Jeff's Afghan Diary: Something Gained, Something Lost at Khayr Kot Castle
February 20 , 2007
Little things can make a big difference in quality of life. And sometimes we get one thing, but lose another.
I finally got a room of my own, complete with wall locker and bed. I finally unpacked all my gear, and rediscovered a lot of stuff I hadn’t been able to use for several weeks - my DVDs, books, PT clothes, bedding (I’ve been sleeping in my sleeping bag for the past two weeks), and more clean clothes, so I don’t have to do laundry every three days. It’s nice to stretch out and feel like I have a place of my own.
But today, the water pump went out, so we won’t have showers until the pump gets fixed. Estimated time to repair: a week. This is why “handy-wipes” are popular over here - at least you can wipe some of the stink off your body between showers. If we get too low on the water in our tanks, we’ll have to stop using the flush toilets as well and burn our waste with gasoline. (This is what many of our troops in our ongoing War on Terror have to do now.) One plus, one minus! Life goes on.
My MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) is “Signal,” or commo (slang for communications - radio, computer data, telephony), and for the past few days, I’ve been busy with radios and our Internet service, which seems to go down with depressing regularity. Every hour or so I have to reset our little wireless router so people can get e-mail, etc. I also spend most my time in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center), the home of our radios, listening for calls to us from our higher command (which is infrequent). I have a lot of time on my hands, because radio calls are few, but someone has to be there if a call comes, because most calls are important. I often hear calls between other TOCs talking about situations in other areas of Afghanistan where firefights have broken out between ANA forces and Taliban forces, but so far our area has been pretty quiet.
A few days ago, a report was called over the radio (we use satellite radios in country, which carry calls across all of Afghanistan) where a FOB was attacked by Taliban forces using rockets and machine guns. Two Afghans were wounded, and one Taliban fighter was killed - the rest fled when their attack was repelled. I also heard the radio report about the helicopter that crashed, killing several American Soldiers. But this type of report has been infrequent.
Weather has a lot to do with operations, both ours and the enemy’s. Snow and rain make travel difficult on the muddy roads, and Taliban fighters haven’t been too keen to lie in wait in the cold and wet to attack government forces. We have heard this will change when the weather improves in May, though.
We are pretty well isolated from anti-government protests and jeers here at Khayr Kot Castle, but today we learned that our interpreters have not been as fortunate - today, we learned that some of the ANA Soldiers have insulted some of our interpreters, calling them infidels, an ugly slur in this country. Our commander had a meeting with the ANA commander to discuss this problem. We depend on our interpreters, and they are vulnerable - they live in a barracks by the ANA, which can put them at risk. Our commander asked if they felt they were in jeopardy, and they bravely replied they did not think so. Their job is dangerous, and they live in our FOB for their own protection. However, they often travel outside the confines of our base, and conduct business in the area alone.
Our interpreters are young and educated. They have some of the highest paying jobs in Afghanistan. While the pay is good, they are not universally liked. Because they work so closely with American military forces, they are held at a bit of a distance, both by the ANA and by Americans. In the past, there have been allegations of espionage by interpreters, spying on the U.S. and passing information to the Taliban. The ANA have heard of this as well. Interpreters live under a cloud of suspicion because of this. So far, our interpreters have been very helpful and appear to be trustworthy, but we do not tell secrets to them, both for our sakes and theirs. If the Taliban thought an interpreter knew some valuable secret, they would try to kidnap and torture them for the information, then kill them.
I try to learn from our interpreters about Afghan language and culture. They are a wealth of information, but unfortunately, I do not get to spend much time with them. I generally go find one and ask them to accompany me to translate when I talk to my ANA counterparts. En route to talk to the ANA, I glean a few nuggets of knowledge from the interpreters - simple things like how to say “Good Morning” or something about the ANA schedule for the day. They are underappreciated, in my opinion. Too many American Soldiers seem to look down on Afghans, including the interpreters at times.
My room is right next to the door everyone uses to get to the latrine (Army-speak for the building which houses the toilets and showers), so I get to hear the door open and close continually. The generator hums loudly right outside as well. It’s a sound different from the snoring I have usually heard at night when sleeping with several other Soldiers. Like I said, you gain something, you lose something else.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.