29 January 2011

Fun while it lasted

My deepest apologies for having been incommunicado for much of the month; I was home on leave, and it was too wonderful (and short) to pass any time writing.  Even now, I have just a few quick thoughts as I settle back in to the Afghan grind.  First, I highly, highly suggest not reading sappy books while traveling.  I read two worthy books that were both tear-jerkers, both about Afghanistan, and both elicited some seriously concerned/confused/mildly pitying looks in various airport terminals throughout the world.  One, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, recounted a tragic SEAL mission outside of Asadabad in which nearly a dozen servicemen were killed.  Happily, well perhaps it was less happy than fortuitous for me, the author’s overt disdain for the troop-hating liberal media (exemplified, of course, by this story from the bra-burning feminists at Jezebel or either of these from the unrepentant arugula-eaters at the NYT) and the ROE specifically crafted to hamstring the troops by such damnable hippie politicians as Gen. Petraeus often had an ameliorating effect on my tears and allowed me to hold my composure somewhat.  Politics aside, it is a commendable book.

That said, lefties might want to follow it up with my other read, Kabul in Winter, written by the reliably liberal journalist Ann Jones.  Predominately focusing on the trials and tribulations of Afghan women in Kabul, it is decidedly less masculine that then first, though requires an equal amount of tissues.  Jones also includes a reasonably engaging if somewhat convoluted history of Afghanistan thrown in for good measure.  Be warned, however: she seems to be able to pin the incessant suffering of Afghan women on ‘Bush the Lesser’, the admittedly shady DynCorps, and same-sex ‘boinking’ among the mujahideen.  Conversely, conservatives might want to start with this one and use Luttrell’s book as a palate cleanser.  Either way, unless you have no heart or remarkably strong tear ducts, don’t read either on a plane, on a train…or basically anywhere you would also want to avoid eating green eggs and ham. 

Beyond literary criticism, I was as ever tickled by the travails of travel (I’m really jet-lagged, so please forgive the alliteration).  In the roughly 38 hours of flying/terminal sitting it took me to get from Bagram to the States, I was pleased to note that Westernized Qataris dress like extras from 21 Jump Street and that one of my boarding passes listed me as CA: World Traveler.  Rarely have I felt so urbane after not having showered for two days. 

I’ve also come to the conclusion that the US needs more cyber cafes.  I loved it in Heathrow, as I was able to let my family (and ride home from the airport) know that I was alive, if in entirely the wrong country from where they thought I would be (I missed my connecting flight three times.  No joke).  Incidentally, it appears that my Mac account freezes time, as the meter 30 minutes of internet I purchased never ran down for the nearly two hours I was online.  Apple is magic!  I only wish I would have known that before I shelled out five pounds.

Finally, it turns out there is nothing to make you long for Afghanistan quite like Qatar.  Hot, muggy, noisy, dusty, flat…where is my glorious Hindu Kush?!  Even the air quality was nearly as bad as Kabul, and that is saying something.  I never thought that I would praise the clear skies of Washington, DC.  Honestly, I suspect my company sends us through that port just so that we’re almost glad to be back in a war zone.  Though I do have to admit that Qatari road signs are most excellent.  Even the cross walk stick figures are modestly attired in a thawb and shemagh.  And now, having spent the better part of a month traversing globe and country, hoping from city to city and family to friends, and having eaten way too much deliciously fattening foods, I’m ready for the next seven(ish) months.  Welcome back to Paradise!