Dedicating a new memorial + Afghan Meal #2

Written on 5-14-09

The sun rises early here and rudely awoke me around 0445 hrs as it peeked through my window and around the cloth window covering.  I used this as an opportunity to walk around the camp and take in my surroundings.  We are surrounded by huge bald faced mountains.  I watched as the sun slowly rose between the mountain peaks in the distance.  By best guess, the peaks reach up about 7-8000 feet.  They appear harmless, yet beyond them the enemy awaits for an opportunity to attack the coalition and Afghan forces.  This is when the reality of war reminds me where I am.
I ate an early breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese accompanied by some polish sausage and an overcooked hash brown.  Nearby I filled a paper bowl with some fresh pineapple, honeydew, and topped it with fresh strawberries.  My choice of coffee was limited to strong and weak coffee.  I learned from Camp Phoenix that strong coffee was really strong.  I wasn’t in the mood for watered-down asphalt, so I opted to mix my cup with half of each flavor.  This seemed to pacify my coffee tooth.  Yes it’s a far cry from my Millstone home brew and it can’t hold a candle to Starbucks either, but hey I’m in combat and the coffee is hot.  No need to complain.
Leaving Phoenix 008(2)Today we dedicated a special monument commemorating the efforts of the US and Afghan forces.  Previously the plan was to sacrifice a lamb and then allow it bleed it out for a day and then feast on the meat the next day.  Due to logistical challenges, the lamb was purchased and made in advance.  The Afghan Honor Guard surrounded the memorial and several guest speakers spoke.  Meanwhile our small military flight stood at parade rest in 90 degree temperatures and a glaring sun.  The Afghan general spoke in Dari without a translator for almost 40 minutes!   Our arms and shoulders grew weary from trying to maintain this position and our military bearing while everyone spoke.  Eventually the speeches ended and they unveiled the monument epitaph.Oops, someone forgot to spell check it, so “dedicated” was misspelled as “didicated”.
After the ceremony we were treated to another Afghan meal.  This time the main course was lamb, more vegetables and leafy greens with Nan bread.  Once again I forgot my spoon, but it wasn’t required for today’s feast.  The lamb was a bit tough and unsure what spices or marinade was used if any.  I smiled politely as I separated the gristle, fat and meat with my teeth.   I washed it down with some bottled water manufactured locally here.  I’ve included some pics for your viewing.Leaving Phoenix 007 (From Liisa: I’ll post more pictures in a slide show in the coming days!)
Later on in the afternoon a group of AF personnel took on the Army again at beach volleyball.  Yesterday we played for 2 ½ hrs.  The AF lost one game during the entire time.  Our volleyball court is rather unique.  It’s wedged between 2 buildings and surrounded by concrete barricades.  The out of bounds area is only 6 inches from the barracks walls.  It makes really interesting playing, especially with the air-condition units protruding from the walls.  So far nobody has gotten seriously injured as we are all cognizant of the dangerous obstacles.  I also took the opportunity to teach two of my teammates some more advanced fundamentals of playing volleyball.  They are quick learners and have added a jump serve to their weapons arsenal.  The Army won’t stand a chance!!

My first Afghan meal

The next morning we hit the ground running and inspected the up-armored vehicles that we would be responsible for.  Our training at Fort Riley familiarized us with them and now we will put our training to use.  The only difference is every time we leave the FOB, we will go “hot” with live ammunition instead of blanks.
After we received a small briefing, we visited our Afghan Kandak.  A Kandak is equivalent to an Army battalion.  I was informed my responsibility for the next year is to mentor the Afghan Sergeant Major.  Before we would meet and greet, we had to get a translator to accompany us.  The interpreters have a good understanding of our English language except for when we use slang or idioms.  They are too proud to tell you they don’t understand, so it’s important to observe nonverbal facial cues and provide clarity.
Initially the Sgt Major wasn’t in so we stopped by to greet the Kandak colonel.  My team chief was already inside his office when we arrived.  We were greeted and offered the traditional cup of chai (tea).  It reminded me of past deployments, especially in Kuwait when I made purchases for the government from local vendors.  Every vendor would insist on a cup of chai before discussing business.  I’m convinced by the end of that tour; I consumed a 55 gallon drum of chai!
Later on I met the Afghan Sgt Major.  He seemed impressed with the few sentences of Dari I was able to mutter.  Using the translator I explained that I was a writer and I wanted the American public to read and hear stories about Afghan life.   I quickly learned he has been a soldier for a long time and witnessed war first-hand.  My interest turned to the Soviet occupation era.  He explained that the Russians forced Afghan soldiers and citizens into their army to fight the Mujahadeen.  Recall the Mujahadeen warriors were being indirectly supported by the United States.  So in essence you had Afghans fighting Afghans.  Based on my short research of Afghanistan, I don’t recall reading about this in any history book.  So I am looking forward to exploring this subject in more detail.  If I were to draw a parallel, this would be similar to our Civil War.
Leaving Phoenix 004My team was invited to join the Afghan leadership in a specially prepared meal.  Immediately I panicked because I forgot to put a spare spoon in my pocket for this occasion.  As we sat down at the table I scanned it carefully and no flatware was to be seen.  Leaving Phoenix 005We would have to eat the meal with our hands.  The cook was stirring some sort of egg mixture in a steel pot on the floor.  It was equivalent to our eggs Ranchero.  On the table, the paper plates were filled with some basil leaves, Italian Parsley, small slides tomatoes and cucumbers and in honor of us they made some sort of French fries.   After watching our hosts eat, I mimicked them and followed suit.  The Nan bread substituted for the missing spoon for scooping up the eggs Ranchero.  We ate our meal, exchanged some pleasantries and then returned to our camp.

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