Monthly Archives: September 2012

And I took the one less travelled…

And I took the one less travelled…


The Road Less Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I’ve Finally Arrived!

I’ve Finally Arrived!

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!

Two Sides of the War Coin

Two Sides of the War Coin

“We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it… Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not so bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good.” ~C.S. Lewis

I am a white female, and as such, have rarely been subjected to ethnic or racial degredation. Even in places like Hawaii where white military men are sometimes looked down upon, being a white woman has usually given me a pass in life…until now. Unless you count that one time when I bumped into a big, local Samoan woman on the Senor Frogs’ dance floor in Waikiki while making fun of how she danced…I almost got beat up that night…but I digress. Because I am stuck in limbo waiting for violence outside this base to settle enough to drive to the other end of this city to the base at which I’ll be stationed for a year, I fill my days with recreation. One day I challeneged a newfound friend to a friendly game of ping pong in the military rec center/tent. We were playing and jumping around chasing stray ping pong balls and having a fun time when I suddenly caught the most evil look being directed right at me from a local man who was doing some repair work inside the tent. I never understood before what someone looked like who hated or wanted to hurt me, but this was most definitely that look. I froze and a chill ran up my spine because I’ve been taught to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary that may cause danger inside the base here. My ping pong opponent noticed my immediate stiffness and calmly said, “Eh, no worries mate (he’s Australian), these men are Pashtuns and to them, you are the quinessential definition of sin and evil right now.” Wait, what?? He went on to explain that A. I was a woman B. I had my bare arms and head exposed (wearing a polo shirt), and most importantly C. I was playing a sport…apparently the triple whamy trifecta. I know I come off as some sort of sheltered little puppy as I write this, but I know that in life most people have experienced being the target of hatred for no other reason than they are just being themselves, and I can now sympathize. We continued to play ping pong, but I took note every time the construction men passed me with their haunting, warning looks which pierced right into me, as if they wished their eyes were actual knives. I am new to this hatred, but the brief exposure I had was the darkest, scariest thing I’ve witnessed.

Later as I was mulling over the concept of hatred of enemies, an interesting discussion came up with a solider here. He’s been a soldier on the front lines for over fifteen years, and he has seen and done it all. The topic of hatred came up and he looked at me squarely and said, “You know, as a soldier I don’t hate my enemy. I don’t hate that man out there that I’m ordered to shoot. On the contrary, I understand that we are merely opponents in this war and I know he is probably fighting his fight for good and sincere reasons. If I get killed at the hands of the enemy one day, I only hope he is a worthy opponent that gives me a run for my money.” He even had a sense of reverence in his tone about his enemy combatants – both past and present.

So in the span of a few days’ time, I have witnessed both sides of this war. I have seen the raw, generalized hatred directed at me becuase of the people I come from and the people I represent. I will never be anything more than that symbol to those men. They will use my ping pong as additional fodder for their own bitter resentment of an entire civilization. Then I see through the eyes of a calm, experienced soldier who knows no hatred – even of the men who have taken so many of his fellow soldiers and friends. He stated matter of factly that he doesn’t fight this war for his country alone, but for the safety and security of all countries who are threatened by the sort of hatred that breeds exponentially here. I’m grateful to men like him and all the soldiers in this fight who are fighting hatred with cool and collected experience and understanding that this war for us is not about hatred, but instead about the love of all those back home who should never ever be subjected to the sort of raw hatred that exists here. How is it I have found a glimmer of hope in the midst of all this?

Use Your Gift

Use Your Gift

I firmly believe there is something in each of us that wants to reach inward and take the best of what we can possibly be and extend it outward to make our world a little better. It’s in our nature to want to improve ouselves and our world. Every person possesses a talent – a gift unique to only them – the gift that is waiting to be offered to the world. So many of us ignore our gifts and drone on into the life that we’re told to live, and eventually we stop exploring and seeking to understand just what our gift is. How many talents go wasted and covered up in this life! I heard the saying that a graveyard is the richest place in the world because of all the unexplored talents and potential that dies with the body.

You were meant to find your gift, and to foster it toward maturity and growth so that the world can benefit from its special inherent value. Nothing comes of your ignorance or your unwillingness to share it. Those that either refuse to find or realize what their gift was, or those that have given up on finding it will not feel fulfilled or happy becuase they have settled far too soon in this life which was designed to be lived fully with zeal and fervor. It’s like seeing a beautiful sunset for only the shadows that it casts on the rocks at your feet instead of looking up and experiencing the grandeur of hues that fill the whole sky above you.

If you do not know what your gift is, don’t ever give up searching for it. If you do know, don’t deny it. Use it to step out of the shadows and brighten the world around you and those whose lives you touch. It was not given to you to be ignored and to wither from neglect…there is purpose in your talent and the world calmly waits to be bettered from it.

Still Stuck

Still Stuck

Stuck here on day three at the airport base in Kabul because of motorcycle bombs right outside our base. I just heard that Camp Leatherneck in the south where Prince Harry is based (that’s for you, Mom) was infiltrated and two Marines were killed last night, and a base here in Kabul was hit early this morning. I have to say that it feels a bit like I’ve moved to a crazy inner-city in some futuristic movie where all hell has broken loose…oh wait, that IS where I am!

But inside this base, there is a sense of “normal”…once you get past the constant rotten egg smell and the crazy diversity of nationalities because it’s a NATO base. There is an internet cafe (where I’m at now), a rec-”center” with pool, ping pong, and Xbox; a gym; a bazaar selling electronics and rugs and jewlery and such; restaurants (though I’ve been warned that the “Steak House” has made many people sick and that they’re not even sure it’s actually steak); and even a “bar” with music at night. They sell the non-alcoholic beer and pump up the dancing music at night – last night was salsa night and tonight is club-music night…I’m assuming that’s like pop and stuff. Just keep in mind that all of these places are in big tents – buildings seem to be a rarity. It was cool watching the salsa dancing last night because soldiers of all nationalities were in their uniforms just dancing away with each other…instead of peace talks I think we should have peace dances…dancing makes everything better! There were Italians, French, Portugese, US, Romanian, South Korean, Canadian, and Australian soldiers there last night…all getting their sober salsa on!

My main challenge seems to be my gender…which I was sort of expecting. I definitely don’t blend in like any other male contractor walking around in civilian clothes (which is usually khaki pants and a collar shirt). And the NATO soldiers don’t hide or make subtle their acknowledgment of this difference…they rubberneck it like I have a cleaver sticking out of the side of my head. This morning I went to the cafeteria alone and it felt like a scene in a movie where I was naked and the record screeches and everyone stares as I awkwardly walk with my tray through a sea of staring, camoflaged men to find the nearest open seat. I know it’s because I’m a girl, but it doesn’t make the trip from the food line to the seat any less uncomfortable! The key: look straight ahead and know where you’re going so you can walk with a semi-appearance of confidence and purpose. What’s difficult is that I’m an uber people watcher and I love seeing all these nationalities in one place. On the inside I feel a bit like the open-jawed tourist wanting to see everyone, but I have to keep a straight face and at least look like I know what I’m doing. Hopefully someday soon I actually will!

Every time I hear about a soldier dying at the direct hands of terrorists, I know that this fight has to be fought and has to be won. Many of my friends (Hawaii, you know who you are!) don’t think we should even be here and think we should just leave and let this country implode on itself…but the emboldening and empowerment that would inevitabley be given to the terrorists here would have immeasurable impact for our own country and all the innocent lives there. No. Keeping the fight over here and treating the terrorists as enemies who we need to be overcome instead of inconveniences we need to ignore is the only answer. I am so honored to be a part of this – ok well not yet because I’m just getting paid to write blogs and go to the gym, but hopefully one of these days!

I love you family and friends!

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Listen. Dream. Go.

Listen. Dream. Go.


“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~Steve Jobs

As I stop in the middle of this sand and heat, I think about the lessons of life – the many lessons of life that we will at some point inevitably learn, and I ponder which one was most significant in getting me here to this place I’ve dreamt about for years. I think it’s the importance of listening to and believing in myself. When I began to voice what I wanted – which was to come here to Afthanistan – I faced some confused and strongly opposing opinions. If anyone has read prior posts, they know that I’m a default people pleaser…or as I like to say now, a recovering people pleaser…so expressing an idea that is in opposition to others took some lady balls. It took a long time to voice even to myself what I wanted, and longer yet to boost up the courage to say it out loud. At first I felt silly and I would add disclaimers like, “I know it’s a stupid idea, but I think I want to go to Afghanistan.” Thank God I found the fire in my belly to keep listening to myself and take action on doing the thing I could barely speak. I couldn’t tell anyone in my life – wait, I told my sister because she could tell something was up – and felt like I was living a deceptive life when I submitted my employment application to various companies. Then when one was interested in me, I would break out in a nervous sweat in replying back that I would like to continue forward with the hiring process – like I was committing a crime or some awful act.

But I stuck with it. I think part of me was afraid that I’d buckle if I told people too early – that I would listen to unsolicited advice about what a dangerous idea it was and I wouldn’t go through with it – so I protectively stayed silent. But I listened to my heart when my words weren’t even there yet and pushed on. It didn’t feel wrong, but felt good and exciting and right when I pushed “send” on those employment emails.

I’m not promoting living a double life in order to do the things you want to in life in a careless fashion – that’s not the lesson at all. I’m putting out the voice of encouragement to trust in your own dreams and don’t shy away from them because of other people’s criticisms. Listen to yourself. Listen to your heart. And if you think you’ll buckle, then yes do what you need to do for you to dodge those fire hoses (that’s what my high school running coach used to call people that like to squelch dreams). Ultimately, everyone in my life got behind me and is supporting me now. But even if some hadn’t, I was prepared to ask them that if they didn’t agree with me, could they just love and trust me?

I regret that I held back on jumping off my cliff and doing this thing I’ve wanted to do for so many years. I tried to accept the life I was in before and become the person that I needed to be to make that life work, but ultimately I wasn’t very good at it because I was so restless and unhappy and living counter to my dreams…which would always seep in again and permeate my imagination. Now I can stand here and smile a smile from the inside out – a contented smile of happiness with myself that I did this – I took the steps to put me here. I finally listened to myself.

Incoming!

Incoming!

Day three here in Afghanistan. I posted a map because people keep asking me where this country is…which makes me smile because it parallels how bad I am at US geography – I’m pretty sure I couldn’t fill in all the states if given a blank map. I’ve been in limbo in the southernish part trying to get to my base where I’ll be working a little north of here, but flights keep getting cancelled due to the violence going on there right now. (Mom if you’re reading this, I’m fine!) Again this morning I got up early to pack up my three big bags and have them outside to be picked up by 6:30…or 0630 in militaryese. No sooner had I unloaded everything at the airport did the announcement come on that yet another flight was cancelled and that I would have to wait a minimum of two more days. When someone tells me my flight has been cancelled because a helicopter was blown up yesterday at the base I’m flying into, I don’t try to argue back. I say, “Sounds like a plan! I’ll get more iced coffee and write a blog!”

What’s really struck me is that despite that fact I’m right here where all the news is coming from, we find out very little of it until at least a day or more later. The internet suddenly got shut off here yesterday for a few hours – then I found out today is was because of bombings up in Kabul and they were putting a stop on information leakage. It absolutely broke my heart to hear that the victims of one of the bombings yesterday were children…children! What kind of savage, numb-hearted animal do you have to be to intentionally kill children? That’s a rhetorical question, because that’s the sort of enemy that we’re facing and the sort of future we cannot allow to affect or get anywhere near my future children.

We’re three for three for the incoming enemy fire (IDF=indirect fire) for each of the days I’ve been here. I’m starting to get used to the sound of the sirens and alarms sounding out over the whole base. Yesterday’s was a bit of a dilemma though because I was in the shower when the sirens went off. My thoughts: “Hmmm, so I can either go out naked in my towel right now to the bunker sitting with lots of other female-starved men, or I can dry off and quickly put clothes on and then go to the bunker – but by that time the incoming fire will have already impacted somewhere, in which case I’d already be hit by the time my clothes were on if it indeed landed near me.” I chose to stay in the shower and hope for the best…if it got me, at least I’d be clean. So I guess I learned from myself that if it comes down to it, I’d rather be clothed and dead than alive and naked. I never knew that would be my line in the sand (plenty of that stuff around here) until yesterday. Lessons being learned every day here!

In the spirit of my love for quotes, I’ll end with this one:

“Never tell your problems to anyone…20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.” ~Lou Holtz

I REMEMBER.

I REMEMBER.


It’s September 11th. It’s both an honor and a reality check that I find myself on my second day here “in country,” as they say. Looking around, you would have no idea that today is different from any other day here on base. Soldiers get up, eat breakfast, and head to work. I hear sirens in the distance as I write this, but from what I’m starting to understand, that’s a pretty normal thing around here.

Yesterday I found some shade to escape the HOT HOT sun and was drinking an iced coffee smiling to myself at the two songs that played through nearby speakers – “Walking on Sunshine,” then, “Come On Baby Light My Fire.” Haha, real funny, I thought. Suddenly an all-base alarm went off and all the soldiers around me calmly but without hesitation laid down on the ground. I’m learning to follow the crowd in learning the ways of life here, so I followed suit. Though I knew it in my head factually, it struck my heart for the first time that I was in a war zone and that this was no drill. Somewhere on the base there was some sort of incoming fire from a distinct enemy outside the base. We all laid there quietly and upon some cue I missed, they got up all at once and walked calmly to the nearest bunker. I must have looked confused because a couple of them directed me with them. We sat there baking for a while in the concrete bunker – me thankful for my rapidly melting iced coffee – until the “all safe” announcement blared throughout the base.

Today of all days I’m reminded of this decade long face-off we’ve had with this enemy, and the fight in which we find ourselves to help make this world a safer place by not succumbing to the enemy. As I look around me in the chow hall (aka cafeteria), the majority of soldiers I see are very young…so young, in fact, that 9/11 was probably not a big moment in their young lives when it happened. There are guys as young as 19 and 20 here, which means they were 7 or 8 years old on 9/11…hardly a life-changing moment for them…yet here they are serving their country far away from home trusting that there is reason behind their work. I believe there is, or else I wouldn’t be here out of my own volition.

Last night I had the honor of laughing and letting loose with some of the soldiers. Every Monday night here is karaoke night. There is no alcohol allowed here, and cause I generally like to have a little liquid courage to belt out my very bad singing voice, I snuck in and sat in the back to watch the brave souls getting up on stage. Some were bad, some were good, but none of that mattered because everyone was smiling and having good time. My favorite songs were a young, skinny white kid belting out “Baby Got Back” complete with dance moves, and another guy singing the entire “Come Sail Away” song in an Eric Cartman voice. I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks.

It’s a great privilege to wake up in Afghanistan on September 11th and to look around first-hand with appreciation at the work being done. To see these men and women serious when they need to be as during the alarm, and then laugh when they can while belting out “Livin’ On a Prayer” in unison.

I’m proud to be here on this day, proud to serve my country, proud to be surrounded by soldiers doing the same thing, and honor all the innocent lives lost 11 years ago today. May their deaths, and those of the people who have died in this fight since that day not be in vain. I send out a warm prayer of love and peace to all the families of those lost in this war.

God Bless.

Confessions…

Confessions…

Dear readers,
I have a bit of a confession…I’ve been intentionally NOT writing that in the past couple months I decided to take the adventure of my life and go to Afghanistan for a year. I continued to blog about the feelings and issues I was going through, but in much more vague entries – partly because I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it off and go, and partly because I hadn’t even told the important people in my life of my plans and I didn’t want them finding out from my blog. I started double-blogging by writing my own personal story into a word document which I have saved and have continued to add to all along the way – through the fear of telling my family to the preparations and in-processing and travel overseas. I woke up this morning to my first morning in Afghanistan, so I guess I made it! After this, I will post entries about my journey to this point now, and onward about many stories I have yet to experience. There have been many tears and funny moments and loving conversations and memorable times in the last couple months that have gotten me to this point now, and I would love nothing more than to share those…though there is one port-a-potty incident that my mother warned me to “clean up” before posting.

In essence, I decided to take my own advice over these last few months of blogging, and get out there and do the undoable thing that I never thought I could do. Many people didn’t understand and said, “Yes, but WHY Afghanistan?!” Of all the crazy things to do! I simply asked them to love and support and trust me…and told them to read my blog because I will try to answer that along the way.

Since I left my home over two weeks ago, I have had a soaring sensation in my heart, and I know that I made the right decision for me. Jumping off my own cliff was right for me, and now I’m off in the adventure of my life to discover who knows what!

More to follow once I figure out how to find wifi and hook up to my own computer – there’s a time limit in this internet cafe and I’m nearly out of time.

Best wishes and happy reading!
~Amy