Kabul: The Box Always Wins

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I’ve been stuck in Kabul since November of last year, and I’m showing the effects of it. I have been consistently short-tempered this year, prone to anger, easily annoyed by the littlest of things. Living on camp in Kabul is like being in prison, you are under a microscope all the time, there is nowhere to escape. Compared to Kandahar, the camp here has about three times as many people. Put all those subcons inside a gray box and you have cabin fever the likes of an overcrowded prison yard. And people here oftentimes behave as though we are all inmates–the intrusion into privacy, the repeated storytelling, the general getting on one another’s nerves–all done on a daily basis.

On my days off, there is the room to hang out in, and after sleep is done and the marathon of crime shows on Fox Crime is over, the walls seem to close in on me. I am left with two choices: gym or walk outside. The walk almost always wins, since the gym with all those grunting testosterones can get a bit much. The walk outside usually takes me 6 rounds on the loop of the camp road, passing offices, warehouses, the DIFAC, security outposts, terminals, the occasional unskilled conversationalist. On clear days I see the ragged mountains slapped against blue skies, looming over the flight line where our flock of Hueys, Phrogs, and 1900s sit quietly, like nesting birds. This sight is something I see every day, but it sure beats staring at the walls.

Sometimes when I take my walks around the camp, I would look at the long line of walls bordered by sniper screens, and imagine the chaos that would ensue if I attempted to climb over them. Not that there’s somewhere to go if you successfully breached that wall. There is only the open road with no one on it for miles, the mounds of garbage piled up on the roadsides, the razor wires that crown yet more walls barricading the other camps. But I still think about doing that climb, if only to cause a little bit of excitement and break the monotony of camp life.

Kabul is really hard on the spirit, that I can say. Two months here and you begin to feel the urge to leave–go somewhere, anywhere–as long as it’s away from this prison. I see it as being inside a series of prisons: you are living in a box within a box within a box within a box. The predominant colors are gray and brown. Vegetation is sparse, trees are stunted, weeds have a strange look to them. Animal life is composed of a few straggly goats, prehistoric looking insects, vicious camel spiders. The usual sounds are the whirring of motors, vehicles going around camp, and that Sunday security alarm drill. Six days of repetitive work, one day off spent inside one’s room, doing laundry, going to the chow hall. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat–all days are the same. There is nowhere to go. Well, there are the ISAF runs next camp that require you to wear a bulletproof vest just to buy shampoo. But when alert levels shoot up, the runs are the first things to be cancelled, and you can go for months without seeing the outside portion of that camp gate. Months staring at the same horizon, eating the same food, seeing the same faces, hearing the same stories, over and over again, like a recurring nightmare.

And so in the end, the box always wins.

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