7. A Christmas special

Dec. 29th (Entry 11)

A Christmas tree on Camp Leatherneck
A Christmas tree on Camp Leatherneck

A quick poem about time:

You know the term “24/7”? It’s a part of all our lives.
We all do 24/7 sometimes.
I breathe 24/7. I live in Afghanistan 24/7.
These days anyway.
Some things we do some of 24/7, like eat.
I don’t eat 24/7.
I eat 18/7.
I don’t sleep 24/7, but I try to sleep 24/9.
28/3.
It usually only squeezes out to be 6/7.
That sucks.

I work 12/7.

This last one isn’t a new realization to me, but it being half of 24/7, the end-all commercialism stamp for UNCONDITIONAL SATISFACTION, is. I work half of “all the time in the world.” I am clocked in when most people are eating dinner, and get back on shift the next day. However, be on the look out for “list of things to do in order to stay sane on a 12 hour shift.” After that you might think I’m on for about 4 hours of work.

Let me tell you about a more interesting anomaly in time, which also comes in a half day increment: time ZONES. Well almost, I’m only 10.5 hours away from Minnesota time.

Five to twelve year olds, listen up. I’m gonna tell you how I managed to get almost a day and a half of Christmas. And the best part? The first 12 hours were EARLY!!! Now, once I tell you, it’s your job to explain to younger brothers and sisters. All you have to do is move to Afghanistan right before the holidays! The trick to get it to work right however, is you have to leave your family at home. But 34 hours of Christmas! (For the 98% Muslim and roughly 1% Hindu Afghans, this might not be as special a phenomenon, but for the rest of us occupying Christians, it’s amazing.)

25DEC 0001-1200
Some might’ve called this Christmas eve. Not if you were in Afghanistan. I was on shift for much of this period. Even still, weeks of aggravating Christmas cheer overkill decorations came to shine when we dimmed all the overhead lights and watched “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Story.” But everyone knows Kevin outpunks Ralphie for Christmas tribute any day. Comments/arguments welcome.

At about 1 am local I witnessed Bollywood’s recreation of my church basement, in no other place than the chow hall. There’s no time for back story. Later. Only observations. From notes I scrawled out while eating Christmas breakfast:

The Nepalese Save Christmas.
[In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, the chow hall is run by contracted Nepalese. This has its perks: They have AMAZING curry nights. And I can work on learning my fifth language trying to ask for second helpings.]

1. Behind the scenes- the regional boss comes to the night shift workers with a barrel of Christmas lights, streamers and other juiced flashers to coat the Christmas tree (which is now struggling to stay upright), and roughly 1000 cubic yards of Styrofoam to recreate all known Christmas icons. Still, behind the scenes workers poll to generate a list of known icons and possible ways to affiliate them with our mission. It includes: Santa (unknown height), Frosty (unknown height, shape, features), Joseph, Mary, baby angels (unknown affiliation to snowman and santa), reindeer (unknown shape and color) coming soon to a Nativity scene near you.

2. A few mix CDs of Christmas music bring to life once again, unfamiliar classics, jazz renditions on the flute, of carols, and much later as consolation, a CD of Bing Crosby. To include “I’ll be home for Christmas” and “White Christmas.” Favorites of anyone who won’t indeed be home for Christmas, or see a white one for that matter. To be honest this is what made me give in to the Christmas cheer. The irony gripped me for minutes before I could no longer stifle my laughter.

3. In the middle of the buffet tent stands a three foot styrofoam gingerbread house. Oh yea, those! Painted red and green. With real paint. Throughout the day they decorate the lawn in front of it with turkey, vegetables, obscure berries, and other miscellaneous holiday stuff.

4. I get up after my meal to revisit the statues- styrofoam cut-outs with color pencil or Crayola Washable markers detailing our traditions. The miniature lone snowman, 4 star general “Snowman,” holds an M-16. At least it’s with both hands [protocol]. The other frosty is over by the manger with Joseph and Mary. And Santa. The angels are there too though. The faces were all illustrated drooping to the left, as if they had put it too close to the oven. Santa was a midget.
Jesus wasn’t in the manger, properly so, until dinner time. At which point it gets much, much better.

That's me. I might not be able to comment on a pro game, but I'm a brick wall of defense when it comes to flag football.
That’s me. I might not be able to comment on a pro game, but I’m a brick wall of defense when it comes to flag football. Christmas, 2009.

Family games
The nearest thing the Marine Corps could come up with as far as a familial tradition, was to play a contact sport and put a wager on it. Then of course it had to be O.R.M.ed [operational risk management] down to flag football. Worry not, we still managed to make it dangerous. Let’s fast-forward. My team, the smart guys who do the hard work, got our asses kicked, 7 to 1. I think we completed 7 passes the whole game. To help mitigate the embarrassment, I offered to race their all-star on foot (and to a game of chess, but that didn’t pass ORM). A few others joined in, and we didn’t lose. Their star pulled a muscle or something mid race, to save face from losing of course.

1200-2359
Christmas day in the states started (12:00 am) at about 10:30 am local. So I went to sleep to let you all catch up. Oh yea kids, the other catch is you have to work on Christmas. BUT!!! Boss gave everyone 6 hours off. During shift we all mulled around pretending there was another care package stocking to open somewhere, or a misplaced paper to retrieve until the time adequately passed and we could get on with our hardcore celebration (and we were divided into two half shifts, so there was even LESS accountability).

Before going into work to finish off the 25th in Afghanistan however, I revisited the chow hall for the Christmas feast. They took ‘feast’ to be figurative though, as the food was little different from normal meals. (I’m still ticked about breakfast. They took away my biscuits and gravy allegedly to use oven space for the feast. Unless they used the ovens to bake styrofoam for the visual feast, I fail to see why they chose not to make my staple food.) If you had seen the lone reindeer pulling Santa’s freshly made sleigh, however, you too would have forgotten food.

Every server grinned with their whole face, overjoyed to present a party fit for their American hosts. They had outdone themselves. Baskets of vegetables (real potato and corn on the cob baskets, just sitting there) and fruit everywhere, extra tables set up for extra cake (the one food item in abundance for the feast), and a whole gallery of art to force holiday deprived Marines into a positive attitude.

Behold a fully paper-macheed shoulder height deer with a leveled Menorah rack of antlers and Santa, ready to deliver presents. But the sleigh behind him had the dimensions of a small garbage dumpster, and Santa could barely see enough to steer Rudolph. Whose color deviation was EVERYWHERE but on his nose. The truth is, the reindeer was actually a llama.

(In an unaired BBC Christmas special, Badgu the llama is doused in sewage colored paint on his long and excruciating journey to the north pole, to petition his life calling to be one of Santa’s deliverers. The little helpers crafted a quick makeshift rack to put on his head so the other deer wouldn’t stampede his ass. Bollywood bought the rights, it became a smash hit, and the happy ending was impeccably captured by the Nepalese artist.)

Immaculate. Mary’s immaculate conception gave way to a butter Jesus. Jesus, actually made of butter. Gordon, my quickly befriended Czechoslovakian brother who has been here a while, describes the ambiguous butter turkey at thanksgiving, which looked more like a swan. In fact he knows it was a swan. But a butter for a baby Jesus doesn’t seem to convey the same magnificence. Especially when instead of wrapped in swaddling clothes, it was warped from a fullsized man, four limbs and a featureless face, made the Heaven sent Child more like a space sent alien.

I say in all genuineness it was the thought that counts, and the thought was overwhelming.

The final piece, the one they put their engineering and art major on (yet to be verified), was actually fantastic. A four by four feet styrofoam cathedral, build with whole sheets of styrofoam, complete with twin spires, varying degrees of roofing, and endless detailed texture and engraving, twin doors opened to an illuminated interior (with a miniature crib), sat in the center of the wall facing the main dining tent. The workers have a pretty good idea it’s magnificent, because it’s still on display.

Overclock Christmas
One of the great presents this year was two rounds of (mostly) uninterrupted phone call with my brother and sister, and extremely great signal for webcamming with my parents. After all this I put in a little more sleep time. It was technically already the 26th here, but via technological advances in communication, I was successfully able to steal Western time for half of the day, and extend Afghan Christmas.

Christmas in the ‘stan: 34.5 hours a day, one day a year. I’m glad to be here.

My belated present
The 27th, two days ago, I got 10 hours of sleep, almost completely uninterrupted (unavoidable bathroom break). I have sent this to the counsel in my head, and officially approved it as a wonderful belated Christmas gift. In coordination with the Man up above, the gifter had to be my bunk mate, who as it turns out, coincidentally left home on leave the 26th.

Continue reading: 8. The sweeter side of work

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