Monday, November 22, 2010

Preparing for a Charlie Brown Kabul Thanksgiving

First and foremost to all you Cowboy fans, who would have thought we would have one loss in November? I do heart my Cowboys!! I have spent many a late evening, early morning pacing (2 steps each way) my hooch as I listen or watch my beloved Cowboys work their way to 10-1! There are a number of OU fans here (I have emphatically stated that THIS is the only place in the world I would be friends with one of them) and I am doing my best not to talk to much trash this week (once you make the "I'll shave my head if we lose" bet you really learn your lesson) but I am ready for Bedlam!!

On to more important issues (no, I have not found a cupcake supplier) as you all know Thanksgiving is fast approaching. Luckily I have a dear friend who has opened her home to 16 of her closest friends and we are preparing for a Charlie Brown Kabul Thanksgiving (not to be confused with the upcoming Kabul Christmas Extravaganza). The saying "it takes a village" takes on a new meaning when preparing for a Charlie Brown Kabul Thanksgiving, unfortunately net grocer does not seem to be cooperating. Currently a stalk of celery is trading for a kings ransom and I have resorted to taking an extra tablespoon of sour cream at each meal so I can prepare my famous corn bread casserole. I have also resorted to trading in my Google stock for two cans each of cream corn and regular corn. I won't even get started on the Turkey's, lets just say thank goodness I had Thanksgiving in June! I was contemplating making eggnog but feared it would only end in tears.

Now for the Kabul Christmas Extravaganza....a small group of us have decided to meet the holiday head on and we are having a Christmas slumber party (don't worry it will be chaperoned) at a friends house. The evening will begin with caroling, Christmas poppers, Christmas movies, stockings and matching pajama's. Christmas morning we will move to another friends house for a fabulous Christmas brunch (maybe in matching pajama's, maybe not) and additional frivolity. I know many of you are now jealous and wish you too could be a part of the Kabul Christmas Extravaganza...but it is an exclusive club (maybe for a stalk of celery you could buy your way in).

In order to prepare for the upcoming Christmas season (and my vacation to Thailand and Cambodia) I have begun the couch to 5K program (seeing as I don't own a couch I have dubbed it Hooch to 5K). Hooch to 5K is a program you can download onto your iPod which trains you to run a 5K. It hasn't been easy and some mornings I fear that my ruking (running/walking) is responsible for some of the recent tremors in Afghanistan. But I am determined to meet my goal!

I leave in 10 days for a short trip to Thailand and Cambodia. Fear not, there are no camels to be found in Thailand (elephants are said to be much gentler). I am meeting a friend and we are going to explore Bangkok and then head to a camping/biking trip near Angwar Wat. She has assured me that after Jordan she has taken a basic EMT class and we should be fine!

Happy Thanksgiving and Go Pokes!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The unfortunate camel incident of 2010.....

Working 6.5 days a week and living in an enclosed compound I often feel I don't have anything interesting to blog about.....that of course. was before the unfortunate camel incident of 2010. I will explain.

After such a fabulous time in Jordan last year it was decided that it was time for a return trip. A friend of mine from Kabul met another friend of mine from The Hague for another whirlwind trip through Jordan. This was after Tara (friend from Kabul) and I spent 12 hours in the Dubai mall....(they had Krispy Kreme how can you not love it!).

Upon our arrival in Jordan we immediately headed to a spa in the Ma'in valley, it was amazing and we had a chance to rest, recuperate and enjoy some Jordanian wine with a wine tasting. We needed to prepare for our upcoming trip to the Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum, for an evening of roughing it...(don't worry Spa appointment was made for earlier in the day at Aquaba). Before I continue with the unfortunate camel incident of 2010 (since I am a government employee I am going to create the acronym UCI for future reference) I must tell you of my retirement plan, which is to become a Bedouin camel herders 6th wife (can't a girl have dreams)? Back to the UCI....Tara was up on her camel which was then tied to my camel. As I was saddling up I swung my foot around which got caught in the rope tying our camels together, the camel begin to stand and I went into a forward roll which ended up with me unceremoniously landing in the rusty bucket that is the feeding trough. I managed to move myself onto all fours and away from the camel hooves, made sure all appendages worked I began catching my breath as number of thoughts ran through my head:

-I need a new retirement plan
-there isn't a glass of wine within 200 miles to help me recover from this debacle
-not only is there not a glass of wine within 200 miles, but I bet there isn't a first aid kit within 20 miles
-there is NO way I am headed to a Bedouin hospital
-why is it that my life continues to be one long poorly edited I Love Lucy episode?

It took me about 25 minutes to gather my wits and slowly start moving (with the help of our rather traumatized guide) to the camp, all I wanted to do was lie down and make the world stop spinning. I realized I had scraped my lower back (or more accurately my upper, upper buttocks...) So they laid out some cushions for me to lay down on, my guide poured some hand sanitizer on my wound (which for the record really, really, really hurt) as I looked around I realized that a group of Bedouin men who worked at the camp, had gathered around to offer their best medical advice. At this point I really would have loved to have found that glass of wine. The rest of the evening and next morning random Bedouins would point at my upper buttocks and shrug wondering how the scrape was progressing.

I am happy to report I have survived and am back in Kabul, I will have the medics look at it tomorrow and will never, ever ride a camel again.

I am looking forward to Halloween, a group of us is going as Gilligan's Island which should be loads of fun. I have drawn the Mary Anne straw and have a wig to complete it all!

More later as I recover for the UCI and work out my newest retirement plan.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Panjshir Valley or Bust!!

So after weeks of begging, pleading and in general just looking pitiful, I got to get back out into the Afghan countryside. There are PRT's (provincial reconstruction teams) spread throughout the country and the Ambassador feels it is important for folks from the Embassy to get out to see them. A couple of weeks ago I got to Mazar...where we are standing up a Consulate, but more on that later. I got to go to the Panjshir Valley. We got to the "airport" at 6:45, weighed in (yes, really.....I will never, ever, ever complain about flying in the States after having to weigh in to be able to fly.....I told the "ticket agent" that my backpack weighed 75 lbs. I think he believed me). We filed out to our "ride" it turned out that our helicopter (helo to the cool kids) had formally been President Karzai's helicopter. It was very fancy and came furnished with four strong, fierce gun toting security guards (I wonder how much they weigh???)...The flight was about 30 choppy minutes. I will post some pictures I tried to take out of the windows. I bet they kept the windows cleaner for Karzai. The landscape in Afghanistan is fascinating, very brown I was glad when we started to head into the Valley and I finally saw some green. When we landed the first thing I saw were the nomads, their camels and goats. The landing zone was a field next to a stream and the front yard of the nomads. Once we arrived we convoyed to the PRT-known as forward operating base Lion. After a tour of the base (and of course breakfast) we convoyed through the valley and up to see Massoud's tomb. Massoud was known as the "Lion of Panjshir" a true Afghan hero. He stood up to the Russians and the Taliban and was assassinated in September of 2001. We were able to tour the tomb. I didn't realize that being a conservatively dressed western woman wearing a scarf rather than a burqua would make me quite the attraction. I think I had my picture taken (with camera phones no less) no less than 10 times. It was a fascinating afternoon, and amazing to see how beloved Massoud still is. As we drove back to the base we passed lots of small boys who loved to run next to the cars and give us a "thumbs up" I did ask if thumbs up meant the same in Afghanistan as it does in the States and was relieved to find out it does!!

We are on lock down for the next couple of days as the elections near. In the midst of all the election craziness I decided to throw a dinner party (I am apartment sitting). Of course I realized a little too late that means that no one will be delivering, which in turn means I have to cook!!! Between now and Friday evening I have to find pots, pans and ingredients! When you throw a dinner party (14 people-eek) in Kabul it is usually a BYOBSPG and Friday BYOBSGT (which means bring your own booze, sliverware, plate and glass! I have added tums for Friday). I may just serve everyone Lucky Charms stolen from the DFAC. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is it Monday? Does it really matter if it is Monday????

Greetings from Kabul-where I think it is Monday. Of course it really doesn't matter if it is Monday except that the reruns of Big Brother are on somewhere on AFN (you know you are in a war zone when you look forward to watching Big Brother....).

I guess the big news is that I have offered to extend in the garden spot known to the rest of the world as Kabul, whether or not they are willing to keep me is the big question! I think there is concern that I will, by myself, manage to cause the price of Afghan rugs to sky rocket.

I wish I had something exciting to write, but when all you do is work (or as I like to say "save the world one HR problem at a time) and buy rugs it is difficult to find fodder for blogging.

One of the most important aspects of life in Kabul is housing. I am currently living in a container, affectionately known as hooches, that is smaller than my office (but of course I deserve my large, corner office as I am saving the world one HR problem at a time....), I have 3.5 minutes of hot water for every shower-I have learned to shampoo in the evening and condition in the morning, I have to admit there are days when lathering up can be considered a luxury. However, I am luckier than some-there are some people are sharing hooches. Which would then mean 1.75 minutes of hot water per person..but I digress. There are a finite number of apartments available, and I am number 23 on the apartment list. Now keep in mind getting to #1 on the apartment list does not mean I would be roommate free, they have started "splitting" apartments, which means you would have your own room (with a *gasp* a carpet) and share the bathroom (with *gasp* hot water) and a kitchen. I have recently realized the people that go to the top of the apartment lists are married couples-which of course has gotten me to thinking. I could easily kill two birds with one stone: If I were to marry some poor unsuspecting gentleman on the apartment list I would a) get an apartment b) make my mother happy! Sadly this brings me to the unspoken mantra of the single females of Kabul "the odds are good-but the goods are odd" So, unless Peyton Manning somehow ends up single and in Kabul I will stick with my # 23 on the list.

Off to watch the end of Big Brother and dream of a world of bathtubs and carpets.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

You know your not in Oklahoma any more when.....

*you use the sandbags outside your hootch as patio decoration
*you are glad Senator Kerry is in town because it means better food in the Dining Facility
*going to the "Little Prince" in Dari is almost the highlight of your week
*going in an armored vehicle to a hotel where you have to pass through 3 check points to eat off of real plates is truly the highlight of your week
* not thinking anything of standing on the streets of Kabul-outside the green zone to pick up your delivery is Indian food doesn't seem "that" bad
*whether or not your staff come in the next day is based on the new moon

Greetings from Kabul!!! All is well here. Continue to work hours that would wear out mere mortals...not those of us in the biggest, busiest and baddest Embassy in the World!!

I have been lucky enough to get off compound a number of times. We are "allowed" to walk 10 minutes to the military compound on certain days of the week. It makes me laugh because the regulations tell us we are not to run along this route. Let me tell you-if someone starts chasing me I am running and breaking every regulation known to man!! The route is very well protected and we never get out into the real world, and it leads us to the land of carpets!

I did get out into the "real world" three (yes 3) times last week. The first evening was to see a play in the local language of Dari. We sat out in a courtyard on pillows and had wonderful AFghan desserts. I found it very surreal that when the Blackhawks flew over the play managed to go on-while drowning out the actors. This has become a fact of life. I wish I could describe what it feels like to drive through the streets of Kabul. You realize that your life is in the hands of someone (the local driver) who makes $16,000 a year. Life is going on as normal, even though we couldn't even comprehend normal as Afghans know it, while at the same time you never quite know the intentions of the guy on the motor scooter as he pulls up next to you. Afghans in the rural areas put there lives in danger every day when they come to work at the American bases. Without sounding trite-thank your lucky stars you are an American. Especially since Afghans have a propensity to wear shiny suits!!

I also got to go to 2 "local" restaurants last week. I am not sure how local they are when they serve wine ($75.00 a bottle) and take dollars! I do love to eat off of real plates and drink fizzy water! The altitude does take its toll-or maybe it is just me being out of shape as I breath heavily after climbing one flight of stairs.

One last quick story. This evening we ordered food from the local Indian restaurant. In order to pick up the food you have to walk off compound to one of the busiest "traffic circles" in the area. I had to realize the absolute absurdity of the situation as 6 Americans merrily walked out to the circle, paid the driver and argued over whether he had brought enough garlic naan!! Let me tell you that was the best garlic naan I had ever tasted!!

Off to my safe hooch-going to go back to carpet shopping tomorrow.

3 long weeks till football season!!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

You know you are in a war zone when.....

*your office is bigger than your living space
*you wonder if the loud noise you just heard was your neighbor slamming their door or incoming, and if it is the latter would it be worth getting out of bed?
*you know it is the weekend because you can wear capri's to work
*after one luke warm shower too many you begin dreaming about a new hot water heater
*if you spot Lucky Charms in the DFAC (dining facility) and can get to them without losing your dignity you know it is going to be an awesome day, if you lose your dignity....well it will be just one of those days!

Just a few observations as my one week anniversary is upon me! I arrived in Kabul last Sunday with much less fanfare than Secretary of State Clinton. But I digress, I left Washington DC after a couple of great weeks. I got to reunite with my fabulous high school prom date and had many a fun evening reliving the good old days. Jolynn came to visit and we were proud Americans and sat on the steps of the National Archives to listen to the Declaration of Independence being read (goose bump inducing). We topped off the 4th by watching the fireworks over the Washington Monument. After finish my final training I headed out to Dulles airport with 2 of the worlds heaviest bags. Luckily the nice lady at the gate took pity on me and upgraded me to business class, as the flight is 14 hours and Afghan air was in my near future I was practically giddy. Once I had boarded I tried out all of the cool gadgets unique to business class and promptly fell asleep in my reclining chair. Upon arrival in Dubai I headed over to the Raffles-after all I needed one last night in luxury! The Raffles was AWESOME. The floor had its own butler and a bathtub almost big enough to snorkel in (and the thought did cross my mind). After a rather sleepless night I was ready for the next step in my latest adventure. It seems as though Safi (Afghan Air) has a very stringent excess bag policy and I had to pay a pretty penny to be able to even check my bags. A rather auspicious start to the day. I was glued to the window as we flew over Afghanistan-I have to say it is a rather dull landscape-pretty much brown land next to brown mountains. Upon arrival we cleared customs and headed out to baggage claim-my bags were the LAST off the plane. After paying a kings ransom to get them on the plane I would have not been happy to never see my only possessions ever again. Once through an additional security check (still don't quite understand why it is necessary to go through security to arrive in of lifes unanswered questions) it was into the reality that is Kabul. There was an Afghan gentleman with an American flag standing just outside the gate-so pleased that we are keeping a low profile. After blindly following him to the car I realized anyone could be standing there with a picture of an American flag! I was rather surprised as we piled into the car and headed out to the Embassy. We drove right through down town Kabul-and I have to admit not much could have prepared me for life on the mean streets of Kabul. It is chaos-makes Cairo look like a small midwestern town. Goats in the streets, kids riding goats in the streets, motor bikes, bikes, other cars, a round about in which there are NO rules and everyone wants to be somewhere else and doesn't know how to get there, women in burqas, carts being pulled by mules full of watermelon. It was absolutely amazing. I felt very safe other than the fear we were going to hit a goat (and then the fear it would be dinner). We arrived safely on compound and I was very pleased that the HR folks were there to greet me and carry my excessive baggage home.

More later-still trying to recover from the 8.5 hours time difference, the 6,000+ altitude and working 12 hour days (continuing to save the world one HR problem at a time...)

Thanks to Shannon for the gentle nudge reminding me to write!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Kabul or bust PT II

Getting ready to move to Kabul takes some special preparation and training. It is recommended that we all have a "GO" bag. A bag that you have ready in case we need to "GO" quickly. Of course this is causing me some consternation. For those of you that now me-I can't make it to Paris (after months of preparation) for the weekend with both my tooth brush and tooth paste how am I going to be able to leave on a minutes notice???? So I am trying to prepare my "GO" bag early. So far my "GO" bag list has the following essentials (according to Jamie): BIG XII football schedule (which of course will be updated to the BIG XII basketball schedule depending on the time of year, a girl has to be prepared). twizzlers (after all they can be either a straw or a snack), money (a girl has to shop-even on the go), ID, a 2 liter bottle of diet coke and either a tooth brush or tooth paste (I don't think I have ever managed to make it on a trip with both so I figure why start now??)

Last week we had a week of intense training to help prepare us to work in austere conditions. Some of the topics we covered: medical training (if conducting CPR make sure you are compressing to the beat of "Staying Alive"), how and where to place a tourniquet, how to pack a wound, please note I learned all of this before lunch. We got to practice in full battle rattle-a helmet and PPE vest. I thought it was impossible to have more fun than learning to save limbs but the fun was just beginning. We loaded up and headed out of town to familiarize ourselves with guns and learn defense driving. I was very relieved to have learned first aid before heading to the gun range. I have to say much to my surprise I loved the gun range. Two years of tensions relieved in a matter of minutes! I do want to put your fears to rest, I will NOT be packing heat while in Kabul. After shooting 3 hand guns and an AK 47 I was exhausted and bruised! The recoil on the AK 47 was impressive-this helped to realize I am more of a Glock type of girl. I wonder if they come in pink?? Once again the fun was only just beginning-stay tuned for further details......