Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The World Cup, Indian Style!

The sports channel showing the most World Cup coverage here is not on the Armed Forces Network. For some reason, in addition to AFN we get an assortment of Indian satellite channels in the hooches. ESPN India has extensive World Cup coverage, thankfully. The funny part is the Indian ESPN ads, which are basically only for two things: cell phones and cricket. The cell phone ads are a little weird, but nothing notable. The cricket ads, well, I've never seen a cricket ad before. I'm sure the stars of world cricket are immensely talented athletes. But it's still funny to see ads using something akin to the Star Wars Evil Imperial March music, or players striking intimidating poses like pro wrestlers, to promote something that seems as poncey as cricket.

I know nothing about cricket, I'm sure I would be terrible at it. But it's also a game that British lords play at tea parties, right?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Of Herat

Photo by Herat on Flickr

Your correspondent was lucky enough to travel to Herat on Saturday. We left quite early (which is the excuse the Staff Photographer provides for not having the appropriate equipment along... tragically, no photos were taken, so we found the above picture of Herat taken by some other Flickr user).

Even though the whole trip was pretty quick, from the Herat airport to the site of a conference, and back to the airport a few hours later, there was a lot to see. As in many poor countries, it's always striking to see the chaos of traffic, with people carrying big sheafs of rebar on bicycles and hauling cartloads of watermelon around with tuk-tuks.

But more unique to Afghanistan is the mode of dress. Your correspondent was in not-so-far-away Uzbekistan not long ago, and while many women and some older men wore traditional clothes, many Uzbeks, especially younger men, had fully taken on Western clothing. It is certainly my impression from speeding by the people of Herat in an armored SUV that the men almost without exception still wear traditional clothes that many Americans would say look like pajamas. Interesting headwear and long beards were also abundant. And for women, there were a fair number of burqas, but also a lot of garments that looked to your correspondent like floral-pattern bedsheets wrapped around the head and draped over the body so only the face was showing. I don't know if the description is doing it justice - we really wish the staff photographer had made it.

In any case, it was a quick trip but a nice chance to see some of the country - and to be honest by driving for 40 minutes each way from the airport, I've now seen a lot more of Herat than I have of Kabul.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hooch Living

It is not clear to me how the trailers we live in here came to be called "hooches." But that is what they are called. Perhaps it is a corruption of the acronym CHU - Containerized Housing Unit (pictured above, click to see it bigger). I basically have a half of a trailer all to myself, for now. There are two beds here (pictured above, click to see it bigger): The one with an ugly floral blanket on it; and the one I haven't touched, in deference to the dreaded roommate who may show up any time, unannounced, and that until then is just taking up way too much space in this little room.

One could make a joke that people pay thousands of dollars a month for this kind of space in Manhattan. One could also say that the hooches are kind of like SRO tenements that the near-homeless occupy in most cities. At least I'm not in one of the temporary hooches, where people have five or so roommates, pushing past the apartment analogies and into summer-camp territory.

If the somewhat psychedelic effects of the computerized panorama-making software above are not helping you picture it, there is a more traditional picture below.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On the Ground in Afghanistan

Perhaps a somewhat appropriate first step in Kabul: Your intrepid correspondent arrived on Safi Air. This airline does indeed feature a recorded prayer from the Koran before takeoff, accompanied on the big screen at the front of the cabin by flickering static. Then they show a safety video featuring background music reminiscent of TV action show theme, as if the people on the plane are leaping into action, putting on their own oxygen mask before helping others around them, but doing so in a very heroic way. During the flight, they used the big screen to show an Afghan version of "Candid Camera" with the silly music and sound effects played aloud in the cabin for all to enjoy headset-free. The "Fasten Seatbelts" sign was presented in two languages: Pictogram and Chinese. There was a food service offering unreconstructed airline food - mushy, microwaved meat insulated tightly in its little serving tray by some form of mashed vegetable. The in-flight magazine had a splashy travel feature on how you might want to come to Afghanistan to see their famous dogfighting tournaments. By the time they got to my row, they were out of Coke and Sprite, and could only offer Fanta.

The whole plane (other than the dogfighting thing, which is weird in any year) could have been from 1982.

And in fact, it probably was.

And then we arrived, and due to some other problem at the airport, couldn't park in the "normal" place, so the plane just stopped at some random spot, and we all climbed down the little mobile staircase and sat there and waited for something else to happen. Eventually a couple buses showed up, in far worse shape than even the saddest Guatemalan chicken bus, and we all piled aboard, and then the buses didn't go anywhere for a long time, and then they did. And then they stopped again, here, where I took the above picture. And then the guy in the little zamboni thing showed up and chatted with one bus driver for a while, and then the driver of my bus yelled at them. And then we went to the terminal for immigration formalities and X-raying our bags for Afghan customs.

This is, so far, the only picture I've taken out and about in Afghanistan.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hello from Kabul!

Hey loyal readers:

We're coming to you live from containerized housing unit D-29 here in Kabul, Afghanistan. We've been here for just a few days, which have mostly slid by in a haze of jet lag. But we're mostly over that now, and ready to resume publishing as usual, but... Well, we generally consider the photography a pretty vital part of this publication. Sadly, we don't get to leave the compound all that much, and there is no photography allowed on the compound because what if the Taliban are loyal readers of the Holla and see a picture of my shipping container and then analyze it and figure out the weaknesses in our containerized defenses? Being a big fan of my own safety, I pledge not to complain too much about the measures the security team takes to keep us safe. But it is going to put a crimp in the style of this publication. We'll try to be creative and come up with something to fill the void.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Hey Loyal Readers!

Sorry it's been a long time since we rapped at ya. We were working like dogs at Potemkin Afghanistan, Indiana. And then we've been busy actually enjoying our highly abbreviated but still pleasant home leave in the Bay Area (as seen above). We're a few days away from departure for Kabul - and perhaps we'll add some training- and home leave-related posts during the two-day San Francisco-to-Kabul slog. Or maybe we'll just sleep a lot. In any case, keep checking back... we haven't abandoned you!