The next time I go to the post office at home, I’m going to feel very bored. Yesterday, I went along on the mail run to Camp Eggers, one of the main army bases in Kabul. Alberto – the mail clerk, makes a mail run almost every day to pick up packages and letters for Camp Gibson, and when someone like me has a package they want to mail out, we have to go along on the mail run – Alberto isn’t allowed to mail packages for us.
I was sending a 30lb box home, filled with all the clothes I hadn’t yet worn – if I hadn’t worn it yet, I was determined to send it home. But there were articles of clothing in there that were just comical. I consider myself to dress reasonably well, if not plainly, when in the US, but over here the theme is khaki. And khaki shirts over khaki pants is not uncommon over here. Not exactly haute couture in the streets and military bases of Kabul.
In any case, what the hell was I thinking when I packed not one, not two, but FOUR thin v-neck sweaters? I’m not ashamed to admit it here because I already know I’m an idiot, but I mean really? Four? A few dress shirts that were appropriate but just not getting worn got thrown in the box as well. I even folded up my second duffel bag and put it in there – so I’m down to one rolling duffel, a messenger bag, and my mandolin.
So I’ve got this box and I’m ready to mail it so we took off from Gibson at about 1 p.m. and immediately, I saw that we were taking a new route – turning right on the main road where I had only experienced the left. And much like taking a closer look at the Republican party – the sights were incredible, shocking and slightly disturbing. I joke, it was just amazing to see some new sights.
First off, school had just been let out, so there were children everywhere. Dressed in their school uniforms, which was black pants and dark blue shirts for the boys and black dresses with white head coverings for the girls, they were walking, riding bikes and literally swarming over the road. It was actually pretty cool to see the kids of the city, but I doubted if they ever saw us, and it just about gave me 10 heart attacks. In Kabul, people apparently aren’t taught as children to, “Look both ways before you cross the street.” Instead the message must be something like, “Dash out in front of the 4-ton armored vehicle traveling at operational speeds – Allah will protect you,” or something like that because from young to old, people step out into traffic without looking. There were several hard braking actions as we swerved to miss the cast of the Afghan “Saved by the Bell” ambling out into the middle of the road.
Our drivers were solid South African guys, and while I couldn’t understand the local language they spoke to each other, there were several words that were same, including “fuck” and it’s many variations which they used with regular frequency and intensity to curse the school children, pedestrians, bicyclists, vendors, van drivers, cows, and police. I was very entertained.
We drove onto Eggers and quickly found a parking spot and hit the Post Office. I had stashed my DynCorp ID badge in one of my breast pockets along with my money and copies of my passport and letter of authorization, so I was ready to get ID’d by anyone, but in the post office, no one seemed to care who I was. The guys were polite, don’t get me wrong, so I started a conversation while they weighed out my box and charged me for the postage. I had noticed an Arkansas banner on the wall behind the calendar and asked who the Razorback was. The guy said that it was him and I told him that I’d lived in Texarkana. Well that was all he needed to launch into a diatribe about the recently drafted quarterback from Arkansas, who apparently grew up in the Texarkana area.
“I’ve just not heard a lot of good things about him. Have you?” He asked.
“I haven’t!” I answered, not knowing what in the hell this guy was talking about, but using my response as a truthful answer. While I’d not heard any good things, I had also not heard ANY things.
“Did you know him or his family, growing up there in Texarkana?”
“Nope,” I said, again answering very truthfully, but I didn’t want to stop him as I should have and just say look, I’d love to continue talking to you about this, but I just can’t. I felt that if I did this, he would take my package and throw it into the “Might Get Delivered – Might Not” pile. I really wanted to chat him up so that he’d put the box into the “Deliver Safely and On Time” pile.
Anyway, there was a lot of agreeing, nodding my head and talking about how Tom Brady is going to mold this kid into something a little less cocky and a little less likely to throw season-ending interceptions. Sorry Arkansas fans – too soon? But in the end, I think the guy was on board with the plan of getting my v-neck sweaters home in one piece, so I relaxed a little bit.
My instructions after finishing my mail business were to wait outside the post office for Alberto and then we’d go visit the BX. I stood outside, waiting for about 10 minutes. It was then that I discovered the Army’s intense focus on security. A uniformed sergeant stopped in front of me (I was just standing there) and looked me up and down and asked to see my security badge. Put on the spot, I fumbled a little bit with the button on my pocket, then sorted my badge from my meal card and showed it to him. He pointed out that I should be displaying the badge at all times. He asked if I knew what would happen if I didn’t display the badge at all times. He turned to face me fully and launched into a speech that must have been delivered to many foreign nationals, new recruits, and his emotionally abused wife, indicating that if I didn’t display the badge, then the terrorists were going to win – that they had already won.
I was just about to point out to him that as far as security risks go, I may have been the least of the least. My lily-white complexion, gained and cultivated from many many hours of sitting in front of a computer screen, should have been a clear indicator that a PICTURE of a terrorist was more dangerous than I could ever be in person. But somehow I was able bite my tongue out of respect for the work he was doing here in downtown Kabul and just indicated that I understood him. Nonetheless, at the BX, I did purchase a simple display case for my ID that I dutifully draped around my neck. I went looking for the guy to try and win his approval for my quick and decisive action, but he had already been sent home for brutalizing several small animals.
There were soldiers from all over the world at the base. The most notable were the Germans, who were driving wicked armored Mercedes SUV’s and wearing enough tactical gear to roughly double their size. My driver pointed out that they seemed to always have the best and most highly advanced gear, but yet seemed to get shot an inordinate amount of times. I suggested that it might be because with 50 lbs of tac gear, they looked like large round camouflaged bubbles of death, waddling to their fancy cars. My driver mentioned that in South Africa there is a saying that goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” I mentioned that South Africa probably can’t take credit for that one, but that I agreed.
There were Canadians, quite a few Brits, some Italians, who were readily identifiable by their thick mustaches, and even a few French soldiers. I greeted the French guys and they immediately surrendered. (By the way, if you didn’t already know, I’m a racist, but only in regard to Europeans.)
In all seriousness, probably the coolest, most interesting thing I saw there on the base was a guy, a local national, standing on the side of one of the avenues. He was standing next to his boots, right next to a high traffic area and spot where some maintenance was going on with welding and grinders, but yet he had placed his prayer rug and was starting his religious observances right there. It was pretty powerful to see a person exhibit this sort of dedication, no matter what they believe.
The drive back to Gibson was uneventful and I considered it a successful trip. I had seen some things I had never seen before. I got pictures of most of that, which I’ll post later. I saw a cemetery, some guys pumping water from the Kabul water system of wells, and some construction screening cleverly crafted from queen flat sheets sets featuring SpongeBob Squarepants.