Like an Anthropological Study: Notes from Afghanistan
Christina Green ’98 works for the Canadian International Development
Agency (CIDA). Late in 2006 she finished 15 months in Afghanistan,
most of that time as a development advisor for the Multi-National Brigade
Headquarters in Regional Command South. The following are excerpts
from her journal of her work in that war-torn country.
Learning Military: May 6, 2006
After 10 days living with the military I may be more confused than when I started. I live in two time-zones: military and the local. Never mind the endless acronyms and copious slides of PowerPoint presentations. Those alone could confuse the enemy into surrendering.
Beyond that, I have met many wonderful and interesting people and am really enjoying exploring this new world. The best piece of advice I got before moving in with the military was to think about it like an anthropological study.
Things That Go Boom: May 14, 2006 There
are lots of things that go boom around here. The firing range
must be somewhere behind my housing complex; I often hear the
distinctive tat-tat-tat pattern of coalition firing. Yesterday morning they must have been testing something heavier. I woke up to a repeated thud-thud-thud, like a child jumping off the bed and landing on the floor upstairs, or a door slamming in the distance.
Big bangs are the backdrop to life on the base. There was
a rocket attack last night. I was sitting at dinner with colleagues
when the blast went off a ways behind us. Only a few at the
table flinched in surprise. Then sirens went off, effectively ending our meeting. We all sauntered off to the bunkers to wait for the all-clear signal over the PA system before wandering back home. The
general feeling this morning was pleasure that it happened
at 9 p.m. and not 3 a.m., so we all got our precious hours
of beauty sleep uninterrupted.
Bunker Time: May 29, 2006 In
Kandahar I work 14+-hour days seven days a week. So when I get a chance to sleep, I take it. Unfortunately, others occasionally have a different idea of how I should spend my nights. The most recent rocket attack came at 1:30 a.m. It was a “good” one in the sense that they caught the guys before they set them off. But the sirens still howled, sending us scrambling to the bunkers. Slumped
against a bunker wall on chunky gravel for an hour is the highlight
of nightlife in Kandahar.
Rebellious Uniforms: June 15, 2006 Uniforms
are a fact of life in the military. The uniform blends all together as one. You can't tell who the cool kid is, or the poor one or the city slicker or the family guy. I'm starting to pick out the rebels--the ones who need to be just a little different. There are guys who have shortened the brims of their hats. The real rebels cut the drawstring out of the bottom of their shirts to avoid constriction when sitting down.
Commitment: July 26, 2006
In silent rows hundreds stand, the Canadian beige uniforms,
the American green, the Australian yellow/brown, the British
and Romanian khaki. Medics walk the outside of the
line to catch the few who wilt under the 48°C (118°F)
heat at 7 a.m. Two blocks of soldiers, in lines leading
toward the gaping cargo hold of the plane, wait to say goodbye
to their fallen comrades. Journalists toting equipment
hover at both ends.
The normally busy base is
silent, except for the odd truck passing on the road behind us and
the flap of the flag in the dust-laden wind. Two LAVs (big armored vehicles) pull
up and drop off two sets of pallbearers. Uniformed clergy, each with
the neck scarf of the religion they represent, walk down the middle and stop
before the pallbearers. Two more LAVs pull up. Flag-draped coffins
stick out the back of one. Bagpipes wail and all soldiers stand at salute,
as our colleagues are carried forward to the plane waiting to take them home.
Flying High: October 6, 2006
Gently the Black Hawk wheels forward and then lifts straight
into the air, hovering just above ground in one spot until take-off
is granted. It really is a bird’s-eye view of the
world. The helo swings gently sideways to go around a rock
hill; up over the top and low, hugging the ground, we fly. I
see farmers’ fields, mostly corn and grapes in neat rows. I
see bunker-esque grape drying huts for raisins. I see
the dry river beds (wadis) snaking through the brown
landscape. Looking down into mud-walled compounds, I see Afghan
life: children playing, laundry flapping, goats running around,
fires cooking meals, cars parked. I see domed mosques.
The streets of downtown are lined with shops and shoppers.