Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rockin' the Kabul Look

There's definitely a US Embassy Kabul look. And that look, amongst the men at least, definitely involves facial hair. I've had a beard since 2006, where I grew it in Pakistan as a joke but kept it once I realized how much I liked it. Beards were definitely making a comeback in DC over my last year at home, but not like here: EVERYONE has at least a little bit of scruff, and I for one am feeling right at home. I don't plan to shave much, if at all, over the course of the next year, and when I mentioned my plan to grow what I lovingly refer to as a "hostage beard" to some guys at the Duck and Cover, someone immediately chimed in with advice:

"Dude, get some scissors," he said. "You've got to trim the mustache part. I had about three months worth of facial hair on me when I bit into an apple, and a good inch of 'stache got caught between my teeth and the apple, and I about ripped off part of my face. I was honestly near tears -- and when I pressed my upper lip to try to make some of the pain go away, my hand came away all bloody. You can go all ZZ Top on the chin part -- but get yourself some scissors for the mustache."

The Embassy Kabul look also features khaki cargo pants (which I invested in heavily) and polo shirts. There's a slim minority at the Embassy sweltering in suits in the 100 degree heat, but the majority seem to be rocking polos.

The Kabul look also seems to involve sidearms carried in thigh holsters.

I've never been around so many guns and I think it's gonna be a while till it starts to seem normal. Some of it isn't too out of the ordinary -- the contract guards carrying M4 rifles and the Afghan National Army guys holding AK-47s, and that's all fine and good and close to normal, especially within the context of Embassy and foreign and all that. But then you realize that the barricade in front of you, the one you've walked by a dozen times without thinking, is actually a machine gun nest. And it's actually manned, by a guy with his hand on the butt stock of the weapon: this isn't a game.

More people on compound carry guns than I've ever seen before. And it's strangely comforting. I'm not armed and don't plan to be at any time (I'll leave that to what my military Subject Matter Expert in Indiana referred to as "our trigger-pulling friends in camouflage"), and diplomats are, technically speaking, forbidden by the Geneva conventions from carrying weapons. I'm not sure how much regard the Taliban will have for my healthy working knowledge of international treaties and vast array of intimidating ballpoint pens, though, so I can't say I'm unhappy to have so many people at arms distance who have a pistol strapped to their thigh.