First let me apologize for not writing sooner. I hope everyone had a good and safe holiday season. Ours was eventful to say the least.
FOB Chapman is about 4 km away from where I'm located. Things got really tense here in the immediate aftermath of the suicide bombing there. We've had numerous reports of imminent similar attacks, suicide bombings, etc. Couple that with the dozen or so IED attacks, bombings and overall chaos in the province we've been dealing with since approximately Jan 2nd and you can see why my 20 hr work days haven't allowed for email updates.
But don't think I've forgotten about you. Even though my team is overworked, we definitely enjoy what we do and have kept our spirits up and kept each other motivated. That being said, I send much love and good thoughts to ya'll and best wishes for a prosperous 2010.
Here's just a sample of what I've been able to compose since my last update:
Allow me to begin with an observation of tobacco use among US Soldiers. A lot of US Soldiers dip. (A moment of self disclosure – I used to dip. Yeah, with as much as I harsh on smokeless tobacco now you’d think my entire family died of jaw & lip cancer after working in a retirement facility for Soldiers who dipped. Sorry Mom, I stopped years ago.) Usually the closer one is to combat arms meaning infantry, artillery, military police, etc, the more apt one is to be a heavy dipper. Why? Who knows? But the motion of sticking a thick pinch of moist shredded tobacco between your cheek and gum – usually right in front of your lower front teeth – seems to be a rite of passage, then tradition, and finally a habit for many Soldiers.
My favorite part of that habit isn’t the deformed jaw outline, stained teeth or even flecks of tobacco on someone’s tongue. My favorite part is the constant spitting. It’s revolting. There must be some delusional self image of coolness because you’ll often see instructors, or those whose jobs put them in front of people on a regular basis, constantly spitting. I always hated it and was shell-shocked when I learned that some guys swallow that shit! Like I said, it’s revolting, but it’s even worse when someone spits into a cup (always while inside a building). The smell eventually permeates a room and there’s always the potential for spillage – which eventually does happen because dippers can be lazy pigs. Those that spit into a bottle aren’t much better in my opinion. With the constant screwing off and on of the cap they must have very strong finger muscles. I don’t understand why people are allowed to dip at all while inside a building. I mean, smokers aren’t allowed to smoke are they? Of course not (and thank God for that), so why should dippers be any different? Now, on to Afghani dip.
Naswar – or the Afghani version of dip is used just like ours but is an exponentially more potent product than American dip. Our stuff is fresh, clean, comes in a sealed container, and is usually moist and flakey. We have a decent selection of dip including the ubiquitous wintergreen, as well as spearmint, cherry and the funny little packets of dip which the dipping newcomers sometimes start with. Naswar is a different animal altogether. First, I’ve only ever seen it in a plastic baggie, sort of like the crappy, low budget non-sealable sandwich bag they used to sell in the 70’s when I was a kid. I remember, sometimes my sandwiches would slide out of those fold over baggies if I didn’t carry my lunch carefully. Ah, memories. Well, naswar comes in two varieties – green and black and is always transported in those ghetto baggies. The green is much more potent and I imagine with regular continued use one could bore a hole through one’s lower jaw within a year if not careful. The black kind is equally harsh, but not as potent. It’d probably take two years to achieve the same result.
Anyway, naswar is addictive. I’ve not tried it and have no intention of doing so, but Afghans I’ve spoken with say it’s almost a national pastime here, like growing poppies, refining opium, beheading infidels, and swindling people for as much as you can. Naswar – a way of life. The stuff comes in a thick clump and is made from the ground up, crushed, treated and pressed leaf residue of some kind of hellish plant. No one has been able to adequately describe its origins to me. Afghans tell me the first time they tried naswar they always vomit. What a lovely start to a life-long habit. In time, they became used to the stuff, then addicted. But they don’t like to say they’re addicted… appearances, you know. Well, to me naswar looks like some clumpy, almost tar-like substance, but it’s not sticky or gooey. It is similar to the thick, rich black soil farmers in the Midwest have to grow crops.
Naswar has an almost earthy smell to it. Well, earthy and chemically treated. Unknown chemicals are used to treat the leaves which compose naswar and they impart a serious aftersmell. Yet another reason not to try it. Afghans also spit the residue of naswar just like Americans. They don’t keep naswar in for nearly as long as Americans do. When people are done with it, they take the entire clump out of their mouth and throw it wherever in the street. It usually maintains its form. Here’s the most retching and disturbing part – young entrepreneurs (very young kids) will collect the discarded clumps and resell it in the bazaar to unsuspecting addicts. I love Afghanistan – everyone, even the kids, is out to make a buck.