Sunday, March 3, 2013
I've made some local friends since I've been here. Apparently since
we're friendly types of folks 'round these here parts, both the laundry
locals and the DFAC locals have decided that we should learn Dari.
Anyone who knows my enjoyment of languages can imagine my delight at
this idea! I've started a notebook and can carry on VERY simple
conversations that don't require much back and forth (at ALL). There are
three guys teaching me when I drop off my laundry, but one of them would
actually be a very good instructor. He slows things down and enunciates
so I can write down my phonetic idea of how it should be spelled. Plus
he can read and write English so he can see if I write something down
incorrectly (phonetically). Apparently things are pronounced differently
or colloquially depending on where someone is from (shocking, right?)
which has proved to be interesting (read: frustrating) when I FINALLY
think I know how to pronounce a word and then someone from the other
place says it differently. Alas, I'm making progress and this has really
been a highlight of my time here since I never learned ANY Arabic in
Iraq. It can be a bit tiresome when I get off shift and have to turn in
laundry and just want to go to bed but have to listen through 20 new
words or phrases until they're satisfied that I've repeated and written
enough down to study for my next trip to laundry. But in all, it's been
an excellent experience. Also, the guy at the DFAC has sort of adopted
us and talks to us about his family. He's 22 and has been working on the
base for 10 years. That's right, his parents died and he had two sisters
that he had to take care of so the Americans gave him a job at 12. He
worked with us and finished school. His older sister is now married with
a child and his younger sister is in school in Kabul. He tells us all
the time that we're his good friends and that we(Americans) are good
people. He also is in denial about the inevitable leaving of Afghanistan
by the Americans. He's so sweet and tiny that I just wish I could
protect him from anything else happening bad in his life. He has
literally never known a non-war-torn Afghanistan.
Back to lighter topics... the other highlight of my time here: MY
shower. This was mentioned a few blogs ago, but I think it's worth
mentioning again because it is THAT amazing. For awhile, it was my sole
thing-to-look-forward-to... mostly because our heater wasn't working
properly during the coldest days of winter (y'all know how I HATE to be
cold) and there's only one shower that gets hot and has excellent water
pressure. It actually got to a point one day when someone was hogging
the shower for WAY longer than she should have been and I was
considering spraying water on her towel to teach her a lesson (don't
worry; I didn't)!
Yes, yes, yes. You're right, you're right, I know: you're right. It's
March. I haven't updated since December. I'm terrible. And now we're
I'm starting with the most recent and will go back from there.
For those of you who have talked to me, you might know that this
deployment has been more difficult for me than any of my past 3. I'm not
sure why; perhaps I'm just too old for the sleep deprivation that you'll
hear in my first story. ;)
The weather here is terrible! Not any worse than at 'home' up north. In
fact, not as bad. However, being in uniform presents the challenge of
not being able to layer the way that I would in freezing weather.
Anyway, the weather seemed to be improving. It was hitting mid-50s
during the day (not that I ever experience that - I sleep right through
it), and nights were hovering right around freezing, maybe a couple of
degrees above. Life was grand. And then it started raining. It rained
until everything was saturated and muddy... and then it started snowing.
We discovered a few weeks ago that when this happens all the (incredibly
wet) snow became insta-slush on top of the puddles that we already have.
Essentially, we're swimming through slush-water to work. (Ok, that might
be a LITTLE bit of an exaggeration... we can avoid most of the big
puddles on the way). Apparently the area behind our Bhut (living
quarters - plywood shack, essentially) floods quite quickly. And it
really can be a swimming pool back there (sorry you'll miss the 'pool'
again, Michelle). Anyway, some of the brilliant minds that are here
decided to put a diesel generator-driven water pump right behind our
Bhut and run it to suck all of the water from the low point in our
housing area - right behind our Bhut - and send it to the drainage ditch
(which, brilliantly, is not at a low point and therefore almost never
has water in it). There were a few problems with this plan; we
discovered the first within a few hours of them turning the pump on for
the first time.
I was in the office when one of my teammates ran in to the office
frazzledly (yes, I made it up... leave it alone) around midnight to call
the MPs and the fire department. She was concerned about the fumes
coming into our rooms from the generator (carbon monoxide an'at).
Everybody had headaches and were coughing so she woke everyone up and
got them out of the Bhut, ran to the office and made some calls, and
told them to bring some oxygen with them. Next morning at 1030 (my sleep
time): same thing. And at 1700 (also my sleep time). And that night. And
the following morning at 1030... you get the idea. Three days of
on-and-off noxious fumes coming into our rooms until we found the right
person (each time) who was either 'allowed' to turn off the generator or
who decided to turn it off for the well-being of those involved (even if
they technically shouldn't have been). Those were days fraught with
calls made to the companies involved and arguments with the supervisors
on site who claimed that if we were poisoned it was "not my problem". In
the midst of this, we night-shifters were only getting a couple hours of
sleep because we'd go to sleep and then be awakened either by the pump
or the fumes (if we managed to sleep through the noise). One night I
walked back into the Bhut after being out for a couple of hours and
started gagging as soon as I walked in the door because the generator
had been on for a couple of hours. Finally, the sun did its job (I
maintain that the pump had nothing to do with it) and the lake out back
dried up enough for them to remove the pump. And then last night? We
slept. Oh, did we sleep. But I still have a headache.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
What a rough 24 hours. I came to work last night as details were just
emerging about the massacre in Connecticut. I kept it together pretty
well until Obama spoke (I don't care what your political affinities are,
that was a moving speech), and it was all downhill from there. I was
then alone watching coverage in between bouts of work for the rest of
the night. Translation: I was crying off and on all night.
THEN, at the very end of my shift, I learned of a Ramp Ceremony
happening here at Bagram later in the day. For those of you (like
myself) who do not know what that is, it's a ceremony to see off a
fallen service member who is traveling home for the last time. Service
members of all military branches and civilians congregate on the flight
line as a flag-draped casket is taken onto a waiting aircraft. As
strains of 'Amazing Grace' were heard from the Army Band, the Honor
Guard presented the colors and the service member was carried with the
utmost care off of a humvee and onto a Little Rock C-130 while we
onlookers saluted or held our hands over our hearts, respectively...
respectfully... and cried. It's entirely voluntary and there were
hundreds of people who came to pay their respects. It was almost worse
after our formation was released; my mind was whirring with all the
possible questions and wonderings of, "Does this person's family know?
Do I know before the family that he or she is gone?", "What a terrible
Christmas this will be for them," and "I wonder how his unit is dealing
with the loss of a friend and comrade." I managed to keep it to two
tears during the formation, but they were certainly free-flowing as I
walked back to the office.
When I returned to the office, my team (who all showed up for the
ceremony even though only one of us was on shift... this team is great)
was discussing how difficult the ceremony was and then we found out that
we had a suicide on Bagram the previous night. It's just sad. All of it.
However, Felicia has declared today as the only sad day of this
deployment, so I'm leaving you with a link that a friend of mine posted
on facebook with the quote "In case anyone else needs some happy
tears..." And happy tears they were indeed.
And in case you're wondering about #25, I did a bit of googling:
(p.s. please note that about 1/3 of the way down they are snuggling with
a Steelers blanket)
Monday, December 10, 2012
First of all: WOW. That's the first (and only) word that came to mind when I finally paused to look up from my struggles with two bags plus safety gear. It's breathtakingly beautiful here. The snow-topped peaks surreally seem like clouds rising from nothing until the sun begins to change them to whichever shade of pink, orange, or red it so desires.
Work space: wonderful. We have so many donations and wonderful volunteers and building neighbors that work should be excellent. We have a crock pot, pizza maker, bread maker, toaster oven-y thing, microwave, industrial coffee pot (should be interesting to have me in charge of that!), and Keurig (am I forgetting something?) in the canteen room plus a casework office to do all of our messages. There are a couple of storage rooms and CONEXes (big metal containers for storage) with supplies as well. Plus we've got a couple decorated trees and some other decorations for the holidays. It's a really friendly atmosphere. I've already got the briefing on all the stuff I have to make/bake (yikes!). Apparently my predecessor spoiled all the local units with baked goods and coffee. I suppose I'll learn to improvise!
Living arrangements: sufficiently swell. I live in what's called a B-HUT (don't ask, I don't know what it stands for) which is a little plywood-esque building with 8 rooms in it... also separated on the bottom by plywood. The top of each room is open to a little hallway but it seems most of them have blankets hung to keep the light out. I think (fingers crossed) that my B-HUT mates are accomodatingly quiet. I'm not sure if there are other day sleepers or not, but aside from a crashing noise every now and then I haven't heard anything from anyone. It is a very small area so I can't really accomodate "stuff"... I think two twin beds would take up the entire space and I've got one twin bed in there plus all of my gear, a wall locker, and a chair. You can do the math. The other two ASMs and myself are all in the same B-HUT and the bathrooms/showers are a relatively short (but cold!) walk away. The B-HUTs are heated but drafty. I've been layering to sleep, but have the issued sleeping bags and an extra blanket if it gets really cold. The BAB website recommends an electric blanket, but I live in a wood hut and work for the Red Cross - fire hazard anyone? ;)
Local area: we're in a pretty "main" part of BAB (or so it seems to me). All within quick walking distance are quarters, MWR (the reason I've been on the internet so much), gym, office, and laundry drop off... just a little further is a dining facility, a bazaar, and a PX which are still well within easy walking distance.
Sending "stuff": Please don't send me stuff unless I ask for it! Again, I'm in a pretty small space and I don't have room to store ANYTHING. Also, there have been critter infestations in the past so no food! We're overflowing at the office with stuff and have 84 boxes of donations that we have to pick up at the post office. Now, to completely disregard what I just said, the office is in a slightly different situation. We've got PLENTY of donations of already-made things, but could use some brownie, muffin, or cookie mixes (and maybe bread, too) that DO NOT require eggs (can't get 'em). Send me an email or comment here and I'll tell you where we're sitting for that stuff specifically. Also, if there are crock pot things that can be made with ingredients that can be sent (I know we've got some non-meat chili ingredients), let me know what you're thinking and I'll let you know if we can handle it. If there's an ingredient or two that you can't send, check with me-we might be able to pick it up at chow.
Difficulty of the moment: the bathrooms. Literally, I can't go into them without gagging. I can't imagine trying to go in there if I actually feel sick. Raw sewage combined with dead rotting animal carcasses (not real ones; I'm trying to make a point) is the only comparison I can think to make right now (can you tell I recently went to the bathroom?). On the flip side, the showers seem not too bad. I got the 411 from my outgoing team partner on exactly which shower stall to go into to get not-freezing water, so I'll definitely be taking advantage of that (and have already).
Other items of little to no consequence: I had forgotten how long it takes to get ready while in uniform (at first). It's easy because you don't have to figure out what to wear, but it's so much more complicated than the jeans, t-shirt, and flip flops to which I'm accustomed. Tying shoes? Who does that?
It's COLD! I knew that going in, but I have been pretty consistently chilly since I got here. It's been nice during the day (mid-high 40's?), but it was definitely freezing overnight. When the sun was rising it was about 36 degrees. I have been assured, however, that it has been exceptionally nice since we've been here. It's supposed to be much colder and we're expecting snow on Thursday. Should be... uh, fun? That's the proper line, right? Ugh... well, I'll just add more layers. Positively, it doesn't seem like it will get nearly as muddy as it got in Iraq. Whew! I did send my little horse hoof pick from my first deployment, though... just in case!
Feel free to leave comments or ask questions! It's now a little after 6pm and I think I might take a nap before I go to work at midnight. Or perhaps I'll unpack. Hmmm... decisions, decisions...
As Henry and I sit for briefings before flying out of the country, the SSG who is briefing us reminds us that we won't be home for the holidays, but heartfeltly thanks us for what we're doing. A LTC behind me calls her young daughter to say goodbye and gets to hear about upcoming Christmas preparations. With tears in her eyes she reassures her daughter that she hasn't hung up. I'm amazed at her composure; her voice doesn't break once despite her obvious upset. This is a hard time to go. It's time for me to go be Red Cross so people forget... or at least have something else about which to think. I'm in.