Saturday, May 12, 2012

Back in Maiwand

I'm back at my home-away-from-home in Maiwand District in southern Afghanistan.  As noted in my last post, I was stuck at KAF for a few extra days due to changes in the helicopter flight schedules.  On Monday, one of my Maiwand teammates came in to KAF as well, and we were able to meet with some people at the staff and get some things squared away.  On Tuesday, we boarded a helo and came back out to our little home base.  We lugged our stuff around the corner to our hooches and there we were.  Home again.

Things have changed since I left and there are a lot of new faces around here.  It was almost as if I was checking in to the place for the first time.  There's a new company of combat troops, a new bunch of soldiers with the special training team, a new village stability guy, and a new guy (Doug) on our team.  I'd met Doug before, but this is the first time we've worked together.  He got here just a couple of days after I left on R&R.  So.  New faces, new dynamics.  That's the way it goes in a place like this.

As soon as I pulled my vest and gear off, and before I could even think about unpacking, we had to suit up again and head over to the District Center for some meetings.  We talked with a team of Army agricultural advisors and then met with the District Governor about an aid program that's coming into the district.  Then back over to my hooch/office where I wrote up lengthy reports about what we just did.

Wednesday was very interesting.  Every Wednesday there is a shura at the district center.  A shura is a meeting of local elders to talk over whatever it is that's on their minds.  Our governor was in a bit of a snit and didn't want a lot of Americans in there.  So it wound up that just two Americans attended (one of whom was your intrepid reporter), along with our interpreter, to keep tabs on events.  But as soon as the shura kicked off, the Governor changed the whole purpose, kicked a bunch of locals out, and a small group of about 11 went into the most unbelievably chaotic meeting you've ever seen.  You want an agenda?  Fuggedaboudit!  They were all over the place, yelling at each other, changing the subject, repeating accusations, it was amazing.  The general topic was the potential aid program, but a lot of interpersonal and inter-tribal issues overshadowed everything else.  After a couple of hours it ended without any visible progress.  Quite an entertaining spectacle, and I'm wondering what will happen this coming Wednesday.  Forget "Dancing with the Stars", a "Slugfest with the Afghans" beats it any day!

Yesterday a group of us visited the local school.  There are 14 schools in our district, of which only one is open.  The rest are in areas that are not secure enough for teachers to conduct classes.  So the school here in the small town of Hutal is the only one open.  The admin officer told us that there were 1,497 students enrolled.  They may be enrolled, but they certainly don't all attend, as reliable estimates by our Army Civil Affairs team put attendance at under 400 on a really good day.  The school has no electricity.  It gets its water from two wells when the pumps are working, and no water when they're not.  Many of the windows are broken out.  In summer, this is a good thing as it allows air to circulate; in winter, well, air circulates then, too, but you'd rather it didn't.  They have 18 wood stoves for heat, but we learned that they only use two of those stoves, one for the headmaster and one for the admin officer.  The kids?  Well, they get that cold air blowing in through the broken windows.

This cute little guy was hanging around the school, even though there are no classes on Fridays.  He seemed to take a liking to me and wanted his picture taken.  Then he tried to steal my camera.

This young girl was there, too, which was a bit of a surprise to me since girls don't go to school here.  She had the most amazing eyes.  Remember that famous National Geographic picture from years ago of the green-eyed Afghan woman?  This girl has the very same eyes.  She didn't try to steal my camera.

This is the bathroom for the school.  It's in a walled-off compound to the rear, and you get to it by ducking through a hole in the mud wall on the right of the picture.  The bathroom's roof fell in some time ago and won't be fixed anytime soon.  There are five stalls to serve the entire school.  And there's no plumbing, either.  Waste goes out through a hole in the floor onto the ground behind the building, where they leave it.  OSHA would not approve.

So there you have a typical southern Afghanistan school.  Before you get too shocked about how awful it is, consider that the parents are pretty happy to have a school that their kids can go to.  And conditions at home aren't any better.  The US and the Canada have done a lot to help this school get up and running, and we're still going to do some more.  I just hope the Afghans can sustain it after we pull back to Kandahar City.

Since this little trip, I've been working on reports.  We have a major one that's due in a couple of days and I got to spend a very exciting couple of hours editing the first draft of the 17-page document.  Can't you tell how thrilled I am?  I bet you can.

So I'm back in the swing of things here in Maiwand.  There's a lot of stuff to do and a lot of reports to write.  And I'm just the guy to write 'em!

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