Having spent nearly eight months in this wonderful little country called Afghanistan, I think it's now safe to assume that this has not been what I expected. Unfortunately, I'm not entirely sure what I did expect, so it's difficult to compare that version with reality.
The last time I wrote here was three months ago, so allow me to briefly summarize the last 90 days with a few sentence fragments - birthday, Australia, Bärchen!, Kandahar, Christmas, New Year's, illumination fireworks, back to work, some other stuff, patrols, tearing a huge gaping hole in my pants, snow, Star Wars, mud, and boom, here we are.
Looking at that list, I realize some of it might need some explanation, but I'm only going to explain one part - the hole in my pants. For those keeping score at home, I've been a staff officer this deployment, which means spending the vast majority of my time sitting in a crappy office and going to ridiculous meetings, many of which include clueless Romanian dudes. Although I've managed to find myself on a few random patrols, they are relatively infrequent. On one hand, this keeps me away from most of the danger (good). On the other hand, I sometimes find myself bored out of my freaking mind (bad).
Imagine my surprise last week when I was asked to go on a dismounted foot patrol to a few of the small villages in our area. I was supposed to be an "advisor" regarding economic development and project funding, though I did not feel it was important to mention how little I know about either of these things. Actually, that's not entirely true. I do know some stuff. Like - water is good, irrigation has something to do with water, Afghan dude wants to irrigate some land or something, also wants lots of money to do it, local kids will probably do the work, Afghanistan has no child labor laws, guy will probably keep most of the money = winning the war!
Armed with my clearly extensive expertise and knowledge of project development, I stepped off with the patrol bound for the local village, which was something like 2km away. Although that does not seem far, the terrain here is what you might call "rugged," with rolling hills, rocks, shit streams (seriously), and dirt. Add 40lbs of armor and ammunition, and movement becomes slightly less than graceful. Anyway: we were walking up some farmland which was shaped like terraced steps, each of them probably a meter high. I climbed the first few with relative ease, and feeling confident (and remembering what it feels like to be a soldier), I attempted the next step, which was just a tiny bit higher. Then, I hear a loud RIIIIIPPPPP, instantly realizing that I have just torn the absolute bejesus out of my pants.
Of course, I can't exactly stop the entire patrol just because I ripped my pants. Fortunately for me, I have what is affectionately called a "crotch-protector" attached to my body armor, normally designed to protect a soldier's manhood from uninvited shrapnel, but in my case on this particular patrol, covering my balls from the prying eyes of Afghani children.
When we finally get to the village and meet with the elder, the hole is basically down to the top of my knee. He invites us to sit down with him and enjoy some tea (I would have preferred to stand), which we do. Meanwhile, my crotch-protector is totally saving the day, as is the awkward Indian-style pose I've managed to twist my body into while still attempting to maintain some shred of dignity.
Once we finished our meeting and started walking back to the base, the hole was beyond hiding, despite the valiant efforts of my brave crotch-protector. Several children pointed and laughed and said something in Pashto to the effect of "Dude! Check it out! That guy totally ripped his pants! You can almost see his balls!"
If there is one lesson I've learned in my time in Afghanistan, it's this - respect is difficult to earn when your balls are almost showing.