I woke up at around 6 am, covered with mosquito bites. The heat was just beginning to break, so this was the first night in J-Bad I had been able to sleep with the fan and not the AC.
Fary, in her seemingly bottomless international navigatory prowess, has secured me a spot on a dipolomatic flight. I depart from FOB Fenty. A new friend from the Taj, a security contracter, escorts me at the base. This morning he's rocking what I like to call "Business on the Bottom - Party on the Top" - He's wearing a pakol hat and the jumper of native Kameez over cargo pants and butt-stomping American boots. Lots of the security dudes do this - I assume it's because a) they only need to look afghan while driving and/or b) the Kameez bottoms are too loose to securely jam a pistol in.
There is a terminal for outgoing flights. It has the standard uncomfortable chairs you're used to in airport waiting bays, a big screen TV playing the Red Sox game, and some fascinating posters depicting "ARACHNIDS OF AFGHANISTAN". A leathery woman helms the desk - her tight jeans and rhinestone earrings somehow compliment her camo shirt, which might be how she gets away with it. She welcomes us enthusiastically. However, she explains, it is not possible to catch USAID flighs from the comfort of this terminal's air-conditioned halls.
I have to wait on - you guessed it - the fucking tarmac.
My buddy drops me off with a high five and a promise to visit Cali (everyone but californians call it cali), leaving me to poke around the razor-wire delineated edge of the airfield.
A fascinating feature of the FOB are the Afghan quarters. There are cookie-cutter beige bungalows for military housing, but many natives live here as well. Their homes are small but gaily painted, with rose gardens and shady patios. The patios all feature a chaise or two for lounging, like their homes outside the wire. And now that Ramadan is over, a teapot is always perched beside them. There is even a brightly colored little mosque, with distinctive domes and megaphones. Just such an installment sat tucked beside the airfield. Beside it was a handpainted sign that read, "MOHAMMEDS STORE: RUGS AND JEWELRY."
I humped my bags around the corner to investigate - perhaps i would have an opportunity to do a little shopping after all! But I was stopped in my tracks by a cranky Afghan in western jeans and t-shirt. "Who are you? Where are you going?" I realize I must have looked strange - In my Afghan garb and American sneakers, short hair uncovered, arms full of luggage. However, this is NOT the welcome I have become accustomed to from Afghans.
Allow me to explain - these are the most hospitable people you will ever meet, with the possible exception of Black Rock Citizens. Everyone is very accommodating, happy to see you, eager to share everything they have and make you feel most welcome. Not the case with the FOB Afghans. Hells to the no.
A nearby Afghan policeman observed this exchange. While clearly kind of embarrassed by the first guy's behavior (he shooed him away with the muzzle of an AK), he was intent upon figuring out where I was headed and sending me that way immediately. He brought me around to the rear of MOHAMMEDS STORE (which never did enjoy my patronage), where there was a tiny cafe with a sign that read, "Cinamin Bread, Sugar Bread, Plain Bread." A cook poked his head out, and exchanged words with the officer, and then with me. "Who are you? Where are you going?"
"I'm on the USAID flight." I explained. The cook nodded. "Yes, yes. You must go around, make a right.." Where do you think he directed me? That's right. Back to the fucking tarmac. No Cinamin Bread for me. No Plain Bread either. And sure as hell no RUGS AND JEWELRY. Leave it to Americans to throttle the most fundamental instinct toward kindness out of a people.
So I humped my gear back and found a shady spot near the fence. I ate a power bar. About 50 feet away from me, a plane took off. I turned my back to it. My hair and ears and buttcrack are now full of Afghan soil. In the distance, after a forklift drove away, a small tent office became visible on the opposite end of the airfield. I lugged my crap over and made small talk with the officer there responsible for shipping and receiving. His name was Mike, from MA. He's been here for 5 years. Again, news that I had been living in the city was met with incredulity and apprehension.
When it was time, he packed me onto a sweet little 6-seater bird, piloted by some handsome South African pilots. I dozed for the 30 minute flight to Kabul.
Kabul! How I wish I could spend more time here.