Kandahar, where blogs go to die

Well, I haven’t written here for several weeks as I’ve been starting my new job in Kandahar, but it’s not because I haven’t had anything to write about or to report. I’ve had many exciting experiences and I’ve learned so much that I feel like my brain is about to explode. But it’s not.

In any case, my new company has a strict policy related to social media and blogging. I’m forbidden from writing here about the work that I’m doing, and I’m not allowed to take or distribute pictures of my surrounding. While this may seem lame, stupid, ridiculous and paranoid, it’s not – it’s just the last one.

Actually, to ensure the safety of its employees, my company has been pretty responsible and wants to continue to be so. I completely agree, and while I had a lot of fun writing here and keeping everyone interested up on my adventure over here.
But it’s over. That’s it.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to glance back through the pictures, contemplate the super serious entries, and shake your head while reading what I consider to be funny. If you are a book publisher and like what you see, I’m represented by Bob Loblaw, Attorney at Law (You don’t need double talk – you need Bob Loblaw.)

Cheers everyone and I’ll see you all in 10 months!

Watkins out!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What I actually do. Part three.

Okay, so I’ve left DynCorp where I had a pretty traditional role as an accountant and analyst. I was processing the hell out of data and stuff, so that was cool, but now I’m working with a different company, with a different job description and I thought that it might be fun to describe what I get to do over here.

But first of all, what a crazy inversion of circumstances it’s been – to move to Kandahar where the rocket attacks sometimes come every day – and to have a huge complex attack develop in the city I just left. I mentioned on Facebook that it was the first time I’d heard anyone say, “I’m glad you’re in Kandahar!”

In general though, I’m working out of three offices, one here in Kandahar, another in Kabul and another in Lashkar Gah, a city in Helmund province. All locations are very safe and our security personnel are crack, so while I’m alert, I’m not worried.

And in short, my job description is to fix the planet, if, by the planet, I mean all the data collection systems of the program. But more on that – it’s worthwhile to talk about Chemonics and what my new company does for a living.

My brother Steve pointed out that the companies I’ve worked for so far over here all seem to have names that are somewhat ominous. Ever wonder who starts up and works for the huge companies that support the super-criminals that James Bond fights against? Yeah, that’s us. DynCorp, Chemonics – the “International” or “Inc.” that follows these names should also be followed by “Evil Organization.” It doesn’t help that my boss – the guy running things over here – is named “Francois de la Roche,” his title is “Chief of Party” (COP) and he has a hairless cat in the crook of his elbow all the time. I made that last part up as a joke, but he does have a huge cigar in his mouth all the time (and I do mean all the time) so that could really suffice as a Bond-Villain mannerism, right? It’s a shame to think of him being killed by laser-sharks in the near future. I’m going to tell him to just kill the secret agent when he has a chance, but you know these guys, they never listen – too busy trying to explain every detail of their evil plan.

Despite the frightening name, Chemonics is on a mission that I would describe as super-sweet. While DynCorp was training police officers, Chemonics is working a project called ASI – Afghanistan Stabilization Initiative. The goals of the mission are short term and finite, but designed to build confidence in the government and authorities of Afghanistan. We identify projects that local governments would like to do, but don’t have the money. We work out all the details of the project and do most of the work, then let the government take all of the credit. It’s a sweet deal because the projects are so practical. We help to rebuild and reinforce a school damaged by vandalism. We build water systems and canals. We help develop business sectors with people that would like to start chicken farms, bee hives, and the like.

So that is cool, right? I think so. I like the idea of working directly with the people, and I really hope that the goal of the project is being accomplished – that the people just see stuff getting done by the government. It could be a good step in helping the people to reject insurgents and embrace peace. Who knows? I think that if we let Francois loose with a few death rays, he could straighten the whole thing out a lot quicker, but I’m not running the evil empire, am I?

My role here is to just improve data systems, which sounds boring, but it makes me into a hero, so that is cool. When Bond storms the compound, I’ll be one that the others will protect, because only I know the passwords to the databases. I like the idea. The only downside is that it sets me up as the guy who is supposed to be able to fix anything, and for those of you that improve processes, you know that sometimes, you choose the right way to do it, and sometimes you choose the way that doesn’t work out. I’m hoping I make the right decisions.

The security situation is much different here, and I’m still feeling out the idea of posting pictures and descriptions of my time here to a blog, so hopefully there will be more to come.

Posted in Entertaining, More or Less | 1 Comment

First Days in Kandahar

The process of getting into Kandahar was relatively easy, and at the end of the day, I was glad to be in the room where I’ll be living for the next year, with no indication on the horizon that my job will be ending until the close of the contract.

I flew out of Dubai on DFS airlines, which is not really an airline, but a transport company focused on getting people and goods into war zones all around the world. So the flight was full of contractors. Very few foreign nationals were in the seats, and most were from India. I’m not saying that these guys were dumb, but they had a lack of common sense that was staggering. The guy sitting in front of me on the plane, hit me in the face. That’s right – from the seat in front of me, while thrashing around or stretching or doing whatever he was doing, he struck me in the face. He was apologetic enough, but I was baffled.

In any case, we were flying through Bagram and stopped on the tarmac to let about 75% of the people off and take on as many who were either headed to Kandahar or flying back to Dubai. Somehow, I ended up with a window seat and no one in the center seat, so that was great. Bagram, both on the flight in and out, was really pretty. It’s very green there. Green like Boise is green is a better way to say it. But definitely greener and nicer than Kandahar looked out the windows of the plane as we landed.

We landed on Kandahar Air Field (KAF) which is the central location for Coalition Forces in Kandahar, and for the most part, all of southern Afghanistan. It was great to land on a military base and have strict structure for what we were to do next. My security escort from Chemonics was there to walk me through the process of getting access to KAF and to get final transport to the Chemonics facility.

All the security guys work for a company called Pax Mondial and they are mostly from Britain. So this is really cool because they’ve all got wicked James Bond-type accents. Even the Scottish guys sound a little bit more legitimate, just because of the accent. They all carry AK-47′s and when I asked why not the M-4, they said that the round the M-4 shoots is smaller, so an attacker can fight through being hit by it. The AK will, and I quote, “Take your arm off,” which I was glad to hear. I mentioned that I wanted the guys protecting me to have a gun that could take a person’s arm off. This is good news for me, bad news for Taliban arms.

After my orientation, I realized I was in a completely different world compared to working in Kabul. Chemonics is a very small operation compared to what DynCorp does in Kabul. There are less than 20 full-time expat staff here, with as many security and as many Nepalese security guards working the compound. There were nearly this many people working in the finance office in Kabul. But the compound is almost as nice as Camp Gibson, with better services (daily room cleaning and complimentary laundry service.) And not to mention my day off each Friday.

Plus, I have a badge to get onto KAF whenever I need to – and the services there are straight up redonk. They have a TGI Fridays. You read that right. They have deep fried green beans and the whole thing. I haven’t gone yet, but I’m thinking about it this coming Friday. Fisk Sorenson, a friend from MTI, is currently stationed at KAF, so I’ll get to see him. Plus, my brother might be deployed there sometime in the future, so there’s that as well.

But security is an entirely different deal here. Insurgents are constantly shooting rockets at KAF, and since our compound is right along the inner perimeter, we respond to every rocket attack that KAF gets, hitting the floor and running for the bunkers. I’ve only been a part of one attack, but it’s a little crazier than the relative safety of Camp Gibson nestled against the ANA camp in Kabul. And while we are running for the bunkers when the sirens go off, there is safety enough to sit on the roof of one of the buildings, completely exposed above the fences, and look out over miles and miles of countryside. With A-10′s, F-15′s and Predator drones buzzing overhead most of the day, the area seems to be pretty safe.

So I’ll be here for a little while, then will travel up to Kabul to the office Chemonics has there, and I look forward to it. Lashkar Gah is the city where Chemonics has another branch office, and I’ll be headed there as well, but for now, I’m booking quick wins in process improvement and imagining the best solutions I can to the challenges they have here in timekeeping and accounting. We’ll see how it goes.

Posted in Super Serious | Comments Off

Dubai – Wild for the Colonel

It’s a strange feeling when you’re in a strange city by yourself, and the city requires that you be a multi-millionaire to do anything fun. So for a lot of my stay, I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything – just relax. It may have been the fact that I had been working seven days a week, 10 hours a day, since April, but I couldn’t be sure.

In any case I did manage to make myself go out and see a few more things.
But before that, I had to go and get my visa for my trip back to Afghanistan. It was nice to hang out with Pushtosh, the guy from the travel agency that was helping me. He drove me around a little bit and we talked about living in Dubai. He moved to the city long before all the high rises were there and had seen the city grow up. He came from Sri Lanka, where his name, which he was very dissatisfied with, meant “Flowers.”

“And I am not a flower!” He shouted, pounding the steering wheel. “What were my parents thinking with this name!?”

“Hey! Daisy pants! Settle down!” I shouted as we cruised down the freeway. “We’re going to get pulled over!”

But we didn’t get pulled over. In fact, in my six days in the city, I saw only three police vehicles, and only one of them was stopping another vehicle, but there had been an accident.

Pushtosh, in his flowery language, described why there are not many cops around.
Because Dubai drivers are scared to death of getting caught by the police. Why? Because the penalties for infractions are a little extreme. For example, if you run a red light in the city, a camera takes your picture, and you get a fine in the mail, depending on the time of day and traffic density at the time, for 6,000-18,000 AED, or $2,000-$6,000 USD. Can’t pay the fine? You got to jail until you can pay the fine. And if an accident is caused by running the red light, your visa is revoked and you are sent out of the country.

I’m not saying that this is a little extreme, but at the same time, it seems a little extreme.

I took a moment to ponder this as we whisked by a man, standing on the side of the road, using a small 1-liter gas can to fill up his Maserati. Poor man with his Maserati.

“Does the hotel you stay at have a night club?” Pushtosh asked.

“Yes,” I said, “It has four of them, but it’s not really my scene.”

“It is my scene,” he confessed. “I like to dance.”

“Okay then,” I said. “You should swing by – there were lots of people there the last few nights.”

“Are they Arabic Night Clubs?”

“I’m not sure. What makes them Arabic Night Clubs?” I asked him.

“It is where the Arab women go to take off their robes and wear normal clothes,” he said.

I had seen the women in the city – dressed from head to toe in black robes, with a sort of hood over their head and two clothes around their face, one on the forehead and the other across their cheeks and nose, leaving only the eyes exposed. But I didn’t know that they had a place to cut loose and let it all hang out. Later, as I walked through the Mall of the Emirates and saw a woman clothed this way stepping out of the Juicy Couture shop with a bag that said “Kiss My Juicy” in big letters across the front, it all came together.

The interior of the Mall of the Emirates. It was really really large.

There at the Mall, I got to see the sight that people had encouraged me to see – an indoor ski mountain. It was pretty cool, and very nice how they had made the whole thing very lodge-like, and I almost felt at home for a short moment. I liked watching the people frolic in the snow, which I’m sure many people were seeing for the first time in their lives. It would have cost me about $200 to ski for two hours, and I think if I weren’t alone, I would have done it. It looked like a lot of fun.

The main part of the ski hill. With an impressive 60 vertical feet of slope, this ski area is the place to have precisely 30 seconds of fun before having to ride the lift again.

A little bit broader view shows the virtual Christmas village they have constructed. With bob-sled-like runs and snow caves. For the uninitiated with snow, I imagine this is a pretty cool experience.

They even have the popular, "Get Mauled by a Polar Bear Experience."

And for a paltry sum, you can be shoved into a large plastic ball and rolled down a gentle slope. This is very popular with the ladies who later hit up the Arabic night clubs.

So I headed to the food court to get my favorite Dubai cuisine – Hardees. I’m really glad they still have Hardees and not Carl’s Junior. I’m just saying, I like Hardees.
But it was there that I saw one of the more dominant beliefs of the people of Dubai expressed. They are wild for Colonel Sanders. Can’t get enough Kentucky Fried Chicken. The lines were long, and tables throughout the food court were dotted with large buckets of chicken. I was amazed and yet strangely craving KFC. I resisted and ate my double Super Star burger and really enjoyed it.

For dessert, I stopped in at the slightly less well known, but still very popular ice cream shop that boldly proclaimed it’s name – “Cold Marble Slab Creamery.” In the same type face, and within about 100 yards of Cold Stone Creamery, this blatant copyright infringement was bold, creamy and delicious.

I left Dubai the next morning, and while I’m excited to go back again, to see some more historic or culturally significant sights, I was glad to be out of the heat and humidity, and glad to be getting back to work.

Posted in Entertaining, More or Less, Mostly Pictures | Comments Off

Dubai in Pictures (part 2)

Such a great view - if it weren't for the construction barriers in the foreground, but I suppose that is as representative of Dubai as anything.

Sun setting over some restaurant. That's exactly what it looked like - you could stare right into it because it was just a semi-bright opaque circle. The haze near the horizon was so thick.

Just another couple of buildings owned by the same corporation. I like this design. Makes me think of a large blue highlighter.

My last view before I got right up to it. I straightened this out and it's still bowed out to the left because of the curvature of the lens I'm using.

Just the top of the tower. I don't know where the last terrace available for viewing is located. But wherever it is, it's dang high.

A haunting sort of sculpture in front of the tower.

The huge fountains at the circle drive in front of the Burj Kalifa. I couldn't go in, and it costs $100 AED ($30) to go to the top. Maybe some other day when it's not so humid and hazy.

Slow shutter to smooth the water out a little bit.

Slowing the shutter down, and they turned those lights on, which helped to make a nice shot.

Who's handholding this shot at .8 second? Me.

The view right before I stepped into the Mall.

A view of the huge salt-water aquarium. I don't know what kind of sharks those are, but they look big and mean.

This store is dedicated to selling watches. That's it. And there are four stores just like it, side by side. How the hell do I choose a watch?

The indoor waterfall that dominates one corner of the mall. It curves off to the right and left, and there are actually two sections that pick up again after a break for some stores and entrances.

Just a little closer to the sculptures from a third floor vantage point.

The indoor waterfall shot from the third floor.

One of the diving sculptures.

View down one of the long halls of the Dubai Mall. You can see the four floors. The map of this place doesn't show where the stores are - like atlases, it puts stores in quadrants of the map, and hopes you find them. The map is also a large touchscreen so that you can type queries of which store you are looking for.

This is the outer shell of the mall - with inside walls made to look like outside walls, this outer ring is home to a lot of sporting goods stores. But it's huge.

Posted in Mostly Pictures | 1 Comment

Dubai in Pictures (part 1)

One of the mosques in the city. There are many, and they all look very similar. But this one seemed to be just a little more formal than the others.


What else could you desire in Dubai other than simplistic and cheap Scandinavian furniture?

Sunset over a bunch of scenic condos.

The mosque at sunset.

The workers in Dubai don't live in the city - they are ferried from out of town on busses. These guys are waiting for their bus.

A view of the broomstick building between several other large buildings on the the main drag.

This building's shape would be attained if you took an M&M, cut it in half, then stood one half up and tilted it back a little bit. And yes, there was a store at the Dubai Mall exclusively for Hershey's Chocolate, so maybe this is their new headquarters. It looks very futuristic to me.

I like the idea of this balcony construct. I hope beyond hope that there is something like a tennis court or drive-in movie theatre up there.

It's very hard to maintain a proper perspective in this town. Those towers in the foreground are a mile from the tower in the background. They are only 30-40 stores, and not nearly a quarter as high as the Kalifa.

This informative sign in the foreground is a handy reminder of the tallest building in the world.

A close-sup of the midpoint of the Burj Kalifa - the thing seems to be built only of materials that are either, 1. Bright 2. Shiny

I like the sweeping lines of the building on the left, and the just crazed ridiculousness of the swiss cheese building on the right.

Originally built by two different people, these two buildings were the projects that helped to bring two twin architects separated at birth, back together again.

How many people were promised the ability to use their boats at this new job in Dubai, only to realize that the place was a desert? This boat was burned up, which I believe was done out of frustration after hearing that news.

Just getting the sun peeking around one of the large buildings on the strip.

Posted in Mostly Pictures | 2 Comments

Waiting for Dubai

The 17th marked my last day of employment with DynCorp. I flew out in the morning, which was the craziest experience I’ve had yet. I know that a lot of my friends have flown out of crazy small airports, but Kabul, while it’s not that small, was a madhouse. We stood in lines, rode on busses and went through three pat-downs, four metal detectors and immigration checks before we could get on the plane. But after that, it really was a piece of cake. I had a window seat with no window, but no one sitting next to me, so it was a wicked comfortable flight. And a quick one – both of my travel companions noted that the flight seemed to go by quickly. And Dubai International was deserted. I was through immigration in just a few minutes as the people I was traveling with raided the duty-free stores for as much white-trash beer as they could.

Our hotel was right next to the airport, so after a 2 minute drive, I was in the fanciest hotel. The Le Meridien Airport is not just a hotel – it’s a village of crazy goodness. There are 19 restaurants, 7 pools, a spa and dance clubs galore. I, of course, was excited about the dance clubs, because as every one of my friends knows, I’m a sucker for a good dance club.

So my first brilliant idea was to take a walk in Dubai. This was a good idea, I felt, because even from far away, there was so much to see – the amazing skyline and some fun views of suburban life in this city, but I soon found out that one of my favorite movies, “LA Story” should be rewritten as “Dubai Story.” I should have had Steve Martin there to laugh in my face when I said I was going to walk. “A walk in Dubai!” and laughter, should have been there to keep me from wandering off toward downtown. Don’t get me wrong, I did see some interesting things – the strange juxtaposition of a Round Table Pizza and the minarets of a mosque was interesting and cool. The heat was something – about 98 degrees, but with less charm than Nick Lachey. The humidity was about 90% and after a few miles of walking, I was sweating as if I were trying to shower the earth and turn it from desert to green wonderland.

After seeing the sweetest sight of all – the IKEA warehouse – I decided that I really needed to turn around. It was that and the impending heat stroke that was going to reduce me to a quivering mass on the ground. I saw some cool sights on the way back to the hotel, including a little kitten that would have required about a gallon of milk to fatten it up, some guys out in a vacant lot playing cricket, a playground full of Filipino basketball players, and some of the coolest looking train stations I’d ever seen.

When I finally got back to the hotel, I looked a bit worse for wear, and it was Friday night, so everyone was out partying and my rumpled appearance must have dampened the mood a little bit, but I really didn’t care. I needed to take a bath in one of the two bathtubs in my room, and go to bed.

The next day, I was indoors the entire day, waiting on news from the office and by 5 p.m. was ready to get out and see more of the town. I thought that a good idea would be to drive down south of the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world, and walk back toward it – getting the sun as it set right behind.

But the fatal flaw in my plan was that the sun doesn’t set where I want it to, or where I think it might. Another flaw was the humidity. So high that it was almost foggy in the city, my camera, which had been in my air conditioned room for the entire day, was suddenly covered with condensation – even inside the lens and camera body. I stood next to the road for 40 minutes, waiting for all the condensation to evaporate as the camera warmed up. So then, the sun was going down and I was in an unfamiliar place, but I still trekked toward the Burj Kalifa, getting pictures of the amazing buildings going up all the way down the main street of town. Some of the designs are pretty unconventional, and it was fun trying to get pictures of them, but they are so tall that the perspective was enough to make me dizzy.

All along the way, I was forced to walk through some undeveloped areas and I felt completely safe. This was a welcome feeling given the constant feeling of threat that I live under when in Afghanistan. The construction areas are desert. They really are – covered in sand that has wind features on it, just like you see in the desert. There are sections where the sand is full of sea shells because the entire city is built on sand that is so close to the coast that all of it used to be underwater.

Walking up to the Burj Kalifa was an experience in itself. Unlike the Sears Tower or the Empire State Building, this thing is really isolated and sort of a fantasy building. It’s almost science fiction-like the way that it pierces the sky like a glass fang. All of my pictures had to be digitally corrected for perspective – there was no focal length at which the entire expanse of it would stay straight in the picture.

At the base of the tower is the Dubai Mall. Not the biggest in Dubai, it is easily much larger than the Mall of America. Four levels of stores form a huge square, and at each corner of the square is one of four huge features – an indoor ice rink; a 75-foot tall, 300-foot long salt water aquarium where you can take scuba lessons and swim with the sharks; an 80-foot waterfall; and an indoor amusement park. There are stores in this mall for almost every brand you can think of, although the obvious lack of an Apple Store makes the entire building a waste of space.

A short taxi ride back to the hotel and I took a moment to stick my head in the Thai restaurant that is part of the hotel village. I had eaten there the night before, and it made me think of “LA Story” again. Much like after dinner at “L’Idiot,” I was offered floss after finishing my green curry. I had to laugh, but quickly stopped laughing as the live musicians and traditional Thai dancing started. I was really impressed with the way that Dubai is bound and determined to be as awesome as possible without any apologies.

So I’ve got a couple more days here as I wait for the Afghan Consulate to approve my visa. I’ll head straight into Kandahar instead of going to Kabul as I had previously planned. I’ll get to work designing and improving and trying to make the company’s investment in me, waiting in Dubai for so long, worth it. But when I think that it would cost almost three times as much to fly me from Boise to Dubai, I relax a little bit. They are still getting a good deal, and so am I – so no complaints.

Posted in Entertaining, More or Less | Comments Off

The camera doesn’t matter

I was shooting some portraits of the workers here at Camp Gibson the other day, and I was looking through the huge viewfinder of this new film camera and just thinking how amazing these pictures were going to be as long as I was getting the exposure right. It’s tough for me to adjust to the image in the finder being flipped – like looking in a mirror (actually, I am looking in a mirror when I’m composing, so go figure) – but I’m getting used to it. There’s a little magnifier that snaps into place so that I see fine focus details, but I hate to use it because it crops my view down. I like to use it for a second to get my focus distance right, then flip it out of the way so I can compose with that full, huge, and beautiful finder.

And that’s the way I compose on the digital camera as well – using the entire frame exactly as I would like to see it in print. It’s a bad habit sometimes because it gives me no room at all to crop, and with this new/old camera, that problem could get a little worse because the format is square, and not as many people are framing square pictures.

But then I started thinking about my cousin Brandon, who is a professional photographer and graphic designer. While I rejoice in every success he has, I know that some people get frustrated with their talents when they see him pick up a camera, say, “Hey, how do I work this thing?” barely point it at a subject and in about 5 minutes, has a picture that should be sold at auction. I’m joking and would never belittle the work that he puts into his creative pursuits. But he does make it look easy, and it can be even more frustrating when he seems to have so much fun at it when for some, taking good photos is just hard work.

After I’d finished the photos, I was working on the internet, looking up some sample images taken with the same camera and lens that I had been using just a few hours before. I was very surprised that all the interweb had to offer was about 40-60 images, and they were completely boring. Some were black and white, but when I searched Flickr for pictures related to the Hasselblad 500 C/M, the most interesting shots were OF people using the camera, not the pictures they had been shooting.

My buddy Shane Powers shoots medium format film and did his Master’s Thesis project using a double-lens reflex medium format camera. He proved to me that shooting with a medium format, and actually selecting and capturing interesting subjects is possible. Beautifully composed pictures with this kind of camera CAN be taken. And looking down into the camera when I’d been framing the portraits, I was sure that they were going to be good. The only thing that could stand in the way was my own ability to read a light meter, or that the shutter in the camera was inaccurate.

The camera doesn’t matter. It’s the person behind it, and you can see from Brandon’s Facebook page or from Shane’s that whether they are shooting with a Canon 5D Mk2 or an iPhone, the pictures have a quality that’s hard for most people to say why they like it, but they just do. Why am I blogging about this? I guess because that sometimes I have serious camera envy and wish I had the newest, best and most expensive stuff out there. I really want a brand new Nikon D700 or the newest equivalent, with a 70-200 2.8 zoom lens that is as long as my arm. But then I look at samples I see on the internet taken with that camera and they look like snapshots. I’ve made due with a lot of lower-end cameras and currently shoot with a tiny DSLR, but I’ve never been happier with the quality of the photos.

And now, when I look through this new/old machine and see an image that looks as good or better than anything I’ve seen so far, I’m reminded that it’s not the camera that counts, it’s the brain behind it.

Aw screw it, I’m going to go and buy that Nikon.

Posted in Super Serious | 3 Comments

The big transition

Sixty days worth of anxiety and stress came to a crashing halt yesterday when I sat down with my boss and told him that I was resigning from DynCorp and would be leaving within the week.

That end date is now about five days away, and I’m looking back and wondering how in the world I kept it all together for that long.

In any case, I’ll do this newspaper style and put it up top that in five days, I’ll fly from Kabul to Dubai where I’ll stay for 4-5 days. The second day in Dubai, I will officially be employed by an NGO working here in Afghanistan called Chemonics. I’ll sign a new one-year contract – putting my return date to the United States in late June 2012. My new job title is Finance Systems Developer, and I’ll be . . . developing finance systems.

After a few days in Dubai to get my new Afghan visa, I will fly directly back to Kabul where I’ll be working for the next couple of weeks. After that, I’ll travel to Kandahar, where I’ll work very near KAF. I will travel to Lakshar Gah as well, which is a little northwest of Kandahar.

This whole bit of business was what was burning a hole in my brain over the last couple of weeks, and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because of uncertainty and a whole ton of timetables that could be ruined if the wrong people knew the wrong things. It was miserable.

But all of that is out of the way now, and I’m just in waiting mode to move from Camp Gibson, to the airport then to what will be short vacation in Dubai.

Why would I think to take a different job here in Afghanistan and push my return date out by three months? The truth of that matter can be seen in a couple of posts I wrote here in the last 60 days. One post described what I was hired to do and the next post, a couple of weeks later, described what I was really doing since I arrived. The difference is very striking. So there was a feeling that I wasn’t working the job I had been hired to do. But I had reconciled myself to that (that’s an accountancy pun, by the way.)

But the key that I haven’t shared with most people is a twist that only those who have worked on Department of State, Defense or USAID contracts can really grasp quickly. I arrived, signed a one-year contract, and only then was told that the contract that my company DynCorp had with the Department of State, was over at the end of June. So in effect, my job was going to be done, just about 90 days after I signed a one-year contract. In a sad moment, I saw the plans I had carefully crafted and all the sacrifices I had made slipping away into meaninglessness. Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic – I’m not a teenage girl – but it was very disappointing.

That same day I arrived, April 8th, I received word from this other company that there was a position for me if I was interested. What I thought was, “Hell yes I’m interested! Get me out of this clap-trap!” But what I filtered that to was, “Yes.”

It took several weeks to finalize the job description, get an offer letter, and go the rest of the way through the hiring process. In the meantime, rumors about the future of Camp Gibson and the DynCorp contract were new every day. On Monday, the camp was surely going to be demolished, and on Tuesday, the Camp was going to be expanded to contain a US Embassy facility. On Wednesday, it was barbeque day and the rumors suddenly all had their mouths full, so less misinformation happened on that day. But on Thursday it was back on, and somehow, Sasquatch was part of the rumors – a whole family of them would be moving into the area near the water purification plant. I was confused and not happy – I was settling into the job, had made lots of friends, and had developed two large databases that required some maintenance. I wanted to stay and to go at the same time. I didn’t want to leave the relationships, especially with the locals, and I didn’t want to leave process improvements that were brand new. The idea of those improvements falling to the side without my guidance, and employees going back to the old way of doing things was hard to stomach.

But finally, I was cleared to take the new job and resigned yesterday. In the afternoon, even more rumors started to circulate, and though there were new rumors even this morning, I am very glad to have found a place to go, instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Several of my coworkers are excited for me, but have said that if they had an opportunity like this, they would take it as well.

I’m not sure that all of them would have taken the job if they had gone through what I did. Chemonics had many hoops to jump through as well, and the compensation and benefits package changed on almost a daily basis, making the decision process difficult. The possibility of coming home earlier than in August for my first leave, was brought up and I rejoiced, but then the possibility was reduced to nothing, and I lamented. In the end, I had to just stick with a decision and take job that I knew would be around for the entire year, as long as I could perform well.

So now that is the only anxiety. I’ll be developing databases, web portals, and process improvements. This new company is reputed to have even fewer controls and systems for accounting, so if my 60 days at DynCorp is any indication of how my year with Chemonics will go, then I should be okay.

But there you have it. The big transition.

Posted in Super Serious | 2 Comments

Mail Run Pictures

I tried to get a picture of the housing that is to the east of the camp. The way they have built up and down the hills is pretty interesting.

The cemetary is back behind that truck. There were several other small plots, even right downtown, but this was the largest one that we saw.


The cemetary - pretty austere - but I did notice a VFW guy trying to pick out which stones to put American flags on. Yeah, he didn't make it out. The name of this place is, and I'm serious, "Shady Acres."


This is how you get water in Kabul - at one of the wells and you pump it yourself. I had to get used to the idea that Kabul is not a desert - there is plenty of water, and with better management, many more people could have better living conditions with running water and sewer systems.


This little guy is taking a break from carrying his two 3-liter gas cans to stare into the shop window and dream about the day that he can have his own bright red AK-47.


There were kids everywhere, and they all are much different from the sheltered kids in America, but the older sisters here still think they know everything.


What looks like an abandoned gas station in America is a really really nice one in Kabul. We stopped in here for some gas, but I had forgotten my loyalty card . . .


The look on this little guy's face is saying, "Get me out of here," or possibly, "I hope these propane tanks don't explode."


Why does the screening for construction projects have to be drab and boring? This project manager is all about putting the fun back into life.


This area of the street was the designated "Cow Parking" zone. That one on the left is the 2010 BMW Bovina - pretty rare actually.


The Kabul Fire Department, on the job. Little known fact - during the winter, they are asked to START fires and ignore putting them out.


To Kill, but no license to spell.”]

This guy had a Licence[sic


People pull stuff around using whatever they can - donkeys, motorcycles, and of course, themselves.


This is one of the many mosques in the city. It's also a picture of a guy on a bicycle. Both are pretty cool, but one can go wherever he wants. Can you guess which one?


Massoud Circle - named for Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the martyrs of the struggle against the Soviets, Taliban and al-Qaeda. There's a main entrance to Eggers off this circle.


Some closeups of the top of the monument in Massoud Circle. I don't really know the significance, but I do like those two big hands cradling that huge globe.


Same monument, different light.


This little goatherd is on the south side of the road in a wide area where I can't imagine there is anything for goats to eat besides garbage. There is a makeshift dump here as well. Directly in the background is the wall for the ISAF base.


Herd of goats on the north side of the road. These goats have got to be miserable with that long hair, but maybe they look at me and think, "That human has got to be freezing without a long hairy coat."


Some more caps of the goats that they herd beside the road that is directly south of the camp. I would barely get caught driving on that road much less trying to herd my goats next to it. Then again, I don't have my goats, so I can't really judge.


I'm not sure if that little boy is actually riding one of the goats, but if he is, I say well done little man. Ride that goat!


I don't have many pictures of women in the burkha - it seems a little disrespectful to take their picture without permission, but this lady with her children was spectacular.

Posted in Mostly Pictures | 2 Comments