Tuesday, September 7, 2010

As far as call signs go, it could be worse.

I'm behind on blogging. I've been running ragged for the past few days, ankle deep in meetings and reports, and traveling a considerable amount both inside and outside the province. There's a lot to write about, but there's also a lot that can't be said on the blog; hopefully I'll catch up over Eid.

Eid -- that is, Eid-ul-Fitr, literally "the celebration of the breaking of fast" -- is the three-day holiday that's coming up roughly this weekend, to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims spend the month abstaining from food, drink and tobacco from sunrise to sunset, and it's always a difficult month, even if you're not fasting. Work days are generally cut in half for most Afghans, making it hard to get things done, and you can't help but feel bad for people sweltering during the long summer days without even water to drink. There's an oblique sense of guilt that accompanies having lunch or slugging back a surreptitious diet soda, even if it's only done in the privacy of the compound where few Afghan eyes can see.

We held an Iftar last night, the traditional celebratory meal eaten at the end of a day of fasting during Ramadan. It was a huge event -- a dinner for over 50 Afghans, held outside on rented carpets intended for weddings. We catered Afghan food (cinnamon-spiked basmati rice, whole roasted chickens, a side of meatballs and Afghan flatbread), and supplemented it with food from the chow hall that we know our Afghan counterparts enjoy but rarely get -- beef stew, fish in a lemon-butter sauce, chicken fingers, and a side of sweet corn.

About half the guests, just after breaking the fast. People were still arriving as the sun set, and most of the Americans were still outside greeting people.

It was a beautiful event, made more so by a lucky streak of perfect weather -- no driving dust or sandstorms, just a light breeze and relatively cool temperatures. It took the entire team to put it on -- security ringing the perimeter, and everyone else pitching in to do whatever needed done -- helping set the "tables" (carpets on the ground, covered in traditional Afghan eating cloths called dastarkhuan), or plate rice and meatballs, or lay out sodas. I was a little panicky about the entire event, and my constantly calling audibles left Sergeant Charlie (a Vietnamese-American who labeled the fridge in the Civil-Military Operations Center with a sign that reads "replace the water you take: Charlie is watching you") referring to me as "Bridezilla."

I will concede that I was picky on things like soda distribution -- I wanted them all in a cooler, not set out at individual places; who can know if our guests want an orange or a strawberry flavored Fanta, or a regular pepsi or a diet? I also had a lot to say about the placement of table cloths and the distribution of rice and fish and chicken fingers; the person tapped to be in charge of food, a Navy culinary specialist with a degree from Johnson and Wales (Petty Officer Frying Pan, if you will, although I'm reserving the right to change that nickname at a later point in time) was thrilled with my micromanagement, let me tell you.

Regardless, Bridezilla will stand by many of his requests: "can you move the MRAP so it blocks that broken down car up on blocks right in front of the entrance?" and "can that Air Force girl ditch her M-16 somewhere before the Afghans get here?" hardly seem unreasonable to me.

The Commander of the PRT (El Comandante, if you will), greeting an Afghan entering the FOB.


Dakota said...

If you read between the lines on this post, you'll note that Afghans LOVE chicken fingers. I have so much in common with Afghans.

T-Rempe said...

This is further confirmation that you are indeed "High Maintenance."