So here I am finally in my first week on the base I’ve been trying to get to for what feels like a month, but has only been a couple weeks. The road threat levels eased up for a day – just long enough to give me 20 minutes notice to pack up my three bags, throw them in the car, make sure to put a scarf over my head because we were going off base, and zoom off into the great city of Kabul. When you’re stuck on a military base, you forget about bustling life going on just outside the gate…it’s all some imaginary world…so driving through the city was a whirlwind of new stimuli with different people, clothes, architecture, and colors. I guess I pictured the city would be nice because it’s the capital of the country, but for the most part it looked like it had seen better days – much better days. Lots of decay and years-old trash piles, roofs caving in on teetering buildings that looked like a small wind could knock them over. We wound through streets – traffic laws just a mere suggestion – it seemed to be the car that got to go was the one who wanted it more. I think traffic alone was probably more dangerous than any bomb threats!
Then the moment had arrived – I finally got to see my new home, the base I was going to be living at for the next year. It was like the scene in A Christmas Story where the little boy is anxiously ripping open the present thinking it’s going to be the Red Rider BB gun (I’m sure guys can correct me on the exact gun in that movie), and lo and behold, it’s pink bunny pjs. Only this wasn’t quite as nice as pink bunny pjs. It’s a TINY base with no pavement anywhere – just gravel all over the place surrounded by a big barbed wire fence. It was the tiny size of the place that was most alarming – I see some potential for boredom. BUT I will say that as I’ve poked around here and there this week, there are plenty of little nooks and crannies to find things to do – a place to watch movies on a big tv, a gym, a crossfit slab of concrete which a Canadian guy had to actually raise money to build because concrete is just not a thing here. I’m also really glad that the previous living tents were recently changed to metal conex boxes…and the best part…I have my own room! It’s about 10ft by 10ft and barely holds a bed and a dresser, but it’s all mine! I finally get to unpack and set up shop…starting with a little frame of my adorable niece right on my desk by my bed…hint hint…could use more pictures!
The best story of my week, though, happened on my first day. People were all talking about a base run the next day out on the track out side of the base gate, so I decided to be proactive about getting involved in base activities and signed up (for the 5k, not ready for the 10k yet because we’re a mile high and my Hawaii lungs are still adapting). In any case, women are always warned not to go outside ANYWHERE alone – let alone without a head scarf and bare arms – and HEAVEN FORBID you do sports of any kind. I wanted to run on the track though because the run was the next day and I wanted to see what it was like, so I found a nice Turkish military soldier to walk with me out to the track…which by the way is surrounded by astounding views of old Afghan palaces on a tiered hillside complete with a beautiful mountain backdrop (picture above). When we got there, he said he was walking, so I set off ahead running. I passed him a few times, but the track is pretty big – 1k total – and after about half an hour I saw I was no longer passing him – in fact I couldn’t see him anywhere. Hmmm…this was a quandary…I suddenly found myself off base alone with no covering and looking very sporty. I knew the gate was pretty close, so I just decided to walk with my head down and go straight to the gate. (Mom, maybe you shouldn’t read this…just know I’m fine now!) Well, the keeping my head down part backfired because I walked right past the narrow turn-in to the gate and kept walking on the main road out toward the Afghan base right next door. Finally when I realized I was quite lost I asked a couple men who looked as me like I was a three-horned unicorn…or tricorn rather…and I asked them where the gate to the base was. They asked me back in English which base (I didn’t know there was an Afghan base and that I was now right outside of it). I said American base, and they both continued to look confused – probably more at the fact that I was even out there talking to them alone – and then one of them finally pointed back behind me and said, “American base!” I looked back and saw the gate guard quite a ways back waving his gun at me in a motion to come back NOW. Oops!! On my way!!
Incidentally, I ended placing third overall (first girl – though there were only three of us) in the 5k the next day, and I attribute it to my track familiarization. My placing won me a little popsicle stick with the number 3 on it, as well as apparent base-wide notoriety after the places and times were announced in a all-base email. Suddenly everyone was smiling and saying hello to me and I’m meeting people from Canada, Turkey, Romania, Czechoslovakia, England, Germany and of course the US. So my first week has been a good week. I’m getting into my job, learning my way around, meeting people, learning a few local sayings like “good morning” and “thank you,” and curling up in my very own space at night…I have arrived!