I felt like writing something today, but to be quite honest, nothing interesting seems to be happening today. Or in the past few days.
Things are slowing quickly. With just a handful of time left to spend here, replacements showing up, and the workload lessening, we just don’t seem so occupied with much of anything anymore.
Time is funny to talk about. The concept goes over my head in this environment. The deployment environment.
For you: days can be an hour by hour affair, a day by day affair.
For me: Time is. I don’t know what time is. Do you know what time is?
Each day doesn’t feel like a day, it feels more like part of a day that never ends. My commanding officer described it perfectly: “I feel like I’m in Groundhog Day (referring to the movie),” he said, “Every day I go to the office, then to the DFAC, then I go to my hooch, then the PX, then the office, then the DFAC… etc.”
With so little space and limited activities at our disposal, the month long stretch feels more like no time at all. Not that time is going by fast, but more like there is no such thing. It no longer exists. Nothing progresses and there is no past, because there is no change.
The only change I actually see that connects me with the rest of the world, shows me time is still thriving beyond the walls of Camp Phoenix, is a sad reality. Because the only thing here that signifies progress, that signifies change, is death.
I would be happy never going to a funeral as long as I live once I leave here.
At home, death is like the dark corners of your house. You never pay too much attention to them.
Here, death is like the bottom step you always forget about as you descend on the stairs. Once you reach the bottom, that step reminds you of its existence. But somehow you will forget about it the next time you descend. And it will remind you again.
Do not let this lead you to believe I am extremely grief stricken and in a sad state of affairs. Personally I am quite well. It is simply war in general that saddens me.
I’m closer to war than I have ever been before, and the only thing different about me being here rather than home viewing war through the skewed window of television: death. Not numbers and year-to-date totals, but personal, one at a time, face after face death.
I try to use my free time wisely.
This morning I went to the gym. I go 5 times a week and lift weights.
But I work 12 hour days; for the past two or three weeks. That twelve… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Half a day.
Reading each number at a time isn’t as stressful as reading each hour on the clock from a desk. Every day.
So where do I get the time to keep learning Spanish? I never had the chance to get past ‘Greetings.’
There’s really no important reason to stay in the office so long. Everyone loses focus by the time it hits 1800 (6 PM). I guess my boss just wants to prove a point. I still have yet to figure out what that point is.
Now I resort to: Books+office=not such a bad day.
I finished Breakfast of Champions. Got to love K Von. He’s by far my favorite author. Starting Cat’s Cradle. And wading my way through Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky.
Listening to some Tokyo Police Club. And really getting into the Bible-inspired lyrics of Nick Cave. I still have yet to finish downloading his newest album.
Today is my half day. It is 0916 (916 AM) right now. I have to be in at 1000. Shower first.
Someone tell me how 12 hours minus two hours equals 6 hours. Because I’m almost positive that coming in at 1000 instead of 0800 does NOT give me a half day.
Hopefully this catastrophe of work hours ends soon.
A dark cloud has been settled on Kabul for only God knows how long.
What’s in that cloud? Burnt plastic; feces; oil; gas. They burn everything.
I’ve been told that by the time my tour in Kabul is over, I will have inhaled at least a brick of “shit.”
As my feet awkwardly stumble steadily across the pavement, and I try swallowing the air, what little that’s available, I wonder how much more than a brick I will inhale because of running.
My throat burns, a different burn than I’ve ever known before. As I round each painful corner, hoping my lungs will learn soon how to breathe, the burn reminds me of the black cloud I’m currently wading through. Not that you can tell how black it is from the inside.
It hurts more with every lap. Not my legs, they’re strong enough to keep pressing on. It’s just my lungs. They seem to be shrinking with each breath.
Soon the saliva builds up to the point I need to spit. But it’s only around the inside of my mouth. My lungs won’t afford me the luxury of a wet throat. The air dries everything beyond my tongue to nothingness.
This sucks. Mantra time:
“The brain is strong.”
“Cool. Fast. Light.”
“I will finish the run.”
“The brain is strong.”
“Cool. Fast. Light.”
“I will finish the run.”
This hurts bad now. Not a physical hurt. It’s a mental hurt. Your lungs are making you think they can’t breathe. But it’s just that they’re filtering out all the dirt in the air: Burnt plastic, feces, oil, gas: All manner of trash.
I’m getting much closer now. Once this registers in my brain, things become much easier. Signifying the realization that most of what I felt prior was mental.
Foot hits pavement. Knee jolts. Lungs continue to die. But everything is so much easier. There’s the finish.
I spit all the dirt, the “shit,” that piled up in my lungs, onto the ground.
It’s beautiful; it’s not in my lungs anymore. I’m happy; I’m done now.
A couple weeks ago some Spanish books Olivia had ordered for me arrived. I cracked them at the beginning of this week, and I’m catching on surprisingly quickly.
She bought Spanish for Dummies and The Complete Idiots Guide to Spanish. The books break it down very well. Plus, in order for me to understand the verb conjugation better, I have a Spanish Verb Tense workbook.
While I was growing up, my mom insisited on my brothers and me taking Latin during some of Junior High and most of High School. She always used to say, “It will help you understand English better and help you if you ever want to learn a new language.” I always called Bull! whenever she said this. At those ages, Latin seemed like jibberish. It was tedious and a headache to learn.
Amo, Amas, Amat, Amamos, Amatis, Amant. That conjugation, one of many I had memorized with the aid of note cards, has always stuck with me. Well, that and the basic understanding of what conjugating a verb means.
Say you have “To learn.” Well, in English, there is no conjugation (the change a verb takes on when applied to a subject, or, the applying action to a subject by changing the verb). You simply add a pronoun, like “I learn.” The verb, learn, is the same. But in romance languages, like Latin and Spanish, the verb must take on a transformation in order to give a subject the action.
So “aprender” is “to learn.” The root of the word is aprend- and the verb end is -er. In Latin, I learned all about this, but didn’t think it was worth much, or applicable in my future. “Seriously Mom… no one knows Latin!”
To change “aprender” from “to learn” to “I learn,” you have to change the verb end. If this was an irregular verb, either the end or the root would change. That’s a whole other story. “Aprender” becomes “Yo (I) aprendo.” Just like in Latin, except the endings are a bit different for the verb endings (but quite similar too!). In Latin you have the example I showed before. In Spanish, using the same word “to love” (the Latin example is I love, you love, he-she-or it loves, we love, you (all) love, and they love) which is “amar,” we will conjugate it. Notice in the conjugation the similarities and slight differences as compared to Latin’s “amo, amas, amat, amamus, amtis, amant.”
Amo (I love), Amas (You love), Ama (He, she or it loves), Amamos (we love), Amais (You, pl., love), Aman (they love).
Now what I’m getting at is this- the only thing I couldn’t remember in this little lesson wwas the word for “to learn,” aprender. So I looked it up.
Everything else however, was easy to remember because of all that damn Latin I felt I was choking down for 3 or 4 years. But I’m thankful to my mom now. I’m sure most of those painful bouts between her and I over Latin, she was praying and hoping that I get some use out of it later in life- otherwise she’d be kicking herself for putting up with me over it. She knew though. She knew exactly what she was doing. And thanks Mom, Yo te amo.
Now for an interesting and entirely unrelated bit of information to mull over:
At work yesterday, a lot of talk went around about wrapping up our business in preparation for going home. Being in Afghanistan since December, these last few months can’t go by fast enough.
But it is nice to know I am working on things in my line of work that are contributing to the end of my time here.
Home will be very welcome when the time comes. I’m closing in.
I saw a school opening today, all by myself of course. Or at least it felt that way…
It was an interesting mix of passionate, meaningful speeches, segregation, and abuse. I must have won the lottery.
One of the first things I noticed walking up the steps to the opening ceremony were the older schoolboys wearing armbands. You know, like Hitler’s Youth wore. Not quite the same actually. These armbands just meant you were in charge. You were allowed to whip the younger schoolchildren to keep them in line.
I had seen this before, but usually the boys hold sticks. This time, they had gotten a hold of rubber tubing. Each had a segment of tubing about three feet in length. And if all the younger children came running up the steps to sit down for the ceremony (before it had begun), the older boys would whip at their legs and chase them off. The older boys really enjoyed this responsibility. It was humorous and a little disheartening. Those whips hurt I bet.
The second thing I noticed was that after all the children had been seated (finally, after a few bouts of whipping), was that there were no women or girls. I thought at first, “Well it’s a boy’s school, of course.”
This was not the case. The women and girls began filing in, and all the men and boys made sure they had their own seating- to the left of the actual ceremony in some tents.
I couldnt believe they were making them all sit in such an awkward place. But even though the boundaries of American political correctness had been obviously crossed, I also couldn’t help noticing that these men who ran the new school had unwittingly done the women and girls a favor. It was brutally hot outside, and they were able to sit in the coolness of the shade while the rest of us sweat ourselves to dehydration and dry throats.
Last but not least, and in fact, most surprising and heart warming, were the speeches given. There was much talk about the “need for knowledge in Afghanistan,” and, “learning will make Afghanistan like other countries, such as America.” And while these are some good points, the most notable speech was in English… and given by a 16 year old.
He was introduced with this line, “And now [name] will give his speech using the English language.” Sure enough, the 16 year old who stopped me just before the ceremony and asked, “after the ceremony, can I converse with you in English so I can practice?,” stood up in front of everyone.
He spoke very quickly. You could tell he just wanted so badly to make his point clear. He was passionate. He really believed what he was saying. This is how he started:
“Teachers deserve our respect as students. Teachers are like a flame that keeps us lit. Teachers are like a flower, that spreads it’s seeds so other may grow. We need the knowledge our teachers give us, so they must be respected. Without knowledge, we are nothing.”
He went on to describe ignorant people, and how they are not wanted.
“You do not throw a party and invite the ignorant, because no one wants the ignorant amongst knowledgable people. You do not elect an ignorant man as president either, you need a scholar, for he needs to know all that is going on in the country, he has to know our needs.”
I wish I had been able to converse with him after the ceremony, but I had to leave. I do hope his message got through to the other students though.
I just can’t help but wonder, everytime I would turn around during the ceremony and see the line of students with whips behind the seated crowd, what those schoolboys were thinking the whole time.
I’m guessing something like, “Come on… just one of you squirts try to get up for something…” and maybe when the 16 year old spoke, and in response to his claim that without knowledge, they are nothing, they thought, “Nothing!? Who’s standing here with the whip? Me or you? We’ll see who’s nothing after the ceremony is over.”
In these last few months of time I will spend in Afghanistan, I find it hard to really dive into my work anymore. It takes a bit more effort.
In your mind, you say, “This is it, I’ve rounded third and I’m on my way home.” But really you know that’s not the case. And to think this way, for some at least, could be a dangerous, even deadly, thought.
For troops who find themselves in the field day in and day out, especially ones who have to be very aware of their surroundings, becoming complacent can kill. You begin to feel invincible. You think that because you’ve already made it over half way throught the tour, these last months will go by no harm done. That’s quite the opposite.
It’s been said that the most deaths happen during an elements (unit, brigade, battalion, whatever it may be) last few months of a deployment.
Read this article and in the second sentence, the writer notes a sign reading “Complacency Kills.” Read on and the author helps you imagine how easy it is to lose focus over time. Troops are warned often of this at the beginning, and even before, their tour starts in country. But you hear this warning much less during the last stretch.
So although I don’t find myself outside the wire too often, it is interesting to me that I recognize my own complacency. It makes me wonder how many Soldiers who find themselves roaming through countrysides and villages do not recognize it in themselves.