Monday, August 10, 2015

Kabul: Sometimes It's the Little Things... (part 1)

Life on the Embassy compound can be, well, strange.  You are able to live relatively comfortably, but you aren't permitted to venture outside the walls.  Depending on the mood, people sometimes liken it to a college campus, sometimes to a prison.  I've also heard it described as summer camp and as a retirement home, and all of these comparisons somehow work.  Against the fishbowl experience at the Embassy, there is obviously a striking contrast to the rest of the country, a substantial portion of which is an active conflict zone.

It can be easy to lose perspective while living in this bubble, and I got to witness this first-hand one afternoon when one of my colleagues returned to the office slightly miffed.

"Terrible news," he announced.  "The commissary is out of pâté!"

While he seemed genuinely irritated at first, his scowl soon softened into a smirk.  I guess he realized the ridiculousness of the situation.

We all got a laugh over it, but Lord help us if the cocktail onions run out.


Often times, it's the little touches that make the difference.  On my way to the HR annex, one day, I was following one of my Afghan colleagues.  Before he entered the building, he unhooked an air hose from the wall and proceeded to spray the dust off his clothes and shoes.  Kabul in the summertime can be a dusty place, so the air-hose treatment could come in handy for knocking off some grime before a meeting.  Not to mention, the more dust that stays outside the building, the easier everyone inside can breathe.


August 10 was pretty similar to most Mondays here, and with a meeting having just finished, a few people were sitting near my desk chatting.  I wasn't part of the conversation, but I inserted myself.

"Does no one else feel the floor moving?" I asked.

Apparently, no one else did because all I got were some long stares.

"Sometimes the construction outside causes a vibration," someone offered.

For what seemed like a good 10 seconds or so, I felt like I was standing on a massage plate.  Since I was the only one who noticed, I began to wonder if I was imagining things.

I was in fact not going crazy, and soon the office began to shake in its entirety.

No one likes an earthquake, I reckon, but I was happy to be vindicated.

Once it became obvious what was happening, people started scrambling.  The Embassy has contingency plans for all types of scenarios, including earthquakes, but they don't do much good if no one remembers them.

"Do we go outside?" someone asked.

"No, I think we get under the desk," someone else replied.

"Maybe we should go to the hallway!" a third person suggested.

The quake itself, which was centered a few hundred kilometers away near Feyzabad and clocked in with a magnitude between 5.7 and 6.2, only managed to rattle the office for a few seconds.  This was convenient since collectively we were clueless on the emergency procedures.

Once the danger had passed, people went back to chatting almost immediately, but now with a fresh topic: If "The Big One" came, would our first-floor location be our salvation or our doom?


Rena said...

Hey there Chris ~ I know we haven't had the chance to chat much over the past couple of years, but I just wanted to say thanks for continuing to send these posts out. We always enjoy reading them and are glad to see that things are going well for you. =) Please continue to keep us updated -- and if you ever land in Europe -- be sure to look us up!! <3, Rena

Eleanor White said...

Chris, you're definitely not in Oslo anymore! Thanks for giving us a taste of daily life in a combat zone.

Anonymous said...

Hey CC - If the BIG one were to come , I wonder what you would grab to

Anonymous said...

Growing up in Southern California along the San Andreas fault, earthquake drills were the norm. We were instructed to get under a desk or stand under a door jamb. And the crazy thing is, I do it, almost on auto-pilot. I'm typiclly standing under the door jamb before I'm aware of what's going on. Especially those 4:00 am quakes.

Jen B :)