Spring in Afghanistan

Living in the combat zone.

Springtime flowers in Afghanistan: simple beauty in a complicated place.
  • Springtime flowers in Afghanistan: simple beauty in a complicated place.

When I think of what spring means in San Diego, baseball games and announcements of new animals from the zoo come to mind. Traffic and tourists who don't understand common-knowledge speed limit.

It means more pups at the dog beaches. It means arguing with my mom over the air conditioner when I want the windows down. It means more flip-flop choices and way more sundresses.

In northeast Afghanistan, spring means hoping that the few birds’ nests crudely constructed within connex ledges (since there are no trees in the compound) end up being successful and perhaps I will be able to hear the quiet peeps of the babies. It means being prepared to wear rain boots and being thankful for the rain because it helps with the dust. The rain brings out large slugs. I feel bad for them because they seem to have no home, no shell and get trampled on in glee by those who don’t care about the poor slimy terrestrial gastropod mollusk. It means dreading the DFAC (dining facility) even more because T-shirts are more revealing of the female figure than the view that sweaters and jackets provide.

This place is dreary. There are no colors. The birds’ feathers – the only animal that we see – are a dingy grey and brown. The unfortunate event of an egg falling on the ground to expose a yellow embryo is the birds’ only contribution to color here. A few purple flowers sprouted up one afternoon. I couldn’t help but pick one and stick it on my computer as a reminder that true spring is somewhere. I bought pastel-colored shoes and shirts that I wear proudly. I don’t care if I look silly. At least I am happy and there is some color in my world to break up the monotonous earth tones.

There are more sinister clues that spring is here.

This is still a war zone. The sound of the Giant Voice saying “Incoming” and “Prepare for Impact” is more frequent. The other night we heard the boom at midnight on the dot. We heard the rocket hit the ground before we heard the voice. While waiting for “All Clear. Prepare 100% Accountability,” I reflected on my ambivalence, my lack of fear. Never exposed to violence before, I am curious to the reason it doesn’t dramatically affect me. There are times that the signs that mark “Mass Casualty” body spots remind me of what could happen here.

To break up our usual routine on half day, Marissa and I volunteered for an “EMT rodeo.” Our assignment: Special Project. We arrived early and we both suffered a tinge of anxiety walking towards the hospital. We had no idea what we had got ourselves into. Our email told us to go to the emergency room. I asked one of the men where we should go, and they led us into the ER. Hospitals make me uncomfortable. It was empty, but I could almost see ghosts of the injured during the height of the war. Now it was empty, cold and unused.

We were instructed to wait in some chairs by the entrance. The only civilians, we watched a few military people come and go throughout the halls in silence. We tried not to laugh at how silly we must look and the random things we get ourselves into.

A few moments later, an Afghan child was discharged in a wheelchair. His big brown eyes held deep sadness and lacked hope. His legs were skinny and his feet worn. He was no more than 8, and I realized that he probably didn’t have a bike. Heck, he may not even know where his food was coming from. That’s what makes me hate this place. People complain about the conditions and long hours. But we choose to be here. We have a job, can go on lavish vacations, buy new houses and cars, and yet people here whine about the air quality and the beds. That's what makes me mad. Just outside the wire people are starving, and we can’t even be thankful we have a choice to get out.

While Marissa and I were involved in our silent reflections about the boy, the rodeo organizer came out to greet us and take us to our station.

He took us out in front where the boy and presumably his father were getting into an ambulance. I looked at them one more time. I shook off the boy’s eyes that were still corralling my thoughts and directed my attention to our afternoon duties.

We were given a bag filled with little bags of multicolored chalk. We were to stand at the cardiac arrest station and throw the chalk (a representation of chemical warfare during a mass causality or for fun like the Color Run, depending upon point of view). As we were waiting for the first team to come across our battle site, a helicopter hovered along near the flight line and landed. The powerful blades spun quickly until they rested like the rest of the green metal bird. I'm always in awe of airplanes' engineering, but helicopters are just plain rad.

Finally, the rodeo began and the chalk throwing commenced. Inevitably, I got more chalk on me than I got on the participants. It took a lot longer than Marissa and I expected. But eventually it ended, and we made our merry way back home.

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