Well, there's good news and there's bad news. The bad news, as I mentioned in my last post, is that the place kind of has a bombed-out feel to it. The mountains we saw flying over from Iraq were beautiful, but the roads are lined with locals in rags and some of the most decrepit housing I've seen.
Yesterday was weird. We woke up really early, waited for hours while the plane was delayed, were on the plane, and landed in Afghanistan (dear DoD blog-readers -- please note my not mentioning where, exactly, I am in Afghanistan!), which is 90 minutes (!) ahead of Iraq and ten and a half hours ahead of Stillwater, MN, on the darkest day of the year (winter solstice). So, it was 5:00 pm when we deplaned, which was 3:30 Baghdad time and -- well, you get the picture. Add that to the fact that it was pitch black outside and also the fact that I'd woken up at 5:00 am to get the plane and had done nothing all day, and I was pretty much useless.
I did manage to call home, which was good and bad. Good, obviously, because I got to talk to my dad and my sister. Bad, though, because the phone hut was one of the most heartbreaking places I've been on this tour. It is rare, apparently and for obvious reasons, that a call home from someone stationed so far away goes well. Arguments about money, frequency of contact, fidelity -- this is what happens on the phone, not casual chit-chat. They post a list of helpful hints for having the calls go well, but a soldier a couple phones down was really going to town yelling with his wife. They both kept threatening to hang up, but neither did, at least not while I was there. And I got out as quickly as I could. I asked a couple of the guys (they provided us with escorts here, and while it's a little awkward to have a guy with an assault rifle following you around, it was a good chance to get to know the extremely likable Specialist Justin Carry and his friends who were escorting Al) about this, and they said arguments (particularly about spending) are pretty much what phone calls home consist of.
Anyway, after that, I was pretty ready to call it a night. No show last night, so I just watched some "West Wing" and passed out, which meant I was able to get nine hours of sleep. That's part of the good news.
The big part of the good news, though, is that while it's ugly and poor (average income: $100 a year), Afghanistan seems to be a much better place to be stationed than Mosul or Tikrit (Kuwait is still the sweetest beat in town). Soldiers here, at least on the (still unnamed!) base I'm on, get to go out into the communities and get to know the locals, because their missions are generally patrols, rather than logistics or combat. One guy I talked to today (he hangs out in the coffee shop on base whenever he has free time and gave me a wary look until I confirmed that I wasn't a real reporter) is having a bunch of girls' shoes sent over from Kentucky so he can give them out to the little girls who he sees running around in makeshift sandals (it's cold, slushy, and muddy here). And I don't sense a lot of conflict about the mission here. We're here to keep an eye on things, and the people who live here appreciate it.
I also visited a bazaar today, which was great. The locals who sell stuff are incredibly crafty -- I had a 12-year-old boy acting like a used car dealer, calling me by my first name, taking me by the arm, telling me he wanted to make a deal -- but they do it with a smile and seem to really enjoy the interaction with Westerners. And why not? They're ripping us off, for the most part. But I don't mind. Oh, and I'm getting a full body massage tonight for twenty bucks.
So, this is definitely the most enjoyable craphole I've ever visited, I guess you could say.