My first taste of Afghanistan was Bagram Air Force Base. Apparently it was an old Soviet base that fell into disrepair as they left it and was "fixed" by us later. The drive from the airstrip was as revealing as the looks from the air. Everything looked like it was an active construction site--except no one was walking around in reflective vests and hard hats. Piles of debris, rock, concrete T-walls, and concertina wire were everywhere. For those who don't know, a T-wall looks like a concrete median barrier except it goes up 12-15 feet. They are designed so that they can interlock with the next sections. I have never seen such a motley collection of vehicles. Some I recognize, some I've never heard of and I don't just mean makes, I mean models. The Tata is an Indian vehicle that I've been told is a low-maintenance vehicle. The Timex watch of cars--takes a licking and keeps on ticking. There are Mercedes Buses as well as good-old Bluebird buses. The Bluebird buses generally have some sort of sign over the emergency exit door that covers the note that says State Law makes it illegal to pass when the sign is out.
I rode in a Toyota Highace van. I saw Four-runners, Land Cruisers, and many other configurations that are unlike the Toyotas we see in the US. Most of the Americans drive Toyotas, the Afghans drive Fords. Not sure why, but that doesn't quite seem right to me. Hilux is the Toyota truck seen most often, never heard of it before Bagram. I also saw a Ford I've never seen before as well as a Ranger with four full-sized doors. Daiwoo vehicles are all over and many more that I just simply couldn't identify. All dusty, dirty, dingy, dinged, and clearly ridden hard.
There is a haze present most of the time. Some call it moon dust, a descriptive and accurate picture. Jamal is materials engineer and is well versed in how to use different materials to accomplish what we take for granted in the States because of the quality of materials available to us. When it comes to the gradation of rock everything is sieved. Each sieve is progressively smaller sized usually starting with 1/2 inch, 1/4 inch, and going down to what is called a 200 sieve. Anything passing the 200 sieve is known as fines because this is very small material. The number 200 means there are 200 wires per square inch so you can imagine this is dust-like material. Sieve analysis in Afghanistan can reveal 50 to 80% of the sampled material passes the 200 sieve. A high percentage would be ten, so clearly moon dust is an accurate moniker.
The winds easily stir the moon dust and whip it into an omnipresent cloud. It isn't so noticeable up close, but when you look across the flat land things in the distance sort of fade away. It can also cause respiratory problems but that's an issue I will blow off for now.
The general geography of Afghanistan is mountainous, but most of the inhabited areas are flat. Well, the inhabited areas that contain most of the military installations I've been to are flat. Some describe it as a bowl. Travelling back and forth to some other spots you can see some villages along the way that are very much not flat, but where I am it is flat. Flat, but not like Biloxi flat. There are mountains on the horizon, multi-layered mountains all the way around the horizon as far as I've cared to check. Mountains that fade in or out because of the amount of moon dust in the air.
Bagram has some trees, of all different sizes. Some are nice sized, some type of pine though I never saw any cones on the ground. Particularly odd to think that the ground, so rough and tumble, is policed regularly to eliminate pinecones yet that must be the case. The trees appear dusty just like everything else. Even the pine needles clustered up in the air above our heads just look like they need to be dusted.
The smaller, twig looking trees were apparently planted not long ago. Each has a bowl-like base dug out around the base so that it can hold water. Each night about 0100 hours someone waters them in an attempt to get the trees to go. The trees just have the appearance of being scrappy little trees fighting to hold on to whatever ground they can in an attempt to grow. A truly poetic metaphor for the country.
Along one side of the road, named Disney, there are almost no trees in their secondary growth phase except well off the right of way behind other T-walls that channelized traffic, vehicular and pedestrian. Between the road and the sidewalk is a substantial concrete ditch. It has straight walls and is anywhere from 3 to 5 feet deep where I saw it. There is a rail on the pedestrian side and concrete barriers spaced out on the vehicular side to keep people and cars out of it. The scrawny trees are between the ditch and the sidewalk where the utility poles are. Apparently, the contractor came through and cut down the trees that may have been planted by the Soviets and promised to plant five for every one they took down. They followed through with that promise, but they cut down large, well established trees and planted scrawny trees not much bigger than the kind you can buy at Lowe's or The Home Depot and they put them right below the utility lines.
Established growth, eliminated, reproduced five times over, set up for failure. I hope and pray that the trees are not entirely the poetic metaphor they first appear for this country.