01 March 2011

Rainy days and snowy nights

Clichés abound about weather.  There are apparently no competent meteorologists in the world, and every small town boasts a sage local to murmur at tourists to wait ten minutes and the weather will change.  Kabul is no exception, with equally capricious weather that fluctuates throughout the day.  Despite this, the weather here is surprisingly predictable.  It is less a question of looking out a window and more of asking the time.  It is a true desert here, and it’s fascinating what daily dramatic temperature changes inflict on steady precipitation.  I’ll wake up to a dusting of snow, go to lunch huddling in my jacket against a steady rain, run to the gym through freezing, slushy sleet, and walk home through puddles as they begin to ice over, snow once again clinging to my eye lashes.

The puddles really aren’t anything to joke about.  The drainage in Phoenix is atrocious; on any given day, fully a third of the camp is either underwater or a poorly maintained ice rink.  I’m not certain that my pants will ever again be dry, and late-night walks to the showers have become an obstacle course worthy of early Nickelodeon (Legends of the Hidden Temple, anyone?).  I slip between the hesco barriers, hop across the rocks jutting from the glacial bog, scamper across some slippery wide-set wooden slats, and try to avoid the mud pit on the other side.  Every night.  Getting frozen mud on my clean toes is not my idea of a good time.  On the up side, after the clouds disperse the skies have been are uncommonly clear, affording a view of some stunningly snow-covered mountains.  It feels deeply like home and makes me happy even as I pine for another craggy range in another part of the world. 

Actually, for all my whining, I haven’t seen much of a downside to the snow.  There is something indescribably delightful about snow that inspires playfulness.  e.e. cummings was perhaps in a less charitable mood than I when he determined that snow didn’t give a “soft white damn whom it touches”, but I see that as a part of its joyful nature.  Even, or rather especially, here, it has the power to strengthen fraying relationships or give respite in hatred. 

For nearly the past month, a team lead for one of the PRT teams has been simmering with anger at his ANP mentees for their seeming inability to help themselves: they ‘forgot’ their weapons for a range class set days in advance, refused to partake in any training at all because the local Iman was due sometime during the day for a religious class, and took all of their American-gifted MREs home, leaving none available for missions.  Platitudes about not being able to force a horse to drink were not helping, and tensions were running high.  The day after our first serious snowfall, however, the PRT and ANP seemed to call a truce.  They apparently spent the entire day playing in the snow, pummeling one another with snowballs, building intricate societies of snowmen and then mowing them down with the MRAPs… The team lead resolved that perhaps they didn’t need range time, as they could probably manage to take out the Taliban with ice-laced snowballs.  As good as the snow day was re-establishing rapport between the Americans and Afghanis, though (they haven’t missed a class or mission since), it was perhaps less successful for building a sense of camaraderie among the ANP.  The trainees apparently wasted no time in diming out their brother who nailed the American Lieutenant upside the head.

This sort of behavior is apparently not unique to Afghanistan.  Our site manager, in his past life a NATO linguist in the former Yugoslavia, told me how he once saw Serbs and Bosnians pause during an active engagement to have a snowball fight.  Of course they eventually resumed killing each other, but even a day of shared humanity in war counts as a snow angel, I think.