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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Longing For A Shower
May 1, 2007

      Back to Waza Khwa.  We left Doa China today to go to Waza Khwa for resupply, for mail, for phone calls home, for Internet service and e-mail, to repair our HUMMWV’s and to get a little rest (not too much, but a little) in a comfortable bed (relatively speaking).

      The trip wasn’t too bad - no vehicles broke down, and we didn’t get lost.  I was the gunner again, but we had to loan “Sgt Rock” to ride in a towed vehicle to try to steer it along.  Unfortunately for him, it was a terrible ride, getting whipped around and crashing over bumps without seeing them coming.  He had to take some extra Tylenol after the ride.

      Extra-strength Tylenol gets a lot of soldiers through many of the aches and pains of our jobs over here, but sometimes it’s not enough.  Shortly before we left for Doa China, “Taco” smashed his hand with a hammer on accident.  We had to fly him off on a helicopter to another site where they could X-ray it for damage.  He had to stay back and recuperate in Waza Khwa while we went to Doa China, but we rejoined him when we came back.

      Moving is a fact of life in the Army, and when we returned, we were reminded of this: we had to leave the barracks we had put our stuff in while we were in Doa China, and move it into another barracks, just as soon as we got back to Waza Khwa.  So much for rest and relaxation!  We were crammed into a small room, and had to put half our stuff into a CONEX container.  Once again, I am living out of a rucksack (Army-speak for “big backpack”).

      At least I will get a chance to talk to my son on his birthday tomorrow!  I called my wife to tell her I’m OK, which always brings her a sense of relief, and told her I will call again.  I got some borrowed time on a computer and checked my endless e-mails - I get a lot of e-mails sent to me from things I signed up for long ago, when I had my own business, which no longer make sense to even read now.  It’s faster to delete them than to remove myself from the myriad lists which I seem to belong to now, but it takes time.

      The Internet service for everyone is provided by a commercial satellite Internet service provider.  For over a month, the satellite service has not been working, so to check e-mail, we have to find a computer linked up in work areas, which technically are not supposed to be used for personal business.  But it’s the only way to e-mail friends and family, so we borrow time on these computers, often late at night or early morning, when normal work isn’t being done.  Of course, everyone else is trying to borrow these systems, too, so usually I have to check back often to see when I can steal several minutes to check my e-mail.

      E-mail isn’t just for personal business, of course - I also have times when I have to send a message to someone for official business.  I do this when I borrow the computer - it’s just another e-mail I need to send.
      My mother has been sending me an e-mail every day, just to let me know she’s thinking about me.  It usually isn’t very long, but she wants me to be encouraged and know she’s thinking of me.  It’s sweet of her, but when I’ve been out in Doa China for awhile, there are lots of e-mails stacked up for me from Mom!

      My Dad and my brothers send me e-mails as well.  I like to hear from them - it reminds me of a world which seems farther and farther away, more and more distant the longer I stay here.  I write about wanting to go sailing with my Dad and brother, somewhere we can just go for a week or more, drinking beer, smoking cigars, and telling tall tales.  I look forward to spending some time with them, relaxing on a boat somewhere, not caring when we get where we’re heading,  or even where we’re heading, for that matter!  Just to stop thinking and just be for a while.

      I was looking forward to a shower sometime this evening - riding the “roads” we take inevitably fills every available pore with dust and dirt.  I wear a scarf to keep from inhaling too much of it, but it’s easy to tell whenever a Soldier has been out driving for any length of time.  Gunners are easily recognized by the “raccoon eyes” they get, where the dust settles everywhere on their face except where the goggles screen most of the dust from their eyes, leaving white around the eyes and brown dirt everywhere else.  Uniforms get covered in the fine powdery tan dust, changing the green to light brown.

      Once, when we were driving, our convoy drove right through a “dust devil” - a mini-tornado of dirt, towering up into the sky.  Dust was everywhere, and no one could see anything at all.  It was over as quickly as it started, but of course everyone in the vehicles was covered in dirt.  Wind whips dust along like a sandstorm often, as well.  It can’t be healthy for our lungs, inhaling all that dirt, but it’s hard to filter it, because it’s so fine.  It gets into vehicle engines, through cracks and crevices in vehicle cabins, and covers every inch of exposed skin.

      Speaking of vehicles, ours will need much work.  The terrain and weather here take their toll on our diesel engines, as well as suspension systems.  Drive shafts often break from the pounding, and bolts shake loose and constantly need inspected and tightened.  On one trip,  all the lug nuts holding one of our tires on were loosened to the point the tire almost came off.

      The bumps and jolts take their toll on the passengers as well, especially the gunners, who have to stand up inside the vehicle to man the machine gun in the turret.  It’s particularly rough if you are the last vehicle in the convoy, because the last gunner faces the rear to protect the rear approach.  So the gunner in the last vehicle is facing backwards, and doesn’t see the bumps coming in the road ahead.  Often, this results in the gunner getting bucked like a bronco if the truck hit’s a nasty bump in the road.

      Today, I wasn’t in the last vehicle - “Sgt Rock” was.  So I didn’t get jostled quite as badly as when we went down to Doa China, and I was the last gunner on that trip.  Today, I merely had to deal with the normal sand in the face.

      I hadn’t had a chance to take a shower for several days, and I was really looking forward to the showers in Waza Khwa.  There, they have a large CONEX set up with several shower stalls, with plenty of hot water to spare.  It’s one of the few creature comforts afforded to us at Waza Khwa, and one of the reasons we look forward to returning there.

      But after we finished moving all our stuff, it had already gotten late, and we were all quite tired.  I didn’t have the energy or the desire to postpone sleep for reasons of personal hygiene, so I resolved to take a shower tomorrow, after we attend to our vehicles.  The shower just seemed like more work, and I had had enough for one day.  Besides, my roommates are used to my body odor by now, as I have become used to theirs as well!

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
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, 2005).
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.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.