Sunday, February 1, 2009

No power encounter

We went about 10 days without power here at Firebase Vimoto recently. This is what happens when you put "fuel" that is actually about 50% water into a generator. The generator, not unsurprisingly, reacted poorly to such a mixture. Now, our fuel comes to us in 500-gallon rubber blivets (How we manage to get these monsters manipulated into position is another story, but let's just say it's done very carefully...); we have no ability here at Vimoto to put liquid of any kind into these blivets. We can only take it out. So that pretty much rules out the ANA stealing our fuel and replacing it with water. Thus, it must have come to us this way, which leads me to believe the US Army somehow took a blivet with residual water in it and refilled it with fuel. You'd be surprised how similar the water blivets and fuel blivets look, and I have no doubt they've been switched from time to time. Thankfully, we do not drink the water from these things, though the ANA have been known to.

Having no power is not so bad though. It's cold at night but not bitterly so. We manage to keep the radios running by trading out the radio batteries with our friends from the base down the road, or by using our supply of disposable batteries. Given that we've no way to charge our main entertainment sources, i.e. our computers, the power outage has led to the four of us that speak English here (three Marines and our interpreter) to spend much more time talking to each other and with our ANA leadership. And we still manage to get a hot meal by using our 55-gallon drum "grill" fueled by the wood we manage to scavenge from around the base. All that bad fuel is handy for keeping a fire going at least.

I should mention that our "base" is made of houses that were once part of the village. US forces as some point in the not-too-distant past simply took the uppermost homes in the village (the entire village being constructed terrace-style on the side of a mountain), surrounded them with some hesco barriers and concertina wire, and called it a base. The US Army built the base in its current form, and eventually turned it over to the ANA, which works better since the base is so close to the local inhabitants. The other bases in the area have much more standoff from the local populace.

Given how dark it is with no power inside the mud-brick house we live in, we tend to mill about outside during the day a bit more than we used to. On one such occasion, I heard the noise of a child from below. I peaked up and around the edge of our barriers and noticed a boy and his young mother just down below. She was busy moving stacks of twigs and branches into her residence through a four-foot high door as the child watched interestedly. I had known that we had villagers living essentially below us, but this was the first time I had gotten a glimpse of any of them. I observed them for several moments, feeling a strange sort of guilt and invasion at watching a women uncovered by a burqa, though she was obviously fully clothed in the cold weather. Furthermore, I could not even see her face from my vantage point, but nevertheless the sight of this woman was somewhat enchanting to me. When it's forbidden to even see a woman, there's an allure in doing such seeing, though seeing is certainly as close an encounter as a US servicemember and local inhabitant are likely to get in this particular conflict. As I was about to quietly withdraw my head back into my fortified little redoubt, she must have felt my eyes on her and quickly glanced up and saw me. I had time to see her face register innocent surprise before I retreated back to my dull confines.

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