It’s flat. Really flat. Like North Dakota. I don’t know what this camp was before it was this camp. Likely the wasted land that often surrounds airports. I can see the planes on the runway from here. At least I can see their tails. That’s another remarkable aspect of the land here. The flatness is criss-crossed, subdivided and lined by mazes of concrete blast walls. There are walls within walls within walls of these barriers. They serve to protect us from indirect fire – rockets and mortars and such. The main aim of a weapon like that is psychological. You are sitting there minding your own business and then things start blowing up. The blast walls cannot eliminate the psychological effects, because you can’t help but look around and know that you are always on one side or the other of a wall. Where’s it going to land? They do decrease the casualty radius significantly though, which is nice. That’s not to say that it’s raining rockets and mortars here, it isn’t, but the walls remain.
We’re pretty well spread out. It’s a half-mile walk to the chow hall. We have gamed out the different ways to get there, and they all come out the same. Half mile. Seven to ten minutes depending on how fast you walk. One mile round trip for decent food. Not great, just decent. A mile of winding around blast walls and shipping containers and porta-johns. The volleyball court and the gym and the stage and the showers.
There’s not much for plant life. A big dead tree sits right outside the walls around our living area. Sometimes birds sit in it, and sometimes, in the relative cool of the morning or evening, before it gets oppressively hot, they sing. Just the plain warbling of sparrows and cooing of doves, but music none-the-less. I would guess that the plants have all been choked out by the thousands upon thousands of cubic yards (used to work in landscaping) of gravel that have been laid down everywhere. Ostensibly, the gravel reduces the dust. Great, thanks. It also makes walking a chore. The rocks constantly shift underfoot, and my hip flexors are as strong as they have ever been – just from walking.
Almost immediately when you leave the base it all changes. There are farms and canals and livestock. Cows with poking ribs and stubborn donkeys pulling carts. Lame dogs and ruffled-looking chickens. There are sunflowers coated in fine dust and shining still. Winding down some un-named route that we dubbed “Route Awesome” for the amazingly un-awesome nature of it, my truck rounded a corner and my jaw dropped. We were smack in the middle of a small flower market. It was beautiful. Roses mostly. Orange and pink and magenta and regal and defiant in their beauty. They grew up on either side of the road and sprouted from buckets and planters around a small shack. There was a friendly wave from within, and then it was gone. Lost around another bend in the road.