Posted by: Zoa | November 6, 2011

Week #2 in Afghanistan

This is the end of the second week of my eight week teaching assignment at FOB Sharana.  FOB stands for Forward Operating Base.  FOB Sharana is a staging area for humanitarian and anti-insurgent operations in the mountain provinces of Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.

So, how big is the base?  It has a 10 mile circumference.  There are more than 9000 people here – mostly soldiers and mostly men.  There’s a large air strip that accommodates military aircraft.  Planes take off and land at all hours of the day and night.  Tethered to one of the hills within the base is a blimp with long-range observational equipment installed in it.  Helicopters and drones buzz like bees in the sky all day long.  There are 4 local headquarters, each with their own chow halls.  This place is much bigger and busier than I had guessed from the google photos that I looked at before I came here.

The photo below shows where I live.  This is “Town Square” — the center of the base.  Headquarters, the chapel, the post office, the PX, the main USO lounge, the gym, and the education center are all located within 200 meters of these flagpoles.

FOB Sharana Town Square, Chinooks overhead

Many of the structures near Town Square are leftovers from the Russian occupation of the ‘80s.  The Americans retrofitted them for use as offices and VIP housing.  As a professor, I’m granted a private room inside one of these buildings.

Individual rooms are separated by unfinished plywood partitions.  My room is 7’ by 10’.  For protection against bombings, sleeping quarters have no windows.  Exterior walls are reinforced concrete, two feet thick.  I have a desk, a chair, a bed, two reading lamps, and plastic cabinetry.  The showers and latrines are a short walk to another building.  Considering where I am, I feel quite safe and I have all I could ask for.  I do a lot of reading here.  Thank goodness for my Kindle.  When I get tired of reading, preparing for my night classes, or napping, I wander over to the USO lounge where I can get free wireless internet.

My quarters

In addition to American soldiers and contractors, there are troops here from Poland, the Czech Republic and Turkey.  There are also many Afghan National Army and service personnel.  The education center is mostly manned by Albanians.  Fijians run part of the communications network.  Soldiers from Uganda are responsible for supervising the Afghan workers.  In this mix of languages and cultures, there can be comic moments.  Yesterday, I watched a young Ugandan explain to an elderly Afghan gentleman how to paint the window trim of a building.  Neither of them could speak fluent English – but, in a very good-natured way, they tried.  Everyone eats in the same chow halls, family style, at long tables with folding chairs.  It’s remarkable to hear all the different languages, and see all the different uniforms and weapons.  It feels a little bit like being in a Star Wars movie … Tatooine maybe?

Italian sausage and scallops

The DFAC (Dining FACility) serves fabulous food.  Open 24 hours a day, and serving 3 hot meals every day, there’s no shortage of excellent chow here.  I’m impressed by the fresh cut pineapples and melons every morning for breakfast.  The fast order cooks will make any kind of omelet you like, plus there are multiple buffets of sausages, bacon, hash browns, oatmeal and grits.  The Italian sausage and scallops shown above is a typical lunch item.  The variety of restaurant quality meals is amazing — so are the salad bars full of fresh vegetables.  Occasionally we have a buffet of Afghan food, which is superb.  Friday nights are Surf’n’Turf night.  See below.

Fresh Alaskan King Crab, Top Sirloin and non-alcoholic beer

Good food is important for health and morale, of course.  And it’s said that an army marches on its stomach.  But I can’t help but wonder how many elementary school lunches could be purchased for what it costs to provide a meal like this for 6000 hungry men … in the middle of one of the most remote and hostile corners of our planet.

On the walls of almost every public space at FOB Sharana — including the DFAC, the barber shop, the MWR, the USO, the passenger air terminal, and the housing office — are large flat screen televisions.  During the recent World Series, the televised games seemed to go on forever.  Because of the time zone differences between the US and Afghanistan, every game was rebroadcast four times throughout every day.  The result was 28 games.  The visual monotony of seeing the same two teams, larger than life, on the walls of all the common areas was like animated wallpaper.  Now, we’re back to football.

For fun, there was a 5k run on Halloween.  Runners were encouraged to come in costume.  I ran the 5k in an unimpressive 31 minutes.  Considering how little I’ve run in the last six months, and that the elevation here is above 2000 meters, this isn’t too bad.  Shown below are a few of my students.

A Maryland professor and The Village People

A final note about the weather:  It’s great!  It doesn’t rain this time of year.  The days are cool and sunny – ideal for taking walks along the perimeter fence.  The nights are crisp and clear – perfect for star-gazing.  I’ve been told that it snows here and gets cold in December, but so far this is a lovely climate.  Too bad I can’t get off base and take a hike in the surrounding hills.



  1. Great, Nick!

  2. It looks like your students dressed up as the village people. Probably in honor of the repeal of don’t-ask-don’t-tell. Very appropriate.

    A great adventure, Jamie!


  3. I have a tendency to agree with every thing that was put into writing within “Week
    #2 in Afghanistan Afghanistan 2011-2012”. Thanks a lot for pretty much all the
    actual tips.Thanks a lot-Thalia

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