Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Side By Side: Vienna and Farah

I flew to Vienna to meet my buddy at the Embassy there. She's actually at the US Mission to the United Nations, which is a separate embassy from US Embassy Vienna, and they've put her up in an obscenely nice apartment right in the heart of Vienna, overlooking the Rathaus and a scant two blocks from the city's main Christmas market.

It was a pleasant reintroduction to the civilized world.

This trip was the second time I've visited her at an embassy overseas. We met when I was learning Urdu and she was a few doors down on the South Asia hallway, studying Sinhala with an amiable, guacamole-loving Buddhist monk in advance of her departure to Sri Lanka. I visited her on one of my R&Rs from Pakistan, and while we were sitting at a beautiful, slate-tiled outdoor dessert cafe in Colombo, sipping cappuccinos and devouring chocolate cake and chatting about life at our respective posts, she remarked that the things that people complain about at our two embassies were remarkably different.

On this trip, we ended up sitting in a beautiful, wood-paneled Austrian cafe, drinking white wine and local beer and scoffing down obscene quantities of schnitzel and ribs and Austrian potato salad. As I laughingly told her about the new SecFor team, who wanted more practice with long-range mortars and consequently arranged a training that moved the firing pit to on base rather than its normal spot across the airstrip on the long range, and how the civilian crew had all basically hit the deck and taken cover at the first concussive volley of outgoing fire, she reminded me of that same statement: the things people complain about at our respective posts could not be more different.

"Oh, I wasn't complaining," I told her. "It was a one time deal, and I actually enjoy that we have a robust perimeter defense." I am terrified of coming across as whiny or unjustifiably complaining about life in Farah -- there's no room for whininess at a PRT, and we have it GREAT compared to so many other places -- and she said that she knew I wasn't complaining but that her previous comment still definitely applies: so very different.

I don't know what people complain about in Vienna. I do know, though, what people complain about at other PRTs -- things like taking incoming rockets daily and then having to hang out in freezing cold outdoor concrete bunkers while they wait for the all clear, or of having a half kilometer outdoor walk to the bathroom, which itself has a habit of flooding and leaving fetid water ankle-deep on the floor, or of sour relations with the military or host government, so they have to beg to get a rare ride off base or a meeting with the Governor, or perhaps worst of all, of being on a base where multiple people are killed every month, and the horrific psychological burden that dealing with that entails.

I also know what we complain about in Farah. Dear US Military -- for the thousandth time, corndogs are a not a breakfast food. Regular corndogs at breakfast are bad enough, but the "breakfast corndog," consisting of a piece of sausage jammed onto a stick, dunked in blueberry pancake batter and deep fried, is truly an abomination before god and man. Your prompt attention to this matter will be much appreciated. Heart, --Dakota.

People often ask how life in the PRT is, and always say that on pretty much all fronts, it could be worse. It's not Vienna, that's for sure -- but given that the worst thing I have to complain about is the ubiquity of corndogs, it could definitely be a lot worse.


Dakota said...

In related news, I can now confirm that Icelandic keyboards are really difficult. It's not easy to find the " or the @ or the --, but it's very easy -- a little too easy, actually -- to find the ö and the æ and the ð and the þ.

Dakota said...

And yes, in case it's not obvious: this post was written on Thanksgiving. I draft on a Blackberry (aka a keyboard you can carry at all times), and there's not infrequently a delay between the writing and the re-typing into an Internet-capable computer, as was the case with this post.