The first story that popped was about the air quality, or lack thereof, in Afghanistan's capital. That story, linked here, makes the claim that more Afghans die per year in Kabul alone from pollution-related ailments than die from all the violence associated with the war nationwide.
As crazy as that may sound, this is one of those things that needs to be filed in the 'you'd have to experience this to realize how serious it is' drawer. It's a combination of dust, lack of sewage treatment, old cars, and the locals' penchant for, well, burning things, that make the air so bad. The fact that the city is sitting in a geologic *bowl* compounds everything. With mountains all around, there's no outlet for all the contaminants in the air. You can literally taste the air on some days....and as someone who respects the literal use of the word 'literally,' I would swear on a stack of Bibles about that claim.
Thankfully, ground is being broken now on the Deh Sabz District, which by way of comparison to here is sort of like a Hamilton Canal District times a 1 with lots of zeros after it. It's a massive planned residential/business/all-purpose district in an area adjacent to Kabul District but now sitting largely vacant. The idea is sort of modeled on the Shoeless Joe Jackson-in-a-cornfield idea that once the development starts, people will flock to it, which will draw more people, and so on. Right now, so many Afghans flock to Kabul for the simple reason of economics. That puts Afghanistan in league with most of the developing world, which is urbanizing at a breakneck pace.
On one of my first mornings back here, I got up around 8-ish (emphasis on the ish!) and ambled down to Brew'd Awakening. The first thing I noticed was the difference in the air. Kabul's bad air was sort of like the proverbial annoying buzzing sound in a room that you stop noticing until it goes away, and then realize how much it bothered you subconsciously.
Everywhere along Market Street, there were trees and other flora in full bloom. The bright greens which contrasted with the red bricks were a nice break from the drab gray at Camp Phoenix. More importantly, though, I could take a deep lungful of the air anywhere along the route and feel great about it.
The other big change was the quiet. There was a bit of standard vehicle and pedestrian traffic, but it was nothing compared to the constant noise of...constant noise. Here, I'm not being entirely literal. Since taking over my old boss's job unexpectedly back in March, I've kind of felt like one of those silver spheres inside a pinball machine...bouncing around from spot to spot, dealing with whatever it required, and then just frequency hopping over to the next thing while trying to steer clear of the flippers and the gutter. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not referring here to physical danger. I don't, and won't, try to compare my deployment experience to an Infantry Company Commander out by the Pakistani border making life-and-death decisions on a more-than-daily basis.
That said, I could fairly compare it to that of any high-stress white-collar professional putting in north of 90 hours a week without a day off. It's sort of like taking a wind-up toy, spinning it all the way up, but never letting the dial spin back down. I half-jokingly called it the "Night of the Living Dead" phenomenon, because of all the hands reaching out from the ground and all four corners at any moment with an asking (peers and subordinates), or a tasking (from seniors).
The past few days have been absolutely surreal. I don't know if it's because of the joys of seeing my newborn baby thrive in her new home environment, if it's because of the wonderful time that my wife and I have had together without having to adhere to a schedule, or if it's just because things got so much quieter in the sort-of-literal/sort-of-figurative sense of that word. Probably, it's a mix of all three.
I flew home with a buddy of mine who is a Company Commander out in Khost Province, at FOB Salerno. He was mentioning to me that the General who just left command of Regional Command East (Major General Campbell, 101st Commander and, yes, garrison commander of the famous eponymous fort) had been talking out loud about shortening Army tours to just 9 months but scrapping the R & R program entirely. That might have tremendous cost-saving power, but now that I'm seeing all this from the other side of the fence, I'm not so sure how great of an idea that is.
This time right now is nothing short of magical, and it's giving me the effect of a full battery recharge before I head back through the rest of the time deployed.
And the best part of all? By the time I get back, the new boss will have been *in the seat* for nearly a month, and I will be requesting a spot on the overnight shift to help prepare the reports and other analytical work he'll use during the day. It'll be so quiet then that I actually might be able to hear myself think!