November marked the six month mark for us here in Kabul. We passed the half-way point for our deployment at just about the same time we passed the half-way point for the month. Surprisingly, this experience has gone quite fast. I'll be headed home on R and R in a month or so, and when I get back after a couple of weeks, we will really be probably just about 4 months or so before we'll be home. As time tends to do, it will really speed up now, I think...especially as we look at all the different projects and tasks that we're trying to get accomplished before we go.
The weather is turning quickly now. There is snow on the distant mountains, and daily, it seems to creep lower on their slopes. We had a nice drizzly day, the kind that you'd prefer to spend inside, curled up with a good book and hot cup of Joe, and when the next day dawned, the scene was just brilliant...clear crisp air, and the far off white peaks stark against the deep, blue sky. Then, after about 10 minutes, the normal smog settled on us once again, obscuring them from view.
Since we're part of a NATO mission, I have regular interaction with the French hospital here, and have become the defacto liaison with them for our section since our Belgian officer left. It taxes my feeble abilities with the language, but has been a great reason to try to brush up on it. I can hold my own as long as the content doesn't get too complicated. Mes amis Francaise have also defied the typical stereotypes that most Americans believe in, by being truly tolerant and helpful of my attempts. It's been a tremendously valuable and encouraging experience.
Language can be a funny thing, too. I was working with some Afghan students, trying to get them onto the base, and as they were handed visitor cards, one of the guys wondered out loud if there were clips available to attach the card to his shirt. His English was not too precise, however, and he asked the guard, "Can I have a hooker, please?" Of course the guard looked at him as if he had a lobster just sprout from his forehead. I told him, "Um...I'm pretty sure you don't want one of those...what you're looking for is a 'hook.' Big difference." Ahh, English...so many words that can be used in so many different ways.
Otherwise, all continues to go well. We have stayed safe, pretty comfortable, and really want for nothing. We get regular care packages from concerned and supportive citizens, which we greatly appreciate. The other day, each person in our section received a copier box full of snacks, toiletries, socks, playing cards, books, and a selection of greeting cards. That was really thoughtful, because our store is usually out of everything except the ever so useful "Happy 3rd Cousin's Wife's Birthday" cards. Our boss also has several organizations that send food, causing one of our visiting former colleagues (the aforementioned Belgian) to comment that our coffee mess looked like "Dining Facility #3" (we only have 2...).
Enough with the rambling. Here's a pictorial representation of November.
|A cold, rainy day in Kabul, rendered in black and white. This may be a foretaste of the winter to come.|
|Decorations on a local Jingle Truck, the ubiquitous cargo truck used here in Afghanistan and Pakistan.|
|A Kabul area kebab place...probably delicious, but we'll never find out because we can't ever stop.|
|An unfortunately common sight along nearly all the major streets. This woman and child are regulars that we see nearly every time we go out.|
|Mobile kebab guy. The girl going into the shop behind him had just completed a purchase.|
|Yet another beggar. They walk down the center of the street during rush hour. Amazingly, we've never seen anyone run down.|
|Local guards outside one of the local compounds. They are all armed with AK47s, and were definitely alert as we drove by, wondering what a bunch of gringos were doing around their area.|
|A woman with excellent balance...I wouldn't be nearly as successful keeping a bundle on my head like that.|
|Alleyway with routine pedestrian traffic. I love shooting up side streets as we drive by, because it's a small glimpse into the neighborhoods that we never otherwise see.|
|More local beggars, with a small child. This was taken obliquely through ballistic glass, hence the distortion.|
|Shopkeeper relaxing in the warm, afternoon sun. We paused for a short period in traffic, and I snapped several shots of him. He looked quite content.|
|A prominent monument, Masood's Monumment.|
|Another poor family, begging in the Kabul traffic. It breaks one's heart to see such poverty, especially when there are children. I don't think there's a parent alive who would not be touched and pained to see something like this.|
|A couple of young girls strolling by a computer repair shop. On the way home?|
|Local mountain sheep monument. According to one of our colleagues, it's been here a long time...but looked better in the past.|
|Girl crossing the street by carefully judging where the next car will be when she gets there. Kind of like Frogger.|
|Aerial view of a local wadi running through the desert.|
|Dead tank at the top of a hill...it sort of looks like a monument or something now. Judging from the rusty appearance, it has been there for a long while.|
One night, after Skyping with the family, I decided to go work on some night photography. I wandered over to the NATO flagpoles and monument and spent about an hour experimenting with long exposure shots.
|Night flags at the NATO monument.|
|Night flags self portrait...at 15 seconds exposure, I had time to walk in and out of the photo, giving me the ghostly appearance.|
|Vertical shot from just off the center of the monument of flags and stars.|
|Since it was a new moon, I found the darkest place that I could and spent an hour or so shooting the stars. The constellation Orion, one that is instantly recognizable to any Boy Scout, is seen here.|
|It is always important to look both ways before crossing the street.|
|Flag of my alma mater, Auburn University. Lots of football fans around here...I am not so much...I don't care about it enough to stay up to the hours required to actually see a game like some of the folks I work with.|
|It appeared that this cart had an accident that resulted in blankets strewn across the ground...a veritable Blanketastrophe|