Holy hell has it been cold. From the day we arrived nearly two months ago, the temps on this FOB (which is 3,000 ft higher than Denver) have barely crept into the high teens – pre-dawn temps above 5 degrees Fahrenheit were luxurious. Wake-ups were especially difficult: get dressed and run to the porta-potty or stay in the warmth of my bed until the abdominal pain becomes unbearable? Decisions, decisions. More than once I found myself doubled-over in pain scampering to the porta-john 75 yards away. Some would call that intenstinal fortitude. I just say it sucks when it’s too damn cold to pee.

But finally, we are starting to get some warmer weather. Snow and ice are melting, turning the frozen dirt into pockmarked mud trails. Graders are out trying to level it off but in most cases, do more harm than good. John Deere Gators and Toyota Hiluxes look like they just returned from the muddin’ track at a Monster Truck Rally SUNDAY…SUNDAY…SUNDAY! My boots are wearing a layer of mud about an eighth-of-an-inch thick and ankle high. I can’t wait to see what Afghanistan holds for us next.

Oh, wait.

With the warmr. big dubyamer weather comes some not-so-nice stuff. First off, apparently this war has an off-season. Yeah, I know, go figure. Much like Northeast “snow birds” head to Florda come Christmas, when it gets too cold here in the mountains, the Taliban and their cohorts take some time off. I guess they go golfing in Dubai. Bastards. Anyway, “war” in this area goes on hiatus. But, as spring arrives we get a kind of spring training. However, instead of pitchers and catchers we get the Taliban, terrorists and assorted other “bomb-throwers” and miscreants. Probably won’t have a chance to get Achmed to sign his rookie card, though. Oh, well.
Enough about that – it’s sort of a downer. Am I right? Let me tell you what we have to do here. We have…well, on Saturdays we can…every Tuesday there’s…well, honestly, there’s a whole lot of nothin’. Other than the USO with its Wi-Fi, the various MWR (Morale/Welfare/Recreation) buildings and their computers, Xboxes and big screen TVs, there ain’t a whole hell of lot to do here. We do have a coffee shop – King Coffee – that has coffee (natch), pizza, calzones and HBO with its Indian commercials playing all day. I can say, with authority, Waterworld sucks – even with sundry risque advertisements and a be-mulleted Kevin Costner to ridicule.

For you, dear reader, to get an accurate picture of this FOB, you need to picture Alaska tents as far as the eye can see, nestled mere feet apart in most cases. Then insert another ubiquitous item: the conex. Here conexes are used to store water, provide shower and toilet facilities, serve as equipment stores – you name it – if there’s a need, there’s a conex. In some cases they are stacked 2 or 3 high and elaborate scaffolds of support and stairs are built. Strategically placed amidst all these are Hesco barriers and sandbagged bunkers and the whole fam damily is surrounded by T-walls. In the words of my young lieutenant, “It’s the military’s version of a post-apocalyptic society.” And no, Kevin Costner, you can’t make a movie out of it. (See how I brought that back around? Genius.)

On the fringe, inside the T-walls, we have (and please pardon the vernacular) several Hadji marts. Haphazard little bazaars that sell all manner of items. Here you can find rugs – some hand-woven, others machine-made; hookahs (no, that’s not pronounced with a Dudley Moore drunken slur) and assorted regional clothing and knicknacks. There’s also a plethora of pirated DVDs and software; Oakley, WileyX and Dr. Dre Beats headphones knock-offs; and more counterfeit knives, watches and other items even the most brazen of NYC hawkers would blush at the outright fraud of it all. Here haggling is a sport and not to be entered into lightly. Usually, all it takes to get your price though is to put the item down and start walking out of the shop – they quickly ocme around to your way of thinking. If they want/need the money that is.

Life here, for the most part, isn’t all that bad…not great…but not bad. In our off-time we hit the gym (me at 3:45 a.m. so as not to interfere with my afternoon nap); watch movies (everyone has external drives – they’re about as ubiquitous as those conexes); or read (I’m on my twelfth book since arriving). I have time to write these compelling posts – though they take about four or five days to get through. And I sleep, comfortably for now. The food? Meh – leaves a little bit to be desired: the “ribeye steaks” we get are usually cooked medium or well-done which is to say, they’re all well-done and about as tender as my boots. But beggars cannot be choosers – steak is steak but I avoid any and all seafood. This is a landlocked country after all.

So, that’s it in a nutshell (you’re thinking about Austin Powers now aren’t you?). I’ve left some of the specifics out because, well, (cliche alert) if I told you, I’d have to kill you. And I haven’t got time for that. It’s a lot of travel. Anyway, I know I promised a post on the people I’m working with. I’ll be working on that one shortly. I was hoping for something Peyton Place like, but, honestly, it’s a bunch of dudes…in tents. I can’t even get this. Oh, well, I’ll come up with something that makes it worth reading. For now, if you want to catch up be sure to read this post and this one.

Talk to you all soon.

mr. big dubya – RC-East, Afghanistan