My walk from the barracks to the connex is familiar.
Begrudgingly, my boots start on the walk to work. For exactly 100 steps, large gravel rocks are the path. They are everywhere the pavement or asphalt isn’t. I hate them – not only do they remind me that flip-flops aren't appropriate for the environment, but they also seem to reflect the melancholy mood here. It's possible that the rocks have been here since the Soviets.
I wonder what stories they have to tell. How many secret meetings have they seen? What disasters have they felt?
A hundred steps and I reach the asphalt. To the left are small, cabin-like houses with bars covering the windows. Their color is a mix between mustard and sand. Looking out the small windows are several large concrete T-walls. They help protect the buildings in case of a rocket attack.
These buildings are for the Army. They're the real people behind this war. Fighters.
I pass a few Army guys in their fatigues, and they greet me with a nod and "good morning ma’am." I give a slight smile.
Reaching the street, a conflicting scene greets me. My view is no longer restricted by concrete barricades. If I look to the horizon, purple mountains shaded in pink surround the valley. Dawn changes the landscape – or it's just my attempt at adding a feminine touch to this masculine environment.
Stacked on top of each other, multi-colored connexes – large metal cargo containers – sit in a muddy field. I wonder how long they've been rusting here, waiting to be utilized. If I dwell on this, I feel like I'm in a junkyard. The trash smell saturating my hair and clothes fits in perfectly.
It's easy to get lost in the negative thoughts of being here. Sometimes I can’t see the purple mountains through the haze or storm clouds. Sometimes I just see the junkyard. Sometimes I just smell the polluted air. But having been here only six weeks, I still have my optimism. Those stacked connexes challenge my happy-girl attitude every morning as I head towards my 12.5-hour workday. I haven’t admitted defeat yet.
Instead, I look toward those purple mountains. And I continue walking.
I pass the Indian security guards and bid them hello. I pause at the crosswalk. Some days there are no cars. Other days the tactical vehicles are waiting at the stop sign for pedestrians. They hold some mystery for me. I play badminton in the shop where they're being repaired, so I see when they've been hit by rocket shells, but I still haven't seen the complexity of war. Not yet. Maybe that's why I've stayed happy. Maybe I will in the summer when the attacks begin again.
Right now the valley is too cold. Too much mud for the terrorists to run around shooting off stuff. I wonder if we're all in some random game of Army Men. That my current reality is just a little boy’s imagination.
Next to the sidewalk is a six-foot-tall fence crowned with barbed wire. Above it the orange sun starts to rise over the purple mountains.
There's a friendly white blimp hanging in the light blue sky. It hovers just above the sun, welcoming its arrival – a signal of another night of survival. The blimp causes me to think too much before coffee. It symbolizes dominion in these war-torn skies. And it haunts me. It hasn’t been confirmed, but I'm pretty sure that blimp carries an ungodly amount of money shaped into cameras. These cameras record everything.
The cameras have probably saved many lives. They probably send information to some secret computer to give GPS locations of possible terrorist activity. Maybe they give a heads-up to the Army and send helicopters to destroy things that might otherwise destroy us. But those cameras are recording each of us. It's frightening. Maybe because of what the technology can and does do back home. The safety vs. liberty question is always on debate in the news.
Maybe that's why I like being away from home. It is only in my thoughts, not spoken about; a silent acceptance that we must be policed in order to continue Afghan liberty. But it's costing us our liberty. A conundrum, really….
I pass familiar faces every morning. One of these is a Kosovar woman. She always wears cute jackets. Her posture is dominating and aggressive. I don’t think I'd like her very much; she seems too smug. Too much of a “desert princess.” I may feminize the mountains and wear cute boots, but I have no interest in being desired by every penis here. She strikes me as that type. She probably looks at me as competition and resents American girls for our ability to steal the Kosovo guys from her.
Depending on where we pass, I know how late I am to work. She is like clockwork. Most things are.
In the compound, the muddy asphalt continues to lead me. Business as usual. A few gators are warming up. A few men are near another Army cottage talking and their stare penetrates my clothes. Sadly, I have become used to it.
In my last few moments of alone time, I smile. For nine months I waited for the call to come. Here I am. Time is going quickly. It is nothing like what I expected, and I am thankful. I must retain that feeling. Those junky connexes will not take my attitude hostage.
I arrive at my door. I unlock it, turn up the heat, and settle in for my morning routine.