Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Road Less Travelled

The day began uneventfully, as most do here. A couple soldiers asked if I would drive them over to the main part of Bagram since I have access to the chapel truck. Since I drive manual, I am often asked to drive. However, this was the first time that I had to drive AND navigate without someone in the truck who knew the way. “It’s just one big circle,” they all said. “Impossible to get lost..” These are famous last words. I should have realized that we would be in for a real adventure.

There are a few things that one doesn’t want to do accidentally while driving around a military base in Afghanistan. Find oneself on the wrong side of the fence or drive through an active mine field are the two that I plan to avoid, at least in the future. With all the money that we are spending over here, the least they could do is put up a few “detour” and/or “do not enter” signs when they open up a road that is not supposed to be accessed by just anyone.

My witnesses concur that I had no choice but to turn left since the right turn was blocked with orange cones. It didn’t feel right, but without “danger” spelled out, we just went with it. One of the soldiers in the car commented on how beautiful the scenery looked, so different than the rest of Bagram. That should have been the red flag. But, not knowing any better, we continued on. A few peaks and dips in the road later, it became apparent that we had made a very poor choice. Suddenly, we were surrounded by fields of mines. I was concentrating on staying on the road, so I didn’t notice the red, upside-down triangles which indicate active mines. Hardly a stone’s throw from the truck, individuals were dressed in special demining gear, using their probes and equipment to continue the process of clearing the fields of active mines.

It was hard to know exactly where we were, but when it became apparent that the fence was actually keeping us out rather than in, we all knew that the left turn had been the wrong way to go. Turning around seemed like a bad idea since we knew the road was safe. The other cars and military vehicles in front of us gave us that assurance. And, going a bit too far into the field to do a three point turn may have triggered some kind of explosion. So, we pressed on.

I cannot imagine de-mining fields every day as a job. Apparently, many of the de-miners that work on Bagram are from parts of Africa where land mines are prevalent. They come here to work for months at a time, in many cases making a very good wage compared to the work they might find a home. After watching them out in those fields and realizing just how dangerous their work is, if anyone gets a bonus this year, it should be them.

Eventually we found our way back to the road and to the “safety” of the t-walls. We actually were safe the whole time, and never truly left “the wire.” But I still maintain that a couple of simple signs would have made all the difference! It’s always something, but at least the adventure quells any monotony that we may be feeling on some days. Just take a ride with the Chaplain and you never know where the road will take you! I am sure there is a sermon in there… :)

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