope to be able to tell you more about my quest for normalcy in this abnormal environment.  Now that my sleep times are getting back to normal, I think it’s time for bed.

While waiting for a haircut.

In trying to decide what topic to write about, I’ve come to realize that I still don’t know where to begin. In my last post I discussed that one must start somewhere. I think that I’m still at that point and am having to force myself to start.
How about a verse from the Bible:
Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.
-Proverbs 18:2 NIV
I read this today and worried whether or not this applied to me. What business do I have in publishing anything for others to read? Most days not even I really know what is going on in my head. So why would others want to read about it? Well, I think it’s too early to tell.
Finding the pleasure in understanding will help make my ramblings less about making foolish paragraphs filled with little content, and hopefully provide some kind of meaning. But “to who?” has been a repeated question posed by the voice in my head when it comes to these posts and I believe it is as meaningful as any thoughts within them.  People have as varied backgrounds, thoughts, and ambitions as they number individuals. So who am I to custom tailor any meaningful direction on how to think and how to live a certain way? Why don’t I just post it as I witness my own experiences and leave it to the world to judge whether or not there is any true meaning in it? Perhaps I will.
That means there will be all sorts of future topics to be seen here ranging from military, geopolitical issues, and economics, to food, family, relationships, Greece, God, and everything in between. Between the hits and the misses, I think no matter what happens, this writing experiment will be like life itself; more about an endless growth experience than about reaching any end goal.  Hopefully I’ll make a few friends along the way too.