Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ho Ho Ho

Well, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

I hope everyone had a great holiday surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones. The after-days are here and how I wish I was there! Imagine all the shopping I could be doing. Every year I look forward to the after Christmas sales, but I can never seem to drag myself out into the crowds. After all, it's still "tis the season" and thoughts of running people over with my shopping cart are not appropriate, at least not until mid-January. But, by virtue of the fact that I can't go shop right now makes me wish I was in that mall even more! So, in response to my current limitations, I decided my plan would be to flood the online stores galore. But, "someone" seems to have cut our fiber optics here and we are henceforth restricted to all sites that are not .coms (to free up bandwidth, as I understand it). I must say, the shopping options are pretty dismal on the .mils, .govs, and .nets. Goodness! Foiled again!

Let's see, what's been going on here? On Christmas Day, I served lunch at the chow hall to the troops. My office had planned on attending a pizza and chicken party after serving. While the effort was much appreciated, I just can't seem to wrap my arms around a Merry Christmas with Pizza Hut and Popeyes - yes, we have them here. Call me crazy, but I turned down the pizza and chicken and gladly dug into the turkey. I was pleasantly amazed. The folks at the chow hall (often a thankless job) cooked an outstanding and tasteful display. Now, if you're the one that claims it's "all in the gravy", well, that was great, too. Also available for one's eating pleasure was what, I think, is prime rib. Before I go any further, you should know I have my food hangups and I just can't seem to bring myself to eat meat from a 2 foot animal leg bone. If my food looks like Wilbur or Nemo without a smile, forget it; think Pig-on-a-Spit! Now, I can eat well-done steak and chicken breasts all day long, but the minute my dinner resembles an animal (fish with heads, shrimp, lobster, crabs, etc.), I'm outta there! No can do. For those that can - more power to ya! All said, the Christmas meal was a great meal, great effort, and the best that one could hope for, all considering!

After the meal, I went back to my living quarters. It was there that I realized time is passing and my young chipperness (I know, not a word) is dwindling. I can honestly say I don't ever remember a time when the turkey zzz's got me. I've never understood the "I'm tired" mantra. Well, that afternoon I decided to lay down on my bed and pull out my computer to check email. The next thing I knew, I was waking up and 2 hours had passed. The turkey zzz's got me! I'm now part of the stereotypical holiday image - old people dozing in recliners and sofas while football plays in the background. Uff-da, what has happened to me? Am I not 21 yrs old anymore? When did that happen?

Back to Bagram. The feeling that is ever present now is that Christmas is done, over, and gone. The heaviness has lifted and everyone is coming alive again. As much as we want to embrace and hold on to the feeling of the holidays, we never quite had it and what we did have is slipping away. For most people during this time of the year I think this is a somber feeling, but here in Afghanistan it means we are over the hump and on the down slope. As sad as it is or should be, we are happy and coming back to life. We are one day closer...

By the way, I want to extend a thank you to everyone who has sent items for the local Afghan kids and families. The winter is upon us and it's getting so cold. You kind people have send coats which will be put to great use. The soccer balls were a HUGE hit. The warm wool socks were given to a man who only had sandals to wear - fabulous! The stuffed animals have gone to the kids in the hospital, the race cars shared by so many, the dolls admired. You all have been so wonderful to think of the folks here. I appreciate it so much and they appreciate it more than you could ever imagine without seeing it first hand. This coming week, I will start at an all-volunteer organization (all military folks) here on Bagram that gather donations from people like you. The items are then sorted and delivered to the women and children who need them most. I look forward to the opportunity to do more for these people. Gently worn shoes, blankets, clothes, socks etc. are still greatly needed. If you are clearing out your closets, please consider sending any unused items. If you are interested, leave a comment for me at the end of this post and I will respond back to you. There are some cultural and force protection guidelines that you should be aware of (no pigs on anything, no battery operated stuff, etc.).

Yesterday, I visited the hospital. Nazia is still there but I hope she heads to Cincinnati, soon. She is so cute! She can't utter a word, but she gets her point across! She is also a little mow-cow when she eats. She wanted to stuff a 2 inch piece of chicken in her mouth yesterday and it was all I could do to get it from her (okay - it wasn't that hard). Having never seen her eat though, it freaked me out a bit as it sounded like she was choking at times due to her medical condition. I also never realized how much English she understands. She totally gets what you are saying - or so it seems. So cute. After her operation, it pains me to think of the life she will return to and grow up in. How I wish women here had the freedoms we Americans enjoy. Have you ever really, really thought about that? Can you imagine, as a woman, not being allowed out of your four walls? A prisoner in your home with a life sentence. You child is deathly ill and you can't even leave your home to get her medical aid or bring her to a clinic. How I hope the Taliban is defeated.

Another little girl in the hospital is Zohara (sp). Not sure on her condition, but I've heard she either had a brain tumor or shrapnel wound. Not sure which is the correct story, but all the same, she is adorable. I gave her a coat and dolly. She just loved them. Furthermore, she had just returned to her bed from surgery not more than 30 minutes before I got there. I am amazed at her resilience.

If anyone would like pics of the kids, please let me know. I happen to be in most of the pics and that sorta ruins my anonymity motif that I have going on!

So, here's to New Years everyone! I hope that you all enjoy the holiday, make silly resolutions, and keep the Christmas spirit year-round!

In the meantime, enjoy the cute pic of my little one in the header of this post! Cute, eh! (photo credit to Caroline - see the link in the left column named KreateSomething)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Marley & Me

I just finished reading Marley and Me last night. I was surprised to learn a week ago that Hollywood made this book into a movie. I hope the movie has done the book justice. If you're looking for an easy and heartfelt read, this should be on your bookstore shopping list. It is the kind of story where you crawl up to a fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate and just read away. It's a true story about a married couple who, over time, grow in their lives together, have kids, change jobs, move homes, etc., all while caring for their hyper (destructive) yellow lab. That is quite a simplistic description of the book, but the story is rich in heart.

In the last few pages of the book, John Grogan (the author) writes a touching tribute (he is a newspaper columnist) to Marley. This particular paragraph in the book made an impression on me and took my mind back to a conversation I had had earlier in the morning. The conversation was with an Afghan man that is a worker here on Bagram - name withheld. I see him several times a week. He has always been pleasant, quiet, and shy. Being that it was only he and I in my office this morning, I felt weird amidst the silence. So, I broached a conversation and my mouth fell agape the more we talked.

The man - I'll call him Farrukh - lives 50 miles from here. Big deal, right? Well, hold your horses. Afghanistan's roads aren't exactly the middle east version of the German autobahn, nor is it the next Dubai in terms of roadways and building construction. It is primitive in most aspects, and to travel 50 miles here is a bit of a journey. Next, consider the Afghans are not carpooling in the far left "2-4 person minimum" lane in a 3 year old SUV. If not by bus, they arrive in cattle trucks or open bed trailers, packed in, much like sardines. Not pleasant at any time of the year, but through rain, snow, and sleet they come for work. Once they arrive here, and I can't go into any details, but they wait several hours to gain entry to this base. I can't describe entry procedures at all, but I'm sure you've heard the term "hurry up and wait!".

Farrukh wakes at 5 am and doesn't start his work until 9 or, sometimes, 10am. He's not waking and driving to the gym for a morning run, standing in line at Starbucks for his coffee, or eating his bagel while the latest news plays in the background. He is just simply trying to physically get to work. That takes 4-5 hours. Next, he works all day - nothing unusual there - but consider that many of the local Afghans working here are performing arduous and laborious work: carving trenches with pick axes, digging and shoveling, road construction, etc. I haven't always seen the most modern technology being provided to these people to do the work either. When I've wondered aloud, "Why are they doing it that way?" or "Isn't there a better way to do that?", other people have suggested that the more simplistic the work methods, the more people we employ. I'm all for employing as much of the local population as possible, but I find it disturbing to see 5 Afghans struggling to move a wheel barrel of stones when a back hoe could do the same thing and in 2 minutes.

At the end of the day, Farrukh must turn around and repeat everything as he prepares to return home. He gets to sleep around 10pm, he says. That places him with 7 hours of sleep - good enough - but what an event his every day is. The average pay of an Afghan is $2.00 a day. I'd love to think we pay them more than the average and I believe we do, but I also know, for sure, that nobody is getting rich. All said, Farrukh seems happy that he has a job, a means to support his family. He is pleasant and kind. He is thankful for what he has.

So, here is the John Grogan paragraph. After you read it, you will understand why my thoughts trailed back to Farrukh:

It was an amazing concept that I was only now, in the wake of his death, fully absorbing: Marley as a mentor. As teacher and role model. Was it possible for a dog - any dog, but especially a nutty, wildly uncontrollable one like ours - to point humans to the things that really mattered in life? I believed it was. Loyalty. Courage. Devotion. Simplicity. Joy. And the things that did not matter, too. A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbols mean nothing to him. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn't care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his. It was really quite simple, and yet we humans, so much wiser and more sophisticated, have always had trouble figuring out what really counts and what does not. As I wrote that farewell column to Marley, I realized it was all right there in front of us, if only we opened our eyes. Sometimes it took a dog with bad breath, worse manners, and pure intentions to help us see.

My own nearly 12 year old dog would be jealous if I said I hoped to be like Marley, to treat and appreciate others like Marley did, to love others like Marley did. My dog has been loyal and devoted through the years, traveling with me across the US, Europe, anywhere else I dragged him and always by my side. In his old age he has slowed a bit, lost some hearing and eyesight, developed a heart problem, and has made it through three back surgeries all with a tenacity and drive to be admired. His sole purpose? To love. And, to steal the words of John Grogan again, "Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things - a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty."

I guess the point I am making is that we don't need a million things or the "perfect" life to be happy. All things are relative, "perfect" is relative. Farrukh finds his happiness and purpose in doing things that most of us would never choose to do. He does them because he has to, but he seems to maintain a joy about himself. We so often forget the simplest of things, and that's where Marley came in. Life really is about the simple joys. They are there for our taking.

In closing, what a fine example Marley was (and my own dog) of what being human is all about. I know - a bit of anthropomorphism on my part, but isn't that the whole point? How is it that it turns out something so not human ends up being the shining example of humanity itself?

We should all be so lucky to have known or had our own version of Marley. Imagine, the things we can become....

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Great Day

First of all, sorry to everyone! As my husband reminded me, I have been remiss in my blog duties as of late. I truly hope that every one had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with family and friends. My husband traveled across 4 states to visit my family and for that, I am thankful. What a brave soul to do so with a one year old all by himself, not to mention he brought our old decrepit 12 year old dog. What should have been an 8 hour trip ended up being 12 hours; and what should have been a 6 hour trip ended up being 9 hours. After he arrived at his two destinations and visited, it was time to turn around and drive both legs back home. I am truly amazed with my husband..I am so lucky.

Our Thanksgiving here was filled with food. The chow hall did a great job. It certainly wasn't your mother's turkey, but they did pretty good! After all, there are many in this country that ate an MRE, so how could I ever complain?

Throughout Thanksgiving, and up until about 2 days ago, I had a pretty bad cold. This is partially why I hadn't been writing on the blog all that much. I was pretty sick and just couldn't think straight with a congested head. Everyone here is passing this cold from one to another. This was my second time with the same exact thing. Finally, I am better and this brings me to my next subject!

A wonderful lady my mom knows sent 2 boxes full of items for the local Afghan people. There were adorable stuffed animals, stickers, a darling baby blanket, socks, pajamas, toy cars, just a plethora of stuff. So, as soon as my cold was completely gone (today), I headed off to the hospital. At the hospital, I left the cars with a little boy who was in surgery. I gave the cars to his father who was so thankful. I gave a stuffed animal and blanket to Nazia, little sweet Nazia. Her dad was there and was feeding her cereal. She loved the stuffed animal and gave a cute little smile. I am including a pic of Nazia and her father with the gifts. By the time we got to picture taking, she was more interested in getting back to eating her cereal, but isn't she cute! Also, inside the gift box were warm, wonderful men's socks. I gave a pair to Nazia's father. He smiled bigger than I had seen before. Can you imagine...socks! Something Americans have a million of and don't think twice of. Socks made him smile. Socks brightened his day.

Now, here is the good news. I really can't go into any sort of detail, but it appears that all is falling into place with Nazia's trip to Cincinnati. The steps in that process are being completed! Keep praying that all continues to go smoothly and that there are no stumbling blocks! I will keep you updated as much as I can but it looks as though she is getting ready to head to the United States for surgery. What a joy!

Until next time, everyone. I promise it won't be so long again. More to follow!

Oh - one last thing. I noticed I have a Patriot Guard Rider following the blog. If you all have never heard of the Patriot Guard Riders before, this is a group of bike riders that escort the bodies of fallen soldiers during their funerals and whenever else they are needed. This is purely a volunteer organization, self-funded, and they have many times helped to acknowledge and celebrate the lives of fallen soldiers, to include protecting the funeral attendees from radical anti-war groups (I refuse to even type the name of the group that is infamous for the protests). These people are selfless and much coordination and time goes into their efforts. Thank you very much for all you do! Here is their website for anyone that is interested.

Also, if you want automatic updates to this blog, click on "follow this blog". I will soon stop sending out individual emails when I update.

Until next time