Sunday, February 15, 2009

Snowing Stupidity

I've been going kinda crazy with the lack of a view here in the compound and the painfully drab scenery when there is a view. I got a bit hopeful a while back when we started getting snow here in Kabul. Ever since I lived in New York I've loved early mornings with new snow. No matter how filthy a place is, it always looks better once you put a few coats of white powder on top of it. Until people touch it, of course.

Since there's never a time here where there isn't someone awake and walking or driving around, there's never a time when you can actually see the ground covered in pristine new snow. The best you can hope for is trampled, muddy, crap-filled snow framed by pristine new snow. Bummer.
The other morning, after a night of moderate snowfall and heavy traffic, the day broke clear and bright. This was good since it was still coming down pretty heavy the night before when I was tasked with making a trip out to an airfield on the far side of town. The plan was to drop off a handful of colonels at goofy-early in the morning so they could catch a flight out to points wherever the hell. Then we could be safely back in the compound before any suicide bombers woke up and had a chance to look around and think of all their reasons to shuffle off thier mortal coil.*

On the way to the edge of town, we drive through a maze of blast barriers and Hesco barricades. Everything is topped with barbed wire and steel spikes and guard towers, but there are still nice views if you know where to look:

The problem there is that you have to be paying very close attention in order to find the good parts. Usually you just get squalor:

But I digress.

It turns out that we were going to an airfield that neither Greg (the driver) nor I (the vehicle commander) had ever been to. We'd both driven past it and we'd both reviewed the maps and we were confident we knew the way. Then, when we came to a fork in the road planning to go left, one of the colonels (who had been there many times) told us to go right. This started us on a 45-minute ambling tour of the back roads of Kabul where we got to see the last thirty years worth of bombed-out buildings and no airfield.

When we finally decided to ignore the colonel, turn around, and actually get to the airfield, it was plainly obvious to even the most casual observer that there would be nothing taking off from there soon. None of the previous night's snow had been removed from the runway or the various aircraft parked alongside it. Still, when we dropped these colonels off the sent us on our way, certain they'd be flying within half an hour.

It's worth pointing out that this was not a military airfield. It's an ad-hoc airfield thrown together by a handful of humanitarian aid organizations on the cheap. There was no passenger terminal or restaurant or coffee shop. All of the buildings amounted to a maintenance hangar and a handful of shipping containers which were being used as office space. If they were happy waiting there for a flight that wouldn't happen, I was happy to leave them there.

At that point, this helicopter was the closest thing to being able to fly:

Unfortunately, they were not flying by helicopter.

On the way back to the HQ compound, we noticed dozens upon dozens of Afghan highway workers in their dingy orange jumpsuits shoveling snow ONTO the road:

I'll admit that I never really paid much attention to snow and ice removal operations when I was living in NYC or New England, but I think maybe these guys are a bit unclear on the concept. Of course this is a nation that has had particularly miserable winters every year for the past twenty or so millenia and still manages to be surprised by it every single year.

"What's this? Snow? But we don't have anything ready! We haven't prepared! How could we have known? This hasn't happened in, like, a year..."

While Greg and I were musing over this, we passed this guy:

I don't know how he managed to get his truck stuck in a ditch going the wrong way on a busy highway, but I felt bad for him. In another part of the world we'd've stopped and helped. We were in a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a towing harness and all sorts of equipment that would've made a thirty-second chore out of what would instead take him all day (provided he was related to a tow-truck driver) but there was nothing we could do. We wanted to help, but you never know if it's not just a ploy to get you to stop long enough for them to push the button on a truckload of homemade explosives.

We got back to the base just in time to begin the daily litany of meetings and conferences and photo ops and so on. We were knee-deep in the whole mess when Greg got a call from one of the colonels at the airfield. The flight was cancelled and they needed us to go pick them all up again.

At the end of the day I went on another quest to find a decent bit of scenery that I can see from inside the compound. After climbing up onto one of the roofs, this was the best I could do:
I hate this place.

*This doesn't happen very early in the morning usually. I suppose it takes a dude a few minutes to get up, realize he's freezing cold, his roof's caving in under the snow, and he's got something like four wives nagging him about it before he decides, "yeah, I'd like to die now."

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