Been a week now, still settling in at my post in Kunduz.
On Tuesday September 29 I finally headed off. The night before I was told that my 9 am flight would leave at 12:00 pm. I was very glad as this meant not having to arrive at the camp at 6 to get a security shuttle. I was told to come to HQ at 7 am to meet my "ride."
I arrived and got my bullet proof vest, helmet and luggage from the office. I had actually practiced putting on the vest the day before, so I wouldn't look like an ass in front of the soldiers. A well-armed American soldier from Missouri waited with me outside. I mentioned how polite all the soldiers were here and he said it was unlike any base he had ever been in. "Everybody is so nice to everybody, always saying hello."
The driver and a German soldier showed up. Everybody was armed to the teeth and had their vest on. I knew they driver and co-driver had to look out for possible insurgents so I kept quiet and let them do their job. It was like being in a movie as they kept a sharp eye on everything around them. The German sat in the back with me and was quiet as well.
About 25 odd minutes later we were at the airport. They shook our hands and took off. It was only then I realized the German was actually travelling on my flight.
It was about 7:30 and our check in was at 9 for a 12 pm flight. He then decided he would go in to check on the flight. He came out a bit confused that the flight was
departing at 12. Apparently, they had told him I was coming along but nobody told me about him. They told me about the delay but nobody had told him. Welcome to Afghanistan. His name is Alex.
I was on my way to Mazar-e-Sharif, his camp. I would overnight there and then on to Kunduz the next day. Hans a fellow FMTL (Forward Media Team Leader) would meet me in MeS and show me the ropes in Kunduz for a few days. Some Germans on the way home asked Alex if he would bump himself off the flight for a mate who was coming. Because their tour was over, he politely agreed. We had a chat and some donuts and coffee. While I was buying the coffee a Filipina looking girl asked me where I was from. I gave the standard reply - Canada. Because usually nobody here on this side of the world knows Trinidad and it's too much to explain every time. I asked her if she was Filipina and she said no that she was from India. I was so surprised. Of course there are Chinese people in India but still I was surprised. I explained that I was from
the West Indie and that I too am Indian. So, I guess we are bredren. :-)
Check in time and apparently my name wasn't on the manifest. The Germans' friend didn't show up so off went Alex but not me. I had to wait apparently even the standby passengers were being let on ahead of me. I made up my mind then and there to never leave my confirmation details to others. So I was bumped and told to check in at 11:40 for a 1:35 pm departure. The German guy coordinating everything was nice enough to help with my bags and point out the coffee shop. I had a meal set my alarm and showed up at 11:35 only to find out they had changed the check in time to 12:40 and we would leave at 2:30. Welcome to Afghanistan and get used to it. At times like these I must remember the size of my paycheck and just breathe.
Finally made it onto the manifest and into the departure lounge. I then had a 20-minute nap. I admired the way these solders can just curl up and go to sleep. Two American Filipinos sat opposite me. One of them had a real cool deadly look a la Jet Li. I was surrounded by soldiers of all nationalities. Finally I got on the damn plane. The usual big, green looking plane, I still couldn't figure out the seat belt. I sat opposite some Indian lady who was on the flight and had been smiling at me since the departure lounge. Thirty minutes later we were in MeS. I was told someone would be there to greet me but saw no one. I walked up to the PAX desk which helps with all problems - turns out my guy Hans was there asking for me.
Wednesday October 14, 2009
Well been here for a little more than two weeks now. Slowly trying to get a routine going and meeting new challenges as time goes by.
After we arrived, had to find sleeping quarters. Had to walk about 200 metres with my bags, thank God Hans was here to help. We opened the door to my office and found a young lady and man enjoying a meal for two. Thank God it was Hans who opened the door or I would've thought I had entered the wrong office. I had forgotten that my office which was once just ours was now to be shared.
Apparently, it had been empty for three months. Aysel had actually been here for a year. However, when given the promotion earlier that year she had to leave. Occasionally, the two local reporters would come in and even less occasionally we would have a fellow FMTL come and spend a week there.
When Hans came by in July to keep it going for a week, everybody converged on him when he unlocked the door. They have eleven hundred people in a 400-man camp and space is at a premium. They then made it clear that they would be taking over the office. Hans had to talk them down and they agreed to let us to share it. Thus six weeks later …TADDAA!!! … there I was!
I can understand why they don't take the FMT Department seriously, an office unused for three months and when I arrived, my side of it is covered in dust.
I made a pledge to be there as much as possible to make sure we don't lose it altogether. The female soldier with whom I share the office, Marie, is quite sweet.
She was worried about how I would fit in with all these Germans and soldiers and I don't even speak the language. She told Hans that I should tell her if I had any problems and she would do her best to help me. She claims that her English isn't good. She actually understands everything but can't articulate herself that well. She has never taken umbrage that I share the office and that she and her boyfriend, a Belgian soldier (the fellow we met with her on the first day), can't have the privacy that they used to. He on other hand, who I shall refer to as Belgian dick as I don’t know his name, seems to be perturbed at my presence. However, the last time I checked, he has an office next door, which he shares, this is the Bomb Disposal Unit operated by the Belgians. He has walked out of the office once or twice in huff apparently peeved at the lack of privacy for the two of them. You can see that Marie is affected by it and feels helpless. I feel sorry for her but “dick” has to understand he is in someone else’s office.
I saw him in my second week in the line at the canteen. Everyone here greets each other when walking by and if you know someone you automatically say hello. As he was behind me in the line, I looked at him just to greet, he looked right past me with a stoic expression on his face. Fuck him! Now I am really going to enjoy occupying that office.
I have no room. HQ told me that the camp would provide and the camp said they only provide for soldiers. After a lot of chat about how overcrowded the camp was, we got a tent. One hour to tell us and another hour just to tell where it was. The tent is big and built for eight. There was only one person in it and he left the next day.
Sharing a tent means putting up with other people's idiosyncrasies. The guy in the tent actually snored and spoke in his sleep at the same time. I didn't think this was humanly possible. I just got up and looked at him. However, the next day he was gone and it was just Hans and I for the next few days. Hans in addition to snoring occasionally in his sleep also sometimes groans erotically. Again this is not something I am used to. The first time I just sat up in my bed and looked at him. You just try to ignore it and sleep. However, one night I did have to bang on the wardrobe and interrupt his snoring.
Looks like I won’t get my own room for quite a while. They have ordered it. Basically this is some kind of portable and on a good day I am looking at three weeks to obtain it and probably two to three months for delivery. Thank God the tent is big like twice the size of a master bedroom and it has AC and heat. However, I just sleep there. It doesn't really entice me in a homely manner. It's also quite close to the bathrooms and showers so I appreciate that.
I don’t know much about camps but this one looks pretty big. If you are from Trinidad, think of the Queen’s Park Savannah, if not, it’s about 50 football fields or more. It’s a large dusty looking place. The damn sand is everywhere but we are not that far away from the desert. There are a lot of brown or grey buildings usually surrounded by grey concrete walls. Not extremely picturesque but then again this is an army camp. They have planted lawns around the buildings. And what does stand out are the rose bushes. The roses are huge, about half the size of the average man’s hand and they are beautifully red.
These people are going to have to get used to a brown guy who works here and is not an Afghan. The local staff are sent home at the end of the day but seeing me walk around in jeans or a pair of shorts, you can see them wondering just who the hell I am. During my first week I bought some lunch at the canteen and decided I wanted to carry it to the office. I asked for it to go and they just gave me a plate of rice and stewed beef in an open plate. I asked for it to be covered, so they put another plate on top of it. I had to ask for a bag which they did give. As the plate was not sealed, I put my hands on the top and bottom to avoid spillage as I walked. Just as I left the canteen, and with swirling dust all around me, I saw about three tanks about 80 metres away. They stopped dead in their tracks and just looked at me.
I knew what they were thinking, brown guy with a concealed package walking towards them. I was worried that the tanks would blow my ass to kingdom come. I figured if I acted in a panicked manner or suspiciously, that might evoke a reaction from them. So I did my best to continue walking and look as non-threatening as possible. They stood their ground and just looked at me. I just continued walking doing my best impression of a safe, unassuming individual. Some German fellow was coming my way on a bicycle. Realizing the situation, he looked at me and then just waved them on. They continued and as they passed me, I just glanced at them and continued walking straight as if passing a neighbour on my way from the supermarket.
Welcome to Kunduz you brown bitch.