Friday, November 18, 2011

84 Hours

1:50 am Friday November 18th 2011
Bagram Air Base

You just wait, and when you are tired of waiting you wait some more. The misconception of arriving in Afghanistan is that from the moment you arrive you are under gunfire from Taliban or Insurgents can be misleading to say the least.

We arrived at the base here Tuesday afternoon and had high hopes of catching a flight to the East later that night only to have all hopes dashed as the Air Force just cancelled that flight, remember that they do not have to give a reason they can just cancel. And the wait begins in the aptly named Hotel California that is the media holding rooms on Disney Road the main road in the base.

Now the word, Hotel is somewhat of a misnomer. In fact a wooden shack divided by ply wood into four rooms, three bunks in each room, a mattress and a pillow, no sheets or pillow cases so God only knows what creatures are from head lice to bed bugs are free to breed. Though I do add we had Room 1, which is considered the suite, as it is few square feet larger, and the luxury of a metal folding chair. Each room has a small fridge with a few bottles of water, I should add though that according to the energy consumption labels still on the door indicated that energy efficient rating was about as bad as you could possibly seek out.

There are no windows in any buildings as glass and bombs are not a good combination in the case of a rocket attack. So you have no concept of day or night. The heating and air conditioning is pumped into the building via by what sounded like a pre cold war jet engine. The tranquility of the environment is rocked every ten to fifteen minutes by this rush of noise more than heat or cold air.

The routine of waiting to hear that the next flight has been cancelled or that there are no flights to where we want to go, usually means being woken up by a knock at the door at 11pm, 1am or 6am. Flight schedules for daily flights are posted at different times and only 24 hours in advance. So if there is no flight you know that the wait to try again is 24 hours away.

There are no stories to be done at the base here as after ten years of war every story has been done at least five times and no one has any interest in day-to-day operations, because in a word nothing has changed, so you wait.

Breakfast in the DFAC (Dinning Facility) is followed by Lunch at the DFAC, wait and then dinner at the DFAC. The walk from Hotel California to the DFAC is about 8 minutes down Disney Road. More anything it kills time. The food is good, but obviously the big issue at the base here is obesity, as you enter the DFAC there are signs trying to explain portion size, which to some members of the Armed Forces and Contractors needs to be enforced. An extra large serving of fried onion rings is not considered 2 of your 5 daily requirements.

Of course there is option of Pizza Hut, but to the consternation of many on the base is not open for breakfast. Popeye’s another fast food chain is closed but reopening soon.

The other popular time wasting pastime, shopping. And the PX store is the same as it was 5 years plus again, from chewing tobacco to knives. Then just down the road is the local Afghan equivalent to the PX store, where every known dodgy DVD is available for $3 along with more aftershave and perfume than a duty free store at an airport. But the best sign in the bazaar is a note posted everywhere from the Base Commander stating that claiming something is fake is not a reason for demanding a refund.

The most disliked people on the Base seem to be the MP’s (Military Police) these people are more diligent than a traffic warden in London. Caught not wearing a seat belt, even in the back seat and your car is compounded for ten days and you must do a self criticism and how you will change your ways. Maximum speed 5 mph is enforced, no wonder service personnel have trouble adjusting to the real world after a tour of duty, spend a year driving the same roads at 5 mph. I suspect that a private wheel-clamping contractor is not that far away.

Finally after 84 hours we boarded our flight to Jalalabad, as they say a mere elevator ride less than 25 minutes in the air. The irony is that we could of driven from Kabul to Jalalabad in just over two hours. And saved 82 hours, nothing moves easy, in which you are part of a 32,000-person jigsaw that is the US Military.