29 August 2010

On High Heels and Aum

Now that I've returned to Phoenix, I'm trying to settle back into a routine of sorts.  I was hoping to catch up on my sleep, as the trip from Sharana via BAF was exhausting, and I feel a bit under the weather, but I'd forgotten how hectic my social schedule is here.  Who would have thought my dance card would be busier in Afghanistan than in DC?

The dance card reference is actually entirely apropos here; one of the first people I saw upon my return was the instructor of the salsa class.  I've been amused to note that one of the few constants between bases is salsa dancing.  Here at Phoenix, we have classes two nights a week and a free dance on a third, all in the Green Beans coffee shop.  At Bagram, it's salsa Saturdays, and apparently a dance night was just beginning to be spun up at Sharana.  I wasn't previously aware of the armed services' affinity for Latin dance, but they seem to take it pretty seriously.  We even watch episodes of dance shows to learn new moves.  Of course, we can't do the most salacious, as everyone is a little leery of risking any rank for even the hottest set.

At any rate, all of this dancing is seriously making me crave some heels.  Hiking boots just don't spin the same.  I have the sinking suspicion that when I get back to the States, my feet will rebel against my wardrobe.  I suppose that I'll just have to break the little buggers back in.

Anticipating the blisters I'll surely have next year is not a productive way to pass the afternoon.  And as I've almost completely given up on work at this point, I should probably concentrate my attention on the program for tonight's yoga class.  Within a few days of my initial arrival at Phoenix, I inherited instructor duties from the out-going chaplain more or less by default (although I did love the yogi evangelist!).  We have a small but dedicated core, which occasionally explodes to about twenty folks, usually right before a camp run or, oddly enough, boxing tournament.  The other yogis are actually getting so into the practice that they're requesting classes four nights a week.  Ambitious little buggers, these Army fellas.

They have been grumbling that my music wasn't 'yoga enough', however.  Last Friday, it was the Beatles, prompting a spontaneous sing-along of All You Need Is Love during our bow poses.  I've decided that all the giggles I had to smother, being somehow inappropriate for the moment, simply added to the core tension.  Frankly, they're lucky I'm not rocking out to Lady Gaga.  Yoga requires active music!  But one of the linguists who regularly attends threatened to download wave sounds for our next practice.  Somehow, I don't think that the instructor falling asleep is going to contribute to their practice at all...

Rounding out my social engagements are regular cribbage matches (I know, I know, I'm like 80 years old), sporadic taekwondo trainings, gym workouts, and terrible billiards (I strongly suspect that the gentlemen I play with purposefully miss shots out of pity).  Attempting to fit all of this in around my 12 hour work day frequently devolves into the realm of the ridiculous.  I was really anticipating a monastic year: read a lot, improve my French, focus on my yoga practice.  Excepting the last, I actually have to schedule social events in advance.  I think I need to escape back to DC, if only so I can get some sleep.

26 August 2010

Eastern Adventures

My recent travels have taken me east, to FOBs Lightning, Salerno, and Sharana.  For any interested, those bases are located near Gardez, Khost, and Sharana, respectively.  All of these sites are blackout FOBs, which is to say that no outdoor lights are allowed on after sunset.  Moreover, they lacked cell coverage for a bevy of unique and glorious reasons: Lightning is in the middle of nowhere; Salerno's tower was recently destroyed; and Sharana turns off their towers after 2200 as a force protection measure.  That's about where their similarities end.

Lightning was a small, pleasant FOB, if almost unnervingly quiet.  It, like so much of this country, is bautiful, spare, and somewhat forboding.  Also, due to the blackout, what lights are permitted at night are red.  As I would stumble back to my room at night, the camp was punctuated by an eerie red glow.  I imagined this was what purgatory must feel like.  That, or it was a very strange dream populated exclusively by darkrooms and bordellos.
From the helipad at Lightning

Where Lightning was Spartan and isolated, the other FOBs were sprawling and lively.  In fact, I don't even really understand the purpose of the blackouts there - these FOBs are substantial.  Even a blind insurgent could lob a mortar in vaguely the right direction and would probably hit something.  Shortly before my arrival at Salerno, actually, the Taliban had apparently been quite active, blowing up the local cell tower and shelling the on-base mosque.  While the loss of cell reception was obnoxious, I was more interested in the targeting of a mosque during Ramadan.  When I asked an Afghan national working in the office if there were any special Koranic strictures on such things, he just shook his head and groused about 'those goofy bastards.'

While the activity at Salerno occurred prior to my arrival, Sharana may have been mortared during my visit.  I say maybe, because I remain unconvinced that was actually what occurred.  The warning sirens blared for a bit, and there was something that certainly sounded like an explosion.  That said, the 'big voice' (the camp's intercom system) was never activated, and the Mayor's Cell, from which I was down the hall, was completely at a loss as to what was going on.  They even suggested that it might be a controlled detonation.  Their ignorance was not, I'll admit, terribly comforting, but their nonchalance was infectious.  I ended up going to dinner.  Maybe I'll have to take that back about the blind insurgents.

One of the reasons the personnel at Sharana and Salerno are able to be blase regarding artillery attacks is because of the prevalence of hardened buildings.  These camps are remarkably built-up.  Even the B-Huts I was staying in had real walls made of concrete.  Sure, the walls still didn't reach the ceiling, but I was so happy to be staying in a 'real' room, I didn't even mind that I was sleeping on cots and in sleeping bags.  Really, it's about the simple joys in life.
From my front door at Sharana

Another perk found at each of the out-lying FOBs was self-service laundry.  I can truthfully say that laundry was not something I thought I would miss from home, but being able to wash my cloathes on my schedule is a surprisingly liberating feeling.  Of course, while at Sharana had to get up at 0430 in the am to do so (and I still ended up waiting for 45 min for a washer), but that is neither here nor there.  It still felt nice, and I was able to wear my yoga pants right out of the dryer.  Who could ask for more?

Actually, was I soldier there, I think I could ask for a bit more.  Sharana reminded me of nothing else than a city experiencing massive urbanization and burdened with very poor planners.  The original camp, which was built to house some 2,000 persons, is rather like a European walled city.  It is almost totally contained on a hill top and surrounded by a formidable brick barrier.  This central camp itself is really very lovely.  However, since January, the camp population has more than tripled, and it shows.  Tents circle the original camp nearly a mile in all directions, and the constant construction leaves a permanent haze of dust in the air.  There are enormous queues for nearly everything, including the DFAC, which is only open for three hours each meal and is solidly a 30 min walk from the most distant tents, the MWR, and, yes, the laundry, even at o'dark thirty.
On the flight from Salerno to Sharana

In comparison, Salerno, with its mostly paved streets,s speed limits, and intermittent landscaping (the base had its own orchard!), felt like a country club.  Upon further reflection, I think it's worth noting my standards of living are undergoing a radical upheaval.  I wonder if this means that I'll be willing to live in SE DC when I go back?  The rent would certainly be good...

22 August 2010

Theatre Rotary: So Many Options!

Returning to the topic of travel, lately I've been venturing quite far beyond Phoenix's front gate, requiring more exotic forms of travel than soft-side or convoy.  Specifically, I've been running around the east on a diversity of rotary aircraft, mostly Chinook but also a Blackhawk and something that used to belong to the Russians but it now run by US civilians.

Flying in theatre is tricky.  Over the past few weeks, I have been denied, manifested, crossed off, delayed on tarmacs, completely bumped and left to wallow in my Kevlar...  It's a wonder I ever get out of Phoenix at all.  This is above and beyond my personal failings.  Once, even when I was finally able to manifest myself on a flight to FOB Salerno, well south-east of Kabul, I overslept my alarm, waking up at 0620 for a 0600 show time and packing in about 30 seconds.  I somehow managed to make it on my flight; it's a very good thing my B-hut in next to the landing pad.

Boarding is equally exciting.  The blades of the Chinooks spin so fast you can feel the heat of the them as you load through the tail, while the Blackhawk gunner actually had to help me board, as I was struggling to stay on my feet in the face of its downdraft.  Once I actually get in the air, however, most of my flights have gone remarkable smoothly (and will continue to do so, insh'Allah!).
Flying over Kabul

I really love flying by Chinook, as they leave the tail open and you get an excellent view of Afghanistan's dramatic beauty.  That said, I decided that the tail gunner possibly has the most terrifying job in the world - (s)he just hangs out at the back of the open hatch, sitting on an ergonomic pillow, legs dangling over the side.  Two of my flights have seen particularly tense moments, when all three gunners started shooting at...something.  I was initially inclined to stress out about it, but they were all so very nonchalant.  The tail gunner even took the time to toss his pillow further into the hold before continuing to fire.  I was also struck by the casual way he gathered up the spent cartridges and tossed them out the back.  All in a day's work, I suppose.
Shooting at...something

The ride on the Blackhawk was even more exciting, if less eventful.  I actually hitched a ride on a general's flight convoy (completely surreal and spiffy!).  This might sound ridiculous, but I was amazed at how much the Blackhawk moved.  It wasn't bumpy, really, but had lots of very smooth lateral travel; rather like how I imagine it would be to ride on a snake.  We also flew over Kabul at night, which was most excellent.  Seeing the city laid out like a carpet of light below me, I was struck by both its loveliness and sheer size.  It's huge!  Also, all of the massive wedding 'chapels' were lit up like matrimonial casinos.  Very strange, but still charming.
Night shot from the gunner's chair in the Blackhawk

Meanwhile, the civilian helicopter was by far the roomiest and most airplane-like of the bunch.  There was even a little gang-plank we used to board.  The comfort of the flight was due in part to the absence of guns.  I found the lack of weaponry more disconcerting than I ever expected I would.  I'm sure the soldiers I was traveling with were excellent shots, but I'd rather not test their marksmanship from the air.  Moreover, possibly in some sort of pre-emptively evasive maneuvers, the pilots banked a lot.  The G-Force was fun for a while, but I think I prefer the gunners.  Who knew I would like mixing violence with travel?  The things you learn.

21 August 2010

Forced Personal Growth and Some History

I have to admit that patience has never been one of my virtues, and over the past few weeks, I've had to learn quite a bit.  At the very least, I can take solace in the knowledge that Afghanistan is making me a better person. 

So what is it that is compelling me to self-improvement?  In-country travel.  Travel of any sort here, whether by road, air, or presumably by boat, were it avaliable (and we expect the refugee ships from Pakistan any day now), is an exercise in patience.  It is also an amazing sensory experience; leaving the base normally means that I will experience some combination or extreme heat, cold, dust, wind, and a general sense of discomfort.

These truisms of travel in Afghanistan became a reality to me during a recent site visit to Camp Dubs, a small installation south-west of Kabul (I was interested to discover that everyone - my company, the DoD, even the military - calls it Camp Dubbs, except for those actually there.  I decided they knew best).  Lamentably, my site manager was unwilling to drive me, I suspect because I was traveling with the ever-popular DCAA auditors.  I was therefore obliged to take the local bus.  Technically, the bus is an up-armoured personnel carrier known as a Rhino, but bus is a more fitting description.  As with other forms of mass transportation, the seats are uncomfortable, you have no personal space, it takes forever to get where you want to go, and it smells a bit...ripe.  This last was mostly because everyone was marinating in their IBA and Kevlar.  Although I have to admit to being a little excited to don my body armour for the first time in theatre and set off to a new site.
The lead hummer in the convoy approaches the Tajbeg
Of course, a journey that would have taken no more than an hour with my site manager even in heavy traffic took the better part of four in the Rhino.  In order to get to Dubs, we first went to Kabul International Airport (KAIA), then turned around and drove past Phoenix in the opposite direction to hit another two drop-off points.  We then drove past Phoenix again, went back to the airport, and made several additional stops at the myriad bases surrounding Kabul.  Between the departure and return trips, I went to eight different bases, to KAIA three times, and drove past Phoenix four times.  By the time I returned home, over 11 hours after I'd left, I was neither looking nor feeling my best.

The upside of the trip was that the linguists did beautifully during the audit, and that Dubs is gorgeous!  The base sits at the foot of the dramatic and tragic Queen's Palace.  The downside, next to the trip itself, was that I forgot to charge my camera!  These photos are courtesy of one the DCAA folks.  Someday I'll have to go back, as there were lots of things on this mini-road trip I wanted to capture (but not any time soon - the Rhino memories are still too fresh).  On the way to the base, we passed the zoo, a massive shanty town built into the side of a cliff, and a series of stately mansions, complete with that new home smell and front gates begging to be blown up.
The Tajbeg from Dubs

But most of all, I wanted to share with you the melancholy beauty of the Queen's, or Tajbeg, Palace.  We had the good luck to meet some COIN specialists who were kind enough to take us on a tour.  The palace was built in the early 1920s by King Amanullah for his wife.  Since then, it has been used as a residence for President Hafizullah Amin, who was assassinated there by the Soviet Union during their invasion in 1979, and the headquarters for the 40th Soviet Army during the occupation (we had the good sense to only put our base next to the Tajbeg, rather than inside.  What?  We're seen as an invading force bent on colonolization?  How could that be?).  The Tajbeg was destroyed as the factions of the Mujahedeen fought over Kabul following the Soviet withdrawal.  The potent impression of Afghans destroying their own history really stuck with and quite depressed me.
However, as our tour continued, I noticed an ANA guard on duty just outside the Palace.  We came upon him as he prayed, and it almost looked like he was venerating the beautiful ruin before him.  Our ever-helpful tour guides spoke rudimentary Dari, and were also able to translate some of the graffiti scribbled on nearly every wall.  In additional to the universal need to affirm one's existence ('Ajmal was here'), and what appeared to be some plans in Cyrillic (my linguistic contribution on the day), there were a number of prayers and some truly lovely artwork.  I have since discovered that both the Tajbeg and its neighbor, the Darul Aman or King's Palace, are intended to be renovated and used as houses of Parliament.  Maybe there is some hope for building a future here, even over the scars of the past.
Looking down at the ANA guard post

16 August 2010

Pick-Ups in Theatre: A Primer

If I can make myself understood to the linguists, it seems that the same does not extend to American men.  Indeed, I feel like the Goldilocks of rejection at this point, oscillating between too strong and too soft.  I comfort myself that, by the time I leave, I'll be expert at blow-offs.  With that in mind, I thought I might share with you some of the more choice lines used on me and my colleagues.  What follows is something of a primer on how not to hit on women in combat zones or, for that matter, anywhere else.

Don't hit on women outside of restrooms or before 6am.  The two really go hand in hand.  If I've just stumbled out of the B-Hut, bleary-eyed in the impossibly bright morning sun, it is  not the right mood in which to hand me your number and ask for a lunch date.  It will not happen, and likely the only reason I will ever speak to you again is because I didn't have my contacts in and so can't be sure who it was that accosted me.  In fairness, the same rule applies to couples.  I don't care how dark the corner behind the shower cabin is, I can only stare straight ahead so intently.  I will notice on my way back from the shower that there is only one pair of feet on the ground where there used to be two.

Don't ask, your voice rife with disbelief, why aren't married?  Why?  Because I was waiting for you, of course.  Seriously, what answer is this meant to provoke?  In asking, are you hoping to spur me to contemplate my life, suddenly feel the gaping hole where marital bliss should be, and wrest the nearest man to the altar?  Of late, it's been provoking the opposite response - I have an unreasonable urge to state with absolute sincerity that marriage just isn't in the cards for me.  Rather, I intend to get fabulously wealthy and sleep with a succession of impossibly good-looking pool boys.

A related question to avoid is who do you work for?  The sub-text I consistently read from this question is what company in its right mind would send a little girl like you out to a scary war zone like this.  This question inspires a similar response to the last, but as it is asked almost exclusively by other contractors, I'm tempted to answer that I'm here to sleep with the troops, in an effort to boost our up-coming re-bid.  Civilians, obviously, aren't in my contract, so they should move along.

Avoid over-enthusiasm, such as proclaiming that the women in question is a catch.  Really, the total package!  These sentiments might be lovely to begin with, but they get old quickly.  And it goes from tiresome to highly suspicious when the suitor feels the need to add that he, too, is something of a catch.  I suppose that the inference one is supposed to draw from this is that if you're a catch, and I'm a catch, perhaps we should catch one another!  Unfortunately, if you have to articulate that you, yourself, should be viewed as a catch, it leaves some room for doubt, no?  Perhaps I'm not being generous enough.  Maybe attractiveness is akin to the link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda - if you say it often enough, and with enough conviction, you can convince 30% of the country it's true!

This next come-on is a bit like the last, but with a fun back-handed twist.  It's the You're really cute here, but only here technique.  One young man (actually the same excitable one from the previous example) went so far as to note that back in the States, we'd be on par, but over here I'm really something.  I honestly wasn't sure what to do with his 'compliment'.  There were just many excellent sub-texts to read in to it!  I could have concluded that, really I'm a dog, and he wouldn't hit on me if he weren't so desperate.  But if that's the case, should I not just wait for the most desperate hottie I can find?  Really, if I'm that must cuter here, why not shoot for the moon?  However, I felt that it also might be a reminder that I will not always be so comparatively foxy.  I should, in that case, stick more to my own 'level', I suppose, so that I don't get dropped by the no-longer-desperate bit of delicious I managed to land in theatre.  Words of wisdom, I suppose.

But my favourite line encountered thus far (1 1/2 months in - time flies!) was the starkly straight forward "I like your figure".  Thank goodness, as I was working on it just for him!  I was actually dumbfounded for a moment when hit with this observation, as I had no idea social mores had broken down so far.  I mean, we're on a military base.  There's a post office, and a coffee shop, and you can eat Baskin Robbins ice cream every day!  We're living on a little slice of Americana, admittedly surrounded by burqas, donkey carts and the occasional IED, but Americana nevertheless, and that's the best come-on you can articulate?  As noted by another gentleman, I'm hotter here than at home.  You're going to have to work a lot harder than that.

15 August 2010

Views from around Kabul

I love that she's wearing heels.

Translating for the Linguists

The only exciting thing recently is an on-going DoD audit of my company's local national linguist (LNL) programme that I've had the good fortune of chaperoning.  If nothing else, and really it hasn't been doing much, the audit is teaching me quite a bit about both the DoD and Afghans.  Watching the auditors attempt to understand the LNLs, I realize how clueless I must frequently look.  The linguists speak fluidly about working BDOC for CSTC-A or how they're received their CI screening from the MOI for the HIB visa package...  Well, let me just say that trying to follow an Afghan accent speaking military jargon is no easy task.

Of course, the language barrier goes both ways.  The auditors have a question about how the linguists would react if they observed an unethical situation that is a complete non-starter.  They LNLs are stumped by both the hypothetical and the concept of ethics.  Either they think they auditors are discussing a security concern, inwhich case they say it's the army's issue, or they take a see no evil approach ("if the manager doesn't realize someone is getting paid for hours they didn't work, that's the manager not doing his job.  It's not my problem.").

Either way, both parties are so very literal and rigid in sticking to their respective semantic guns they hardly understand one another at all.  My favourite example came when one of the auditors asked a linguist what languages he spoke, to which the LNL replied, "Pashtu, Dari, English, Urdu, and Deutsche."  The auditor stared at him incredulously and asked, "you speak Dutch?"  "No, no," the linguist laughed.  "That's like French.  I speak Deutsche."  "So...you don't speak Dutch?" the auditor asked, brow furrowed.  I'm not supposed to interrupt audits, but I couldn't help myself.  "German.  He speaks German," I offered.  "Yes," the linguist smiled, "Deutsche."  So I've spent the better part of the last week translating between Afghan linguists and the DoD.  I think they should have invited me to the Kabul Conference.  At the very least, I deserve a linguist's salary, right?

13 August 2010

Office Picnic

Happy Friday the 13th!  It's hard to get excited about the weekend here, as the days all so very similar.  We generally put in 12-plus hours a day, seven days a week.  Not that I'm complaining - pretty much the only things to do here are work and work out.  Sometimes we do try to break up the monotony with haphazardly multi-cultural office parties (particular on 'dirty Fridays', apparently a Jamaican tradition).  These picnics generally consist of food cooked in the terrifically sketch kitchen (condemned by Phoenix management, but still going strong!) or on our make-shift grill.

On one such occasion, our Jamaican-American programme director grilled jerk chicken and steak, while one of the local staff prepared a traditional okra dish and flat bread.  I did not partake of the meat, being a vegetarian, although they assured me it was delicious.  There is an office-wide campaign to reform my meatless ways, but after watching them clean the locally-purchased chicken, I think I've re-upped for at least another decade.  I can, however, attest that the okra and naan-like bread were amazing, and not just because I've been subsisting on iceberg lettuce for two months.

We also tried to prepare corn on the cob.  Sweet corn is not, however, an Afghan staple and I'm pretty sure we were using livestock corn.  In an effort to sweeten it, our director tossed an absurd amount of sugar into the pot when he boiled it.  The end result tasted something like kettle corn.  Except that it was on the cob and orange.

10 August 2010

A New Start in Phoenix

I've left the crowded boardwalks of Bagram for the sunny, dusty streets of Camp Phoenix, just off the Jalalabad Road, on the outskirts of Kabul.  Phoenix is quite a bit smaller than Bagram, and so far is much more pleasant.  I live in what is called a B-Hut.  Basically, it's a plywood cabin filled with (in my case) 11 plywood cublicles.  On the upside, I have my own room.  There are a lot fewer people here and it's been easier to find my way around.  There is also no dedicated air strip at Phoenix, so instead of planes, we have helicopters that rattle the B-Huts when they land.  Finally, the food is actually much better, even if there is only one DFAC.  That said, I reamin under-proteined.  I'm an arugula girl in a meat and potatoes world.
B-Huts at Dragon Village in Bagram

Since arriving at Phoenix, I've been engaging in some on-the-job training with my bosses, Steve and Bob.  We finally worked out, more or less, what I'll be doing, and now I'm just waiting for them to leave3 so that I can actually get some work done.  Of course, it would help if I had an actual desk.  We're quite pressed for space around here, and right now my work area generally consists of perching on some file cabinets and commandeering someone else's internet connection where I can.

The upside of all this training is that we've been running around to various company sites all over Kabul (in what's known as the Kabul Base Cluster, or KBC), and I've been able to experience the bedlam that is Kabul traffic.  The Jalalabad Road is a main thoroughfare, ostensibly built to be two lanes in each direction.  Operationally, though, it is usually four to six, and drives are not bound by such plebeian notions as driving on the right.  Donkey carts are particularly notorious for driving straight down the middle of the street, going the wrong way.  Other sites to see include the so-called 'Jingle Trucks' that have really lovely art work painted all along the sides, fearless pedestrians peddling gum, car washes, and phone cards to drivers, round-abouts, and, of course, military convoys.  There are also myriad checkpoints manned by the Afghan National Army and Police (ANA and ANP).  Our drivers habitually carry extra water and gum to offer in exchange for smooth passage.

The checkpoints are a bit disconcerting, but I understand the desire for water.  While not overwhelmingly hot, it is dusty here.  Really dusty.  Really, really dusty.  Actually, between the dust and the rampant smoking in the military, I've almost forgotten what clean air is.  But the bases all have massive pallets of water everywhere; I don't think I've ever been so well-hydrated.

09 August 2010

Getting There

 My path to Afghanistan has not exactly been a smooth one.  It included multiple trips to the Social Security Office in Virginia, visits to two separate DMVs in Colorado, and leadership training in Ohio.  I was beginning to think that, rather than go to Afghanistan, I was simply embarking on a very idiosyncratic tour of the US.

Finally, however, I was able to make it to the CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) at Fort Benning for my pre-deployment training.  For the inquiring minds out there, they did not teach me how to shoot an M16.  In fact, it turns out that I'm not even allowed to carry a knife.  I'll just have to cower behind the nearest Marine, if it comes to that.  Instead, they stuck me with myriad needles and subjected me to dated PowerPoint presentations.  The president of Pakistan is Musharraf?  Please, no more!  On the up-side, they did teach me how to spot an IED and field dress a sucking chest wound.  Important life lessons, those.
We left Georgia on a Friday afternoon, landing in Qatar by way of Amsterdam very early Sunday morning.  What with driving to Al Udied Air Field and having to process through about seven different checkpoints, we didn't end up making it to bed until just after 5am.  I was finally forced to get out of bed about five hours later by the oppressive heat.  Even inside our tent, it felt like a wet sauna.  Once I worked up the nerve to leave, I hit a wall of heat and light.  Everything - dirt, tents, sky - was the same shade of bright dun, like looking into a soft light-bulb.  So a wet sauna, but in a whiteout.  It was so bad that one of my traveling companions took a shower, only to take another with her cloathes on in an effort to stay cool on the way back to the tent.

After passing the day staving off boredom, we were told to pack our gear in a hurry late Sunday night, as some seats had opened up on the 1:45am flight to Bagram.  We scampered to the air strip, only to be bumped to the 5am flight, and then bumped again.  All told, we tried to leave Al Udied three times and sat on the tarmac in temperatures well over 100F for more than 15 hours.

Once I finally arrived at Bagram, I felt no small sense of triumph.  That's not to say everything was perfect - I was still living out of my duffel, didn't yet have reliable internet access, and the disconnected bath houses made the base feel like summer camp without the fun or potable water.  Still, I've already learned some great things, like riding in a C-17 is really quite fun, and that I look super cute in body armour.  And, actually, as I watched the sun set on the epic mountains surrounding us, I thought of how much it felt like Colorado, if you managed to ignore the armoured vehicles and fellas with guns.