Tuesday, December 19, 2006

TV Hill

Here in Afghanistan, the poor people live on the hillsides. Just the opposite from home. Kabul is surrounded by hills. One of them is called TV Hill because the TV antenna’s are located at the top. Makes sense.

After our meeting at the Ministry of the Interior (yes, I’ll write about it eventually) the other JAGs I was with wanted to execute a tactical mission to the summit (sounds more impressive – “summit”) of the hill to get the lay of the land for future operations. I was in the lead vehicle. I had a Navy Captain in the front seat and the interpreter, who knew the way, in the backseat. Once again I found myself driving tactically through Kabul. You already know what it’s like from a previous posting.

We missed our first turn off the main road so had to go up to the next street to turn. I thought it would be fairly simple to go around the “block” and get back to where we needed to be. Foolish me. We ended up winding through some very narrow streets, driving through a large puddle of sh…, I mean sewage, wound our way through tiny businesses, etc. just to get back to where we needed to be. That was an adventure in itself. But that’s not the real story.

We finally found the road up the hill. For some reason I thought it might be an improved road since it lead to the TV antennas. The other hill next to it had the radio, microwave and cell phone antennas. So like I said I thought the road would be improved. I must have forgotten that I was in Afghanistan.

Dirt road, lots of rocks and lots of people standing around. Have I mentioned that Afghans do NOT move out of the way of moving vehicles? Well they don’t. I almost hit one guy with my mirror. I came within inches of smashing him in the chest and he just stood there looking at me like I was the idiot.

As we worked our way up the hill, we wound between these mud-brick homes. The homes were built right next to the road. In some places, you walk outside your door and you’re in the street. Down the middle of the road was a running stream of something black. I’m assuming it’s what I thought it was since there is no running water or sanitation system on the hillside. Lovely thought.

As we got higher up the mountain, the road narrowed. And it became covered in ice. And there was nothing on the edge of the road to keep you from rolling off the edge of the road, except the roof of someone’s house. As the ruts were covered in ice, I tried to not drive in the ruts, but sort of create my own path. I was hoping that the ice would not be so thick there and that there would be more dirt and rocks. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong.

One time I was really wrong. As I slid off the edge of the road into a rut the vehicle bounced. And bounced. For a fleeting moment I thought we were going to bounce right over the edge onto someone’s house. If I had taken my eyes of the road to look at my knuckles, I’m sure they would have been white as I was holding onto the steering wheel so tight.

The only other time that I was really nervous was when these kids came out of nowhere and gathered around the truck wanting us to give them something. One little girl planted herself right in the middle of the road, almost as if to force us to stop. The only direction for me to go was around her, right over the edge of the road and down the side of the hill. As I crept closer, she was not moving. I finally had to honk my horn at her to make her move. There was no way I could go around her and there was no way I could stop as it was pretty icy there. Fortunately, she moved and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Of course at the time, the road seemed to be straight up, straight up a sheet of ice. But it wasn’t. We eventually made it to the top and I’m so glad we did. The view was amazing. Even through the pollution in the air, you could see forever. Kabul was spread out below us. The city actually wrapped around the hill so when you looked over the other side of the mountain/hill, the city continued. It was an amazing sight.

Later, when I told COL Karim where we went, he said during the war with the Soviets, he watched battles on the hill, saw artillery tubes scattered across the ridge line and actually saw tanks roll down the hill. I’m sure it was an amazing sight. I’m just glad we didn’t experience the “rolling” part.

I thought the drive down would be just as nerve wracking as the drive up, but it was actually a piece of cake. I put the vehicle in 4-wheel drive (why I didn’t put it in 4-wheel drive on the way up still escapes me) and the lowest gear and crept down the hill. It was a piece of cake.

When I got back to Blackhorse the next day, everyone was jealous that I got to drive up and experience the view, especially Wais.