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Helmand: The Alter-Ego

Mission: Immersion and Training on Dining Facility (DFAC) Food Service Inspection for 5 days
Location: Lashkar Gah, Helmand


Nothing like a perfect example of the saying “Be careful what you wish for…” I wished for it, I got it. Yet I forgot to be specific enough that I was sent to…

H-E-L-M-A-N-D!!!

The name of the place alone brings fear… It is like being subjected to a baptism of fire. But why the cringe when this place-that-must-not-be-named is mentioned?

Primarily because Helmand is one of the hottestspots here in Afghanistan. A search in Wikipedia says that this is the largest province of Afghanistan, the world’s largest opium-producing region responsible for 75% of the world’s total production and is said to be a Taliban stronghold.

On another note, flying to the site is also heavily reliant on weather conditions. Transition of seasons usually bring about heavy sandstorms that results to cancellation of Kandahar-Helmand leg. The trip is a very long (compared to other flights to our sites) and entails a “layover” in Kandahar.

But… I welcomed the thrill of travelling to that place and I was more excited about new experiences and learnings.

I filled my backpack with clothes and some snacks/food. Early morning on my flight, I was energetic and eager to embark on this new experience.

The flight to Kandahar was uneventful. I was so sleepy having woken up very early in the morning that even before taking off, I was asleep 🙂 I woke up just in time for the plane getting ready to land in Kandahar.

Then it was “layover” of >3 hours in Kandahar. There was a waiting shed with benches and a free supply of bottled water. I couldn’t help myself, I found my hands poking over my backpack for snacks 🙂 Some guys have been indulging, too, sharing with me some light snacks they had on their pockets. The Filipino crew of the flight company have offered me several times to stay in their pantry because it was cool and I can have a choice of drinks (tea, coffee, softdrinks or water). I declined a few times, but due to boredom and sleepiness, I finally agreed. They also had sunflower seeds to munch and I was able to charge my camera battery 🙂 The edge of having kabayans anywhere in the world 🙂

Then it was time for the 2nd leg of the trip, Kandahar-Helmand. I was excited to find out what the landscape is… It’s not rocky mountain as I expected but endless red desert. I figured it will be sand, sand, sand all throughout so I decided to just sleep 😛

All the impressions I had of Helmand was gone after the first day. I was told to prepare sleeping in a tent with a shared bathroom outside. Lo and behold! I was handed a key to my own wet hooch… Sweet! I was lucky that the EuPol were not in the camp when we went, their hooch was vacant.



My suite room in Helmand 🙂

During the entire 5 days, I have been wary of “fireworks” flying. The camp is known to be visited by rockets almost everyday that it has become a normal event to our colleagues there. Yet, surprisingly, the neighborhood was quiet. No threat, no whistle, no fireworks…

 

Just as a cake has its icing, I certainly had a few treats during the visit. My stay coincided with the Eid-al-Fitr and the locals invited us for lunch – a huge platter of mutton biryani. Yum!

Didn’t try mutton biryani until today. It was yum!
It was customary for the company personnel to have lunch at the local DFAC on Fridays. That Friday was no different. I went to join the group, and again it was a feast – chicken biryani, fried chicken Indian-style, Afghani bread, Arabic salad and fresh fruits…  

The Friday feast
This time, it’s Chicken Biryani 🙂

That same night, I had a feast in my room with lobster and stir-fried noodles. I was supposed to have the noodles at dinner but they ran out so the DFAC crew delivered food to my room 🙂  


Lunch the following day was chicken adobo, cooked by the Indian chef. It was delicious, and I think I need not say that I ate a lot 🙂 And the day after was pork adobo… These guys were just so happy feeding me and watching my belly expand!

On the flight back to Kandahar, we went to 2 other bases. It was still all desert. Notice the camels on the hot, arid land somewhere near Kandahar Airfield. 

 

Helmand has a personality well-known to frequent travellers and “residents” to the area. Yet during my 5-day stay, a different aura manifested – it was a quiet and peaceful. Inside the camp, the atmosphere was all but desolate. The people were friendly, hospitable and they were doing their best to make a heaven out of the “hell” they are in.

I hope one day the local Helmandis(?) would realize the beauty of peace. I hope one day the Talibans living in the area would appreciate the sound of silence. I pray one day they will abandon their weapons and learn to treasure lives – of their own descent and of foreigners in their country. I pray that one day the 5-day “ceasefire” would extend to a week, then a month, then a year, then forever…  

Each one of us has a story to tell… And mine of Helmand was just different 🙂 

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