High Voltage Heavy Drinking

Kabul, Afghanistan 18 / 1 / 02

An air of normalcy has begun to work its way onto our campus in Kabul. After a week of preparation for Dan Rather and crew, and a week with them here, a sigh of relief reverberated through the house last night in the form of Russian vodka.  After a two-week lull in journal entries, I find time once again to peck at my keyboard, scouring my brain for interesting tidbits of useless knowledge.

The New Year came and went, a nice break from the hectic work schedule at the time.  The alcohol stores that I so closely guarded were quickly depleted by the ravenous hordes that quickly assembled after the first beer was opened.  It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to distinguish between people who have done numerous television shoots on the road, and those who have stayed mainly in the studio, just by the way alcohol consumption effects the individual.  I remain mum on the particular hijinks of certain individuals, but I can say that I won’t look at certain talking heads the same way.  I played the DJ for the evening to the captive crowd; the wild gyrations were hypnotic.  Too bad there were only two women there.

Electrical power is a constant issue in this war torn country.  Quincy, my fellow engineer, and I wrestle with our terrible decisions; either blowing up every piece of equipment with 400 volts coming in from the city, or using generators that last for 2 hours at most.  Needless to say, it does keep us on our toes, and provides many sleepless nights with the constant fear of creating an electrical meltdown in the center of Kabul.  Along this theme of electrical brevity, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the satellite uplink.  A chokodar (laborer class) who we call Woodman Sweet, the reasoning being is his Dari name means sweet and he brings wood to our stoves, was spying on what I was doing in the equipment shed.  As I diligently stared at the equipment, I began to hear a crackling sound, the sound of electricity arcing.  I was overcome with horror as I rushed out of the building in the direction of the city power junction box. The crackling continued as I took my measurements and visibly inspected the wires, but I saw nothing out of the ordinary.  I then realized the sound was coming from the direction of the equipment shed.  I ran back to the building, convinced that expensive equipment was now just fancy looking garbage.  Once again, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and the crackling continued.  At a loss, I turned to Woodman Sweet, who was staring at me quizzically with bubble wrap in hand. I did get even later, however, when I introduced the poor man to Pop Rocks and soda, another attempt at western diplomacy.

The ABC producer introduced me to the wonders of a little market in town, which seems to cater mainly to Westerners.  The store’s claim to fame is that it is one of the few places to buy liquor in this city; the only drawback is that it’s 150 dollars US a bottle.  When the prospect of living and working in a house devoid of booze, it is quite easy to justify such purchases, especially when such purchases can be labeled as “office supplies”.  When purchasing these particular items, the whole act seems like a shady drug deal.  The storeowner has his list of “special” items that he keeps behind the counter.  He delivers whatever is purchased to your doorstep, in a nondescript box.  The ABC/CBS house is his favorite customer.

We finally finished our week of hell last week, when the 60 Minutes II crew finally left.  The people themselves were great, but the schedule was a killer at times, as were the equipment failures.  Luckily everyone was understanding when problems would arise, and as fate would have it, the one time I almost missed a satellite feed because of electrical problems, was when Dan Rather was doing a report for the Early Show.  I am the miracle man, and pulled off the impossible, at least in my head, but I guess it was enough to impress Mr. Rather and crew.  As they left, I was blessed with numerous accolades and told that the appropriate people would know of my prowess, whatever that is worth.

It is now the third week of January, and things here have slowed a bit. Aziz, the generator mechanic, took me around the city as it had been awhile since I had been out.  We went down to the Ministry of Communications building to have a look around, and I was a bit surprised how I was received.  I, being a man of ill repute with no credentials, was given unfettered access to the telephone switchboard and other telecommunications equipment.  This was apparently because I was a Westerner, and I had a camera.  Little did they know that I was just bored and had no idea what I was doing here.  After a nice little impromptu tour, Aziz took me to the east of the city to the burial place of a past king.  The building has been completely bombed out, and it has been mined around the area, with the carcasses of trucks and cargo containers littered all around.  The view from this vantage point is spectacular, and is located right above the Olympic stadium where the Taliban used to hold public executions.  The only thing that disrupted this moment in time, was three young boys with slingshots trying to hit me with stones.  Luckily I was just out of range, which provided me the courage to taunt them.  My bravado lasted until the men that were with the kids began to walk towards me.  We left the shrine quite rapidly.

I have definitely fallen in love with this country, its people, and its landscape.  If given the opportunity I wouldn’t pause to come back, but I think that two months working nonstop may be all that I will be able to handle.  I have noticed that eight weeks is the most people can handle before they become a bit stir crazy.  I have begun to dream of those simple pleasures, mainly beer.  The bad Indian whiskey would go down much smoother with ice, and I would kill for some sushi that doesn’t come in the form of cold goat.  Besides those little things, this place is absolute paradise, at least for the Westerner.

I am tired of typing, but I swear I shall not be so lax in the future. Quincy and I prepare for Diane Sawyer’s arrival, and we keep wondering why the ABC crew is suddenly looking for places to hide.

- Mike Brandenburg