Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Settling Into the New Job

Getting settled in a new location and new job is always an adventure.  I got here almost a week ago and have been running pretty hard ever since.  Some of it has been establishing a relationship with my new teammate, Eric.  Some of it has been meeting all the military guys that I'll be working with over the next six months.  Some of it has been getting acquainted with all the various operational and administrative issues surrounding our little organization.  Some of it has been meeting with a lot of Afghans over at the District Center.  And some of it has been housekeeping: setting up my little home and office the way I want them.

My new teammate is a really good guy.  Like me, he's a retired military officer.  He looks and sounds a bit like Donald Sutherland, as he was in the movie "Mash" ... which is actually quite appropriate for our situation here.  I'm going to have fun working with him.

The military unit here has been great to work with, right off the bat.  They have a solid understanding of their role, kinda understand what our role is, and are a pretty squared-away unit, especially for being here only a short time.  So far they've been extremely supportive.  One change from the previous unit is that these guys are more interested in getting us out to where we need to go.  And they're all pretty upbeat and happy to talk with us about the mission, sports, life back home, what we're doing, whatever.  America, you're sending some fine young men and women over here.

Our little team has a a good bit of history built up by the previous members over the last two years: lots of hard work, files, and records of things that I need to have at least a passing acquaintance with.  Since I'm the new guy, I know that the Afghans going to hit me up for things that they've asked for before, only to be told "no".  You know how it is: you get a substitute teacher in school, and you try to convince him that you always go to lunch an hour early.  So I need to know about the major things that have been tried or requested before, and what the result was, and why.  In other words: lots of research.

Haji Kasan
Ballpoint pen on lined notebook paper

The fun part is working with the Afghans.  I've been to several shuras and other meetings already.  "Controlled chaos" might be a good description of how their meetings generally run.  Well, maybe not so much "controlled".  But you could also call them noisy and energetic.  I have to pay close attention to what's being said in these meetings, and by whom, in order to pick up the subtleties that are so easy to miss.  But sometimes, as I look at these fabulous faces, my pen just starts moving on its own accord and something like this sketch pops out.

And, finally, getting settled into my new digs takes time.  I'm very fortunate: I have my own Containerized Housing Unit, or CHU.  This is a small one, 20' long, 8' wide, and it's both my office and bedroom.  But it's all mine.  Unlike just about everybody else on this base, I don't share living and office space with anybody. My teammate has a similar CHU just a few feet away.  But my CHU is a wet one.  What that means is that I have running water, so I have my own little bathroom.  Sounds great, but it came at a price: the bathroom area looked like it hadn't been cleaned since the British were chased out of Afghanistan in 1880.  Which is quite a trick since this CHU is only about two or three years old.  Yes, the bathroom area was a real shithole, complete with a floater.  It took me four hours with scouring powder, soap, and disinfectant before I felt like I could spit my toothpaste in the sink without having to wear a HAZMAT suit.  It took two more days before I felt that I could use the whole bathroom without updating my tetanus shot.  As it is, there's no hot water, and the shower is all the way on the other side of the base, but I have my own clean sink now, and a toilet that is at least somewhat useable, so I'm a happy camper.

So I'm in my new job and perfectly happy with it.  This is what I came to Afghanistan to do!

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