Trying to leave Kuwait

Welcome sign at Kuwait International Airport.

As you can tell by the title, the saga continues.  Yesterday I boarded a shuttle from Camp LSA to the Kuwait International Airport.  First we had to stop at the APOD (another location that nobody seems to know what the acronym stands for).  Here we waited for another shuttle to take us directly to the airport.  We arrived at the airport around 2:30 pm and I decided not to pick up my luggage right away and walk around the airport a little bit.  I was still in civilian clothes and did my best to blend in with the local populace.

Harley Davidson store in Kuwait airport.

This airport had every popular fast-food restaurant you could think of.  But it also had some specialty stores including Rolex and a variety of French specialty stores.  There were designer clothes stores, jewelry and the one that really stuck out was Harley Davidson.  They even had one on display!

I purchased a Café Latte

Vendor selling designer knock-off bags at Camp LSA.

at Starbucks for $6.00.  The exchange rate is terrible here when you exchange good ol’ greenbacks for Kuwaiti Dinars.  Thinking ahead for a contingency and further boredom, I brought along a book to read (Christmas present from my wife).  Greg Mortenson’s new bestseller “Stones into Schools.”  I had about an hour and a half to kill before the next shuttle.  Around 6 pm, I was informed they weren’t going to send a shuttle just to pick me up.  Instead, I would have to wait until the night passengers arrived before leaving the terminal.  This meant I had another 3 ½ hrs to waste sitting in the airport.

Holy water from Mecca.

I went outside to get some fresh air and noticed a dozen carts with identical items being pushed along.  My curiosity got the best of me and I got closer to examine them.  It looked like jugs of water, carefully packaged in plastic.  I was rather intrigued and sat down next to a Muslim from Sira Lanka.  He explained the packages were water from Mecca.  Since not every Muslim can attend the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, they bring back packaged vessels of holy water to distribute to other Muslims.  This holy water is then given to family members and friends as a sign of good prosperity and health for the coming year.

The bag that has caused me so much distress.

I returned to the airport and visited the baggage claim center.  This was the moment of truth and I was breathing a bit rapidly in anticipation until the clerk delivered my Army green duffel bag to me.  Gosh it was a beautiful sight and at the same time, I wanted to kick it out of frustration.  If it wasn’t for this bag being lost, I could have been with my team for Christmas and not have to endure these past few days of sheer boredom and restless nights.

Around 9 pm, the rest of the folks returning from R&R arrived.  We waited about 30 minutes and then departed.  The bus dropped us off at the APOD again and we were informed to get comfortable as it would be a 2 ½ hour wait.  The Subway and Pizza shops were still open for those who were hungry.  The rest of us would wait inside a tent that had a large screen television.  I used this time to read some more of Greg Mortenson’s book.

Reading “Stones into Schools” is just as fascinating as “Three Cups of Tea.”  It doesn’t surprise me that this book is mandatory reading for military officers studying counterinsurgency concepts.  I have also noticed during my travels to various camps, FOBs, etc. that they have copies of “Three Cups of Tea” stocked on their shelves.  It’s really great reading and gives the readers an insight to the complexities of conducting any sort of business or transaction in the villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Mortenson makes a great point about establishing relationships, understanding the culture, and listening to the needs of the people.  If our counterinsurgency plan is going to work in Afghanistan, then I think its imperative we heed Mortenson’s advice and listen to the people and not try to tell them what they need.

I’ve talked about FOO projects in my blog and all of the restrictions placed upon them.  But there is also another pot of money used for larger projects and it is entitled CERP.  Due to lack of sleep, I can’t recall what this acronym stands for.  These funds can be used to build roads, schools, clinics, dig wells, etc.  Anyhow, Congress has taken an interest in the expenditure of these funds and has placed narrow limitations on them as well.  So now it’s much harder to build a road connecting these villages, but it is permissible to build a fire station or buy fire trucks.  Hmmm … first the villages need a source of water like wells first.  Also, many of them don’t even have vehicles or know how to drive and their houses are built of mud-brick which doesn’t catch fire too easily.  I’m not sure where the logic is or perhaps some aspiring junior Congressman or seasoned Senator is hoping for a contract for one of his constituents who builds fire engines.  In my personal opinion, Congress needs to address the multi-million dollar contracts handed out like candy to their constituents and question the amount of money they are soaking the taxpayers for.  Don’t get me wrong, corporations deserve to make a profit, but 200-300 percent is egregious and in my opinion greedy.  I might also point out that US contractors stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan and abroad should be well paid for their sacrifice, skills and for the risk they take.  But then to turn around and charge the taxpayers double and triple the amount in the name of maximizing profits is sheer thievery.  Mortenson refers to these as “sweetheart” government contracts.  He is able to build schools for a fraction of what it costs the US or the NGO organizations established in Afghanistan.  Perhaps the US government should hire his “Dirty Dozen” crew to oversee the contracts.  But then this would deprive the corrupt Afghan administrators of their cut of the piece of the pie and would make it extremely difficult for them to retain their standard of living, driving SUVs, wearing expensive suits and ties, and living in wealthy neighborhoods on their maximum government salary of $650 a month.

Anyhow, we finally departed the APOD and arrived back at Camp LSA.  It was around 1 am and the plane I had planned to board already departed.  I guess it’s another night in the tent and maybe tomorrow I will leave this place.

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