Bagram Afghanistan Picnic: Several Foreign Families
having Fun...Afghan style
Bagram Afghanistan Picnic...it used to be a safe possibility to drive 45 minutes past the Bagram Airbase to the Oxys River and enjoy the free flowing, clean water. Here is one woman's account of what it was like for several American families picnicking in Bagram, Afghanistan back in the summer of 2005.
Whatta week. I went back and forth on posting this as an update, but decided to do so since it is all part of our journey here. I don't know if words can really give an adequate description of the events of last week, but I'll give it a try.
Last Friday, we went to Bagram for a picnic. Yes, that's where the military base is...and you may be wondering why we would venture out with our apparent illnesses (diarrhea and vomiting; we've only been out of the 'city' twice in three months (to camp Phoenix, a military compound)...we don't get out much!
Our goal was to visit a river picnicking area not far from Bagram, Afghanistan. The two-hour drive from Kabul was incredible, like going through time-tents, sheep herders, old looking walls, donkeys and camels loaded with supplies, vast expanses of desert (much like the back way to Vegas). Also, there were many vehicle parts, abandoned wrecks, notices for mines....surreal.
Our Bagram Afghanistan picnic was an experience meant to relieve some culture stress, but it made it worse, I'm afraid. We went with two families, and when we arrived in our 3 (Toyota) trucks, immediately we were surrounded by dozens of men/children and men on horseback (about 6).
There were kids climbing on the bumper, clamoring at the window asking for money, asking for my camera, asking for pictures, saying "safed, safed" (white, white). There was a kid with a scale-I guess you could weigh yourself on the soggy ground, there were kids wanting to wash the cars, the guys on horseback were offering rides and asking me to take their pictures-I think they wanted me to pay them for it...we'll post the pics later. (All this is before we even got parked).
One of our veteran team members, Mike, found a guy who directed us to a place where we could rent a "tent". We parked, and before we all got out, the kids started throwing buckets of water on the truck to wash it...without us giving permission. Later, we'd have to pay them something, as they would wait by the truck until we did.
We made it out of the truck, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, crossed a footbridge over a stream, and made it to our tent... Next to our tent, a group of ladies stood up to see who's coming...that's where the ladies are! There are NO other ladies to be seen except for a few beggars.
We got in the tent (it is HOT outside and we are wearing long pants, shirts that go to our knees, and head coverings) and remove our head coverings, shoes, etc. and settle in for a bit (until my daughter has to go to the bathroom, and upon further investigation, Mike gets some directions for a 'bathroom' way upstream, across the bridge, and to a ditch, which is more 'private'...I decided I did NOT have to go that bad.)
The kids, except Patty, who is uncomfortable with the staring, make it out to the stream to wade, and I think they have some fun. A couple of ladies with children come by asking for money...they are asked to leave (we are encouraged not to give to beggars.
A girl and her sister/daughter (?) keep coming around to see us in the tent. I think she is about 12-14 maybe and is pregnant...very beautiful, but a stark reminder that our Patty is not a child in the eyes of most Afghan men.
First shock wave almost over, Mike goes to order fish for our picnic (They fish by throwing explosives in the water and wait for it to float up). Some play cards, I feed the baby and listen to the kids play in the stream. After a while, our lunch comes, fish just outta the water, thrown in some spices and deep fried, heads and all (Watch out for shrapnel!).
As I was feeling queasy anyway, and I don't care for fish, I passed.
You should have seen the look on Lucy's face when she picked up the fish with the head! (It did look a bit like a rat.) I think Ted will post a picture. Patty and I ate some nAn (bread).
The guys decided, and we agreed, it might be fun to try and find a more private place to play in the river where the women could also get their feet wet. So we loaded up to go, and Mike paid the guy for the tent rental...only it wasn't as much as the guy was asking (way too much), so Mike went to leave, and the guy grabbed him...then Mike pushed him off and a crowd gathered.
The rest of us were in the trucks, watching, unsure if we should get out or not. There was loud talking, as you can imagine, and we were VERY uncomfortable. There was a police guy who showed up, and some discussion...we never found out if Mikee paid what the guy was asking for the tent...we were just glad to be leaving.
Again, a crowd surrounded us including the horsemen and kids grabbing the windows and climbing on the back of the truck. Ted honked a lot as he backed up...afraid to run someone over.
We drove up and down and around and up the side of a hill (the trucks are 4-wheel drive and the guys were having some fun). We couldn't find access down river, so we ended up across from where we were originally. As soon as we went down to the bank, there were horsemen following us offering rides and being very persistent. We kept saying no, but they stayed close. Then a bunch of kids came around, and soon, there were a couple of groups (5-8) of men watching us.
Mike asked them to please leave; we were trying to have fun with our families. Mike's wife explained to me that sometimes the men are shamed into leaving, and sometimes they just figure that if you take your women out, expect us to look at them.
These guys didn't leave. John asks them in a strong voice, but they just park on the bank and settle in for a show. The kids wade in the river, and Ted and Mike Lucy and Brian into the water.
I sat on the bank because my tummy was rumbling to say the least-I had a fever as well, it got up to 104+. After providing about an hour's entertainment (Ted took pictures because he figured if they can stare, we can shoot pictures-which by the way, the kids were asking us to pay them a dollar for their picture), we decided it was time to go. We were going to try and get on Bagram base to go to Burger King (I was looking forward to a bathroom).
After the usual dust wind storms, bumps/ditches, dodging cars, roadblocks, and security checkpoints (which we were not stopped for), we were at Bagram Airbase. Outside the base, there is a large bazaar, and some of the people wanted to check the shops. I did not, and the kids and I sat in the car-there were others who waited in their cars, too.
It was not long before there were dozens of people surrounding our truck, looking in the windows and staring. It isn't proper for me to talk to the men, so we just sat and felt very uncomfortable, especially with the men staring (see above....).
Ted took the baby outside with him, and he tried to divert attention, but ended up drawing a larger crowd....finally, we left there and went to the base.
The military guys were not accustomed to such a large party, and they weren't sure about letting us on, but as they sat eating their steaks, and we were just pleading to go to BK (Burger King), they took pity and said if we could fit into one vehicle, we could go.
We fit. =)
The BK was just a trailer, but it was exciting to see! I was so disappointed to be sick! Burgers and fries just made me want to hurl, and so I settled with a can of Coke and two trips to the latrine. Ted says it wasn't quite the same meat, but it was enjoyable.
Some took a peek into the PX, which was the biggest we've seen so far. We left for the long trip home (1-1/2 hours), and I was trying to sleep, so I don't know much more about that, except I was miserable and couldn't wait to get home.
So that was that, I've been sick for a week with countless visits to the toilet (actually I did count one day and it beat 12 times...another day 20...)
This week our house lady (who we gave a "last chance" to after bringing in another lady to 'train' her) missed a couple of days because her daughter had a baby...okay, not a problem.
She had her son call and she said she'd be in Friday. No big deal.
Wednesday night, we had a movie night and set up in the living room to watch 3-1/2 movies! Everyone was excited to sleep in because the house help isn't coming Thursday.
Thursday morning at 6:30 (yep, 6:30 AM), she shows up to work....
...so much for sleeping in.....
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