Sunday, February 16, 2014
"Everything happens for a reason .... Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can come together."
It's been a rough few months. First, I got hired for a job. 54 WEEKS later, I discovered that they'd ACCIDENTALLY hired a second person for the job. Crazy enough? They then made us share the job, and the other person is a sneaky pete who lacks integrity. So it's not friendly atmosphere at all.
I work for someone who dislikes women and has made life very unpleasant. I've taken action before and thought things were getting better, but now I've learned that my boss' boss, who I thought had a clear idea of how things were going, suddenly loves my boss. So much so that he's joined in the harassment, and it's becoming a 3 on 1 situation.
It was scary, but I took the next step and, right before employee evaluations, filed a complaint. I hate that it's come to this, but they've been treating me like dirt for months, and it's not going to get better by remaining silent.
Someone I thought was a friend just showed me how wrong I was. It really hurt me, but I just sent the email, ending the friendship.
I've been in finals for my masters as well. I did two all-nighters last week to finish up everything. It's been to sleep so little and keep performing at work, but it feels great to now be done with the class.
I don't have another job lined up for when this contract ends, which has been extremely stressful. There just aren't many opportunities at this time, especially when I can't use references from this job. Now that I've taken care of a few things, I know I need to rededicate myself to finding a job that excites me and gives me something to look forward to amidst all these stressors.
These steps are hard and scary, but I'm realizing that some of my unhealthy habits are a result of enormous mental and emotional stress. I don't sleep well, don't make time for myself, don't exercise as much as I need to, and am always in survival mode here in Afghanistan, not because Afghanistan is harder than I'd expected but because the people here make it miserable.
I am also coming to understand how much emotional clutter I have and the damage it's doing to me. Being fat has chipped away at my self confidence, and especially in this environment, has given other people the sense that it's ok to mistreat me. The more I accept it, the more they do it, and we get into a cycle where I'm always trying to defend myself, my work, and my integrity. Taking steps, even though they're small and scary, is giving me back some power and making me feel better overall. I'm trying to address these issues that are suffocating me and as I handle them, I feel stronger and more capable and less dependent on food.
I'm continuing last year's resolution to Reduce: my weight, my debt, and my clutter. This year, I'm expanding my definition of clutter to include emotional as well as physical. Being morbidly obese is not simply a question of calories and activity; it's a coping mechanism gone wildly amiss. I feel very lonely these days, but as much as I rail against fatism, the fact remains that men don't date fatties, and if I want relationships, I need to slim down. If I want people to treat me with respect, I need to respect myself. If I want these issues off of my mind, then I need to begin taking the steps to resolve them, no matter how fearful I am of the outcome. And really, why am I so afraid? I don't like where I am, so why not find out what the alternative is? I need to stop trying to change other people and focus on changing myself. I want to finish this year, in better mental, emotional, physical, and financial shape than I began it.
One step at a time.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Can you see me down there?
This place has 30,000 and is a good-sized town. Many people live in tents with no indoor plumbing. We share toilets and showers. Good times.
People have asked me about what it's like here. Frankly, it defies description, but I'll try. We work seven days a week. We work long hours. Yet despite the long hours, the time is flying by. We are really busy, although much of it is internal churning. It is no easy task to coordinate efforts with so many stakeholders, and I won't lie -- there are some seriously warped personalities here. I used to watch "The Office" and think it was absurdist. Now I watch it and wish my colleagues were only that peculiar.
I have a little space to call home. It measures about 7 x 7. I share facilities, but at least they're indoors and have plumbing. There are people here who neither live nor work with indoor plumbing. Unfortunately, our sleeping quarters are not "hard" so when rockets come in, we have to run for the bunkers. After a siren, we hear a cheery lady informing us that there is a "rock-et-a-tack-rock-et-a-tack" like she's inviting us to tea. Allegedly, we have an early warning system, but until recently, the first splashdown was what set off the alarm.
However, in a recent spate of attacks, we heard the alarm first. Interestingly, the indirect fire was much more accurate than it has been in the past. Given our emphasis on capacity building, I was rather pleased to see the Afghans getting better at something. It's nice to know our efforts are paying off.
One target they manage to hit with regularity is the Poo Pond. Some wag labeled it the Pooh Pond on the map, initially leading me think it was a children's park. Not so much.
Doesn't it look pretty? Pity I can't make scratch 'n sniffs in these journals. Heh heh. We are being moved near the Pond into a structure that is hard, and no one is particularly happy about it. That's right. The stench will really knock you back a bit, and we would rather risk getting blown up than live in Little Calcutta.
Our boss has started calling the Reflecting Pond in a sweet but terribly misguided attempt to rebrand.
There is not a lot to do here for fun, but I can spot a good time a mile away. Most people here are army, but we do have drones, and after chatting up some Air Force guys, I scored us a drone tour where we were allowed to cross the flight line, got briefed on their missions, got to see their working area, and then got to see the drones "person".
Also, on September 11, we went up to the roof of the Taliban's Last Stand building, which is now the HQ, and we raised flags for people so they could have a flag flown here on the anniversary of the attacks.
There is nothing here that is purely aesthetic. It's all concrete, sand, and gravel, and everyone wears camis. Even the civilians wear neutral tones. So people sometimes need to break out and liven things up, and there are little acts of random cuteness all over the place.
These are decorations people have stenciled onto blast walls.
The U.S. army is an interesting entity. They ignore some of the most stupidly dangerous things here and then freak out and obsess over seemingly insignificant things. We go dark at night for obvious reasons, so there are few lamps or night lights here, and getting around after dark can be a bit of a trick. We wear reflective belts so the MWRAPs and such rolling through don't smoosh us, especially since we don't have sidewalks. For a while, there was an almost hysterical obsession with making people wear their reflective belts. We couldn't go eat at night without one. The MPs would stop people and write them "tickets" and so on. They have since decided, in their infinite wisdom, that people wearing camis, you know those outfits that make soldiers less visible, DON'T need to wear reflective belts, but people doing PT - generally during the day - do. Yep.
Airmen and Reflective Belt Jedis
I'm sure this is how George did it. No wonder the British lost.
DFAC = Dining Facility
Oooh, much more to tell -- but no more time. I hope everyone is doing well and look forward to hearing all your news!
Strength and respect, (That's what the 4th Infantry Division [in charge here] say when they salute)
Monday, October 14, 2013
Greetings from Afghanistan! I know I’ve been pretty quiet lately. I struggle to describe my life and this place, and I work so much that when I’m finally free, I don’t want to sit in front of a computer even one more second, but thank you thank you thank you to everyone who has thoughtfully left messages and goodies. They are all very much appreciated.
So ... where to begin?
I finished my job in the U.S. this summer and began specialized training and field training with the army. I ran around in PPE (personal protective equipment – oh, we looooove our acronyms here!) looking like a militant oompa loompa. I have a collection of silly sunglasses, and the mil guys were always stealing them. The Sgt. Major was partial to my blue frames with daisies, but my pink skulls were pretty popular, too. We learned protective formations, how to work with our military colleagues, special driving skills, basic weapons skills, and basic emergency medical care.
In one exercise, we wore full gear, and were rolled in MWRAPs, left hanging upside down, and then had to extricate ourselves. I did fine in those, but then came the Humvee rolls, and I was feeling cocky. I didn’t know it was a bad idea to grab the bright red (it seems like it was designed to attract my attention) strap hanging above my head. It was attached to the gunner’s turret, and I got really banged up and tangled up. When the sergeant opened the hatch, I tossed out my helmet and protective eye gear because they were askew, and I couldn’t see. Then he patiently caught my shoe (yes, it was bad) and kept a straight face while I engaged in “Humvee yoga” to disentangle myself. He politely offered to yank me out, but I had caught my light summer trousers on something, and I didn’t want to be – literally – torn out of my pants!
I was so battered that I have a SCAR on my arm from the deep black, three dimensional (super swollen) bruise, but I made it.
Later, in full PPE, we had to hoist ourselves up into a helicopter. It was 2+ feet up vertically, so I threw a gam up and rolled myself in. Seated, I couldn’t see my five-latch harness to properly hook it all up. When the pilot poked his head in, I held my arms up toddler style, and he took care of me. I was super grateful that he had a dark visor on so I couldn’t see the contempt in his eyes.
My team really bonded with our security force (secfor) so we invited our young heros to sit on the ends of the open ‘coptor to really enjoy the ride. After my difficulties getting set, young D-- , seated next to me, took my arm. I thought it was so sweet that he grabbed my arm to reassure me. After a couple of minutes, I figured he’d want to pose for pictures with his friends, so I disentangled myself. We were sitting shoulder to shoulder, so I couldn’t see his face, but when we landed, I discovered that the man, who is black, had turned white. Poor guy – he is terrified of heights and had been hanging on to me for dear life!
Can you find me?
I did my driving portion with a South African former special forces guy who told stories as he took me around and around and around the track. We learned turns, skids, reversing at speed, driving from the passenger side, ramming and other cool things. Our shooting instructor was a young marine who had recently lost both legs. Even rolling around in his chair, this guy totally owned the class. He is spectacularly proficient with firearms. I confess I am not, but I worked with the M4, AK47, Sig9, and a few other kinds.
At one point, on the range, we were one-on-one live firing under an instructor’s watchful gaze. Every instructor had a queue except our classroom instructor. In class, he said that if we made certain mistakes, he’d grow legs “just so he could walk across the room and kick our a**es” and frankly, I believed him. Apparently, other people did, too, because out on the range, he kept pivoting around in his chair, trying to figure out why he was open and no one was coming over. Bless his heart; I think he really didn’t know.
I walked over to him and right away said, “I’ve not worked with firearms before and don’t know what I’m doing. You’re going to have to remind me of things you already said in class.” That seemed to take the macho out of the conversation, and he was a great teacher. I wore a bowl-necked shirt that day, and as the casings started flying, one flew straight up and – you guessed it –straight down my gaping shirt. We both did this thing where we looked at each other, looked away, looked at each other again, and looked away. I would have given anything for that casing to come out the bottom of my shirt, but alas! It didn’t. Quietly with a tinge of admiration, he said, “I bet that was hot.”
Strangely desperate for his approval, I answered nonchalantly, “I’ll get it later.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not going to include that photo, but let’s just say the black scar-making bruise wasn’t my only injury during training. If my social life ever hots up again, I’m going to have some explaining to do!
During one portion of training, we had scenarios with locations, props, and trained role-players who were incredibly good so we could put everything we’d learned together. One of my colleagues came unglued and was so convincing that a marine approached him to make sure he was ok and would not be persuaded otherwise until, under his breath, he hissed, “I’m acting” – and then returned to his Olivieresque meltdown. The marines gave him an ovation during the de-brief.
We also had some self-defense training. The class was taught by two former marines and a former Maryland state trooper. She was the senior instructor, and they were all very good. They created scenarios for us to work with, but my frame of reference is so completely different that at times all I could do was laugh. At one point, the one guys said, “Let’s say you’re in a bar, and a guy gives you a hard time.” I started laughing. Seriously? Do I look like someone who gets into punch ups in bars?? He asked me what I’d say.
“Is he cute?” I asked.
He froze for a second and answered, “Sure. Why not?”
"I'd say, ‘Congratulations. You’ve pulled. Go get your coat.'”
He made a special point of working with my partner and me after that, because we made him laugh so much. When we were doing some of the punching moves, my partner, an elegant woman, was underwhelming in her efforts, so I started trash talking.
“Those trousers make your butt look really big.”
“Your outfit is sooo last season”
“He might have come with you, but he’s leaving with me.”
It turns out she is actually pretty good at punching.
I’ve been here for a while now, and I need to set down some things on paper before I forget or they start to seem normal to me, but it’s going to have to wait because I’m out of time.
Sunday, October 06, 2013
I know people are waiting for my blog update on Afghanistan. I have much to share, but the intense workload leaves little personal time for contemplation.
However, I have attended three dignified transfers for fallen American soldiers and marines in the past 24 hours and needed to take a moment to remind myself - and all of you - how privileged our lives are. Here, military and civilians work long hours seven days a week under tremendous stress, and live in difficult conditions to achieve mission success.
I believe in what we're working towards here, but it comes at a price.
Honor these heroes. Live the best life you can live every day that you're blessed enough to walk this earth. Thank them by being better friends, better colleagues, better parents, and better citizens.
I stood on the tarmac and prayed for the souls of those six young people. In their memory, I resolve to be brave, confront my demons, and address my unhealthy relationship with food. I promise to take my health more seriously and make time each day to be physically active so that I can wholly live whatever time I have left. I solemnly swear that I will stop make excuses and start making progress.
I hope you will all join me.
Please keep these soldiers and marines' families in your thoughts and prayers.
* These are not my photos. As a civilian privileged to stand with military forces honoring their fallen comrades, I did not take any photos.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Well, my year in America is at an end. As many of you know, I am a large-scale project manager and move here and there for one to three-year contracts. Living in Washington has certainly been exciting, but I don't know how much more toxic politicking I can take and need to move some place safer. To that end, I will be leaving for Afghanistan in a few days. I'm looking forward to the work, although I know it's going to be grueling. I do not know if I will be able to spark much or often, as conditions there will be primitive. Still, I'll check in as often as I can, and I hope you won't all forget me in the meanwhile.
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