Friday, May 16, 2008

Saying goodbye. . . and a surprise

On one of my last days at HQ ISAF, I was finishing up my out-processing - the process of getting signatures of the various agencies that were responsible for me in various ways, around 22 total - and I had some very interesting comments. Of course I was talking to all my Tali-Band friends, and their friends that I had come to know and appreciate, but I was also saying goodbye to the merchants that had shops on base that I had done business with.

The fine military folks were well-wishing, shaking hands and wishing me good flights and travel, but the most surprising came unexpectedly. I was at the shops on Carnaby Street - the line of shops that are behind the Milano, and talked to the jewelers - #4 - as well as Bahktar, where I had bought some very nice things for my children - The Mobin Tailor - where I had a couple suits made ($80 for a custom fit suit!) - and finally Joete - where I had purchased a carpet for myself, and for my parents.

The carpets are absolutely stunning - every one. I shopped at a couple of the other carpet shops, and the carpets were much more expensive - and not as ornate, in my opinion. For example at Sami's shop, he wanted $1800 for a small silk/wool carpet. Joete's prices were much more reasonable. I found great joy in explaining to Joete that my parents loved their carpet so much that they decided instead of putting it under the table in the dining room, that they were going to remove the carpet in the living room and put the carpet there. And - no one would be allowed to eat there - and risk spilling something on the carpet! He was very proud that my parents were so happy with the carpet. As am I with mine. :)

As I came to Joete's store - the last on the block of stores on Carnaby, Joete looked surprised when I told him I would be leaving, and he grabbed me and hugged me. After - with his hand over his heart (a very common expression of gratitude in Kabul) he wished me well, his family wished me well, he wished my family well, and then he floored me . . . . "I want to say, and my family also, thank you to you. Because you come to my country - and you help my country. For that I appreciate it - and I thank you, very much."


Totally unexpected - and completely humbling. This changes everything. This is the kind of thing they remember. Not that we were there to defeat them - or to destroy their country - no, they understand. Joete understands.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Leaving. . . or not

Well, leaving certainly got interesting. While I know we're in an 'austere' environment, and I know we're in a war zone, but there are happenings that can still be surprising. Like, for example, being ready to leave and being told the airport is closed due to a rocket attack. That was a wake up call. . . we are in a war zone. This shouldn't surprise me. Goodness, we'd been through bunker calls, and many of those. . . but I guess it was just making the fact that I was trying to get out of here all the more obvious.

I was all packed - had all my gear stowed, not in as few bags as I wanted - but still less than when I came. I had lots of gifts & things, so I guess its understandable. & my bass. :) So the night prior, when I'm getting my out-processing completed, I have everything in a bag, somewhere - save what I was going to wear, and certain toiletries, so I'd be ready first thing in the am. I was to leave . . . early.

I went to bed around normal time for me - about 10:30 - after Leigh, my roommate, had returned from work. He was on the 'net - so I figured I'd catch up with email in the am. No worries. I put on the iPod, and got ready to listen quietly as I fell asleep.

I slept - well, like I usually do - dead to the world, until around 0400. Then I was wide awake. I don't know why - but the last couple of weeks, I keep waking up early - for no reason, and can't get back to sleep. Ok, so I put on some tunes, and chill. At least it wasn't 0300 like a couple days ago. I decide to check a bit of email, and catch up - and then hit the shower. I get back, it's still early, so I decide to catch Scott at the shack - I had one last coin to pass out.

Maybe I should explain about the coins. Coins are a way to show someone in the military appreciation for a job well done. I picked up 5 of the ISAF coins to pass out to the guys that worked for me as a small token of appreciation for a most excellent job. They all worked very hard - and deserved something - I thought this was nice.

So I was on my way to the shack to see if I could catch Scott and give him the coin, and I saw Ken on the way there. He told me the airport was closed. . . Ok, I thought. That's a bit odd. I went in to the shack and found out it had taken a couple rockets overnight, and was closed. Wow - that's just great. I went on to find Scot - who was on the roof going over the comm info for MSgt Davis - his replacement. When a break came - after a few minutes, since they were deeply involved in a technical discussion - I 'coined' him. He was suitably impressed, and thankful. I congratulated him on a job well done, and we left the roof.

We got back downstairs and had some decisions to make, some discussions we needed to have, and some coordinating to find out - when we were leaving!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Queen's Day

The Dutch have a Queen's day celebration, and we were all invited -and the band was asked to play - so of course, we accepted. We even learned Radar Love, as it turns out, Golden Earring is from The Hague.

The party started earlier than we were to play, so we took a bit to wander around the Distille Gardens and see what all was happening. There was traditional dutch food, which was quite tasty, even the pickled herring! Very good. There were also other treats, a rye like very heavy bread, and some desserts. They also had some traditional games - like the jeans hang, and some type of jousting that was done with pillows over a pool of water.

The folks were very friendly, and the band was rocking. Here's some photos from the event to enjoy.

Oh- as a side note, we had our CD's for sale for the first time at this event. We sold out fairly quickly as we only had 200 made (2 cd's each - a live and a no crowd live/studio). Along with donations, we made over $1500.00US for Women of Hope Project. I'd call that a success!

T-shirts are also in. We should be selling them this Thursday at the Canadians Casino Night!

Trip to KAIA

I, personally, like adventure. Not crazy stuff - but doing something different - going somewhere cool - seeing something unusual. Regular stuff. Here in Afghanistan - believe it or not - there is beauty everywhere. Every morning I'm in awe - no matter which way I walk, I'm walking towards a mountain. Beautiful - absolutely stunning.

We had a little accident about a month ago - the NCOIC - Ken - was playing on the vollyball league against the French team, I think - who had a couple professional players! - and the ball hit him just right and broke his finger in 2 places. Of course, he didn't know this at the time - just thought it was out of joint - since it was bent at a right angle away from his hand. Looked pretty nasty. Well - he had it looked at by the doc on base, but the doc sent him to KAIA (Kabul International Airport) to have the surgeons/docs/nurses there check it out - since they had an x-ray machine, and we don't have on on HQ ISAF.

We arrived, and departed from the shuttle area, knowing we needed to return in 4 hours, and started walking in the direction we thought the hospital was. As we were walking, we saw a couple soldiers and a civilian, so we asked if they could point us in the general vicinity. The civilian - Australian, offered to just take us, and he did.

The hospital reminded me of M.A.S.H. - the TV show. It was a big green tent. As we walked in through the first flap, I could see 3 openings to leave through - one was a dentist area, one was blocked off, and a third where the nurses came from. These were Croatian ladies, officers, in camouflage, with a very limited command of English. However, they were very helpful and friendly, which made everything much easier. Ken got in to see the doc immediately - obviously no silly insurance questions here, in a war zone, and I waited in the waiting. . . . area.

When he returned, he confirmed - his finger was broken, and in two places. That means a return trip. Since we had been here now a total of about 40 minutes, and he was completely done, we had some time to kill. We walked over to the coffee shop and got a drink, and Ken decided he wanted to take himself out for a massage. Great idea - and good birthday gift! He went to do that, I went to see the shops.

The shops were identical to the shops at HQ ISAF - same kinds of things, a rug shop or 4, a shop with only pashmina's, an 'antique' shop, and various others. I got a German soccer team shirt, and a Pashmina for mom (a nice one, too), and hit a couple of the BX's. We finished up with lunch at the Italian place, which I treated Ken to, since it was his birthday, and loaded up to head out.

As we were driving back, we took some video. . . very interesting city - Kabul. Probably the most interesting item, was the cloud of smoke we saw some 100 yards off as we exited the airport. I learned later that was a fatal IED. Really made me glad we didn't take that exit out of the Airport. And made me call my kids. . . tell them I love them. . . and really consider how close to "War" I really am. Sobering.

Here's some of the video we shot driving through Kabul: