Friday, July 23, 2010
Tomorrow's the big day: deployment to my PRT in Farah province, in the southwest of the country along the Iranian border. Sandwiched between Helmand province in the south -- famous for its opium production and home of the big Marine Corps offensive in Marjah -- and Herat, a relatively stable province in the north, Farah is truly the middle of nowhere.
I was surprisingly productive during the extra days I was stuck in Kabul. I spent a few days checking in -- making sure all the IT stuff worked, filling out paperwork to get my danger, hardship and language pay correctly lined up, collecting equipment for the field and getting reinforcement lectures on embassy policies, security, what have you. Admin type stuff: important but mind numbing.
And then I had consultations. "Consultations" are usually 5 days just before you leave for post during which you're supposed to be meeting with people who know about where you're going and may be useful in your future; in reality, those five days are rarely so productive as all that and generally involve a lot of leisurely latte drinking. But my consultations in Kabul were actually useful: meeting with people who either know about Farah or want to know about Farah, or who have too much money lying around and need someone to help them hand it out before the end of the rapidly approaching fiscal year.
I was introduced to a USAID guy who had just come back from Farah. He, a former Marine with a booming voice and an infectious oorah-enthusiasm for the province, gave me the full run down on everything he could think of: what kind of projects we've funded and in what areas, where the Marines are and where they're pushing, where the Taliban is more in control and the Government of Afghanistan (GIRoA, or the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, pronounced "Jie-rowa") is less in control, and vice versa. He pointed out rivers and mountains, major transportation links, and gave me a rundown of how the various Pashtun tribes are distributed.
He made me extraordinarily excited to be heading to Farah.
"Get a good look at all these plants now, though," he said. "All this greenery -- there's NOTHING like that out there."
So tomorrow I head out to my dusty corner of nowhere, to the military base pictured below, surrounded by miles of flat nothing in the hot Afghan desert for the next year. ("It's beautiful. Kind of. In a way," I was told). I'll be with about 500 American soldiers and 500 Italians, sandwiched between peace in the north and full-scale war in the south. I'm nervous, but in a first-day-of-school sort of way: will the Governor and other local leaders like me? Will I get along with the soldiers? What if there's something important I've forgotten to do? Ultimately, it will be fine. In 24 hours, it will be home.
And just for good measure: a few photos of Farah, culled from the internet.