Notes, thoughts, photos and ruminations on my 7 month tour in the Horn of Africa
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Camp and Ahab, the crow.
For the most part the environment outside the door of my CLU has the aspect of a large construction site. There is heavy machinery rumbling hither and thither down the gravel roads, excavation and industrial clangor aplenty accompanied by the smokes and fumes of diesel and other exhaust, and in every direction people with hard hats and power tools are working away. Superimposed on this construction job site ambience, are the noises and sights of the airstrip 100 yards from where I write - the whine of military and civilian jet turbine engines warming up, the viscerally felt roar as they take off, and the more basso "thwok thwok" of the rotors of heavy helicopters round out the aural landscape.
Walking about, the bulk of what one sees is the utilitarian underpinnings of western style life wrung out of the African desert - rows and rows of generators (we produce a third as much electricity as the whole country), reverse osmosis water generators, waste water treatment facilities, truck and heavy machinery maintenance yards, and everywhere antennae and dishes of every shape and description beaming and receiving the constant stream of information that is the sine qua non of modern military operations.
The gravel "streets" are daily sprayed with water in an attempt to keep down the dust, and are uneasily shared between pedestrians, bicyclists, camp motor vehicles, heavy equipment, and the ubiquitous "gators" - little 6 wheel ATV's that do much of the utilitarian hauling on base.
Much like on a submarine, the living and working spaces are tucked - sometimes artfully, sometimes less so - in and around the industrial skeleton. We have the galley that I'll someday spend more time on, a "movie theater" where DVDs are projected while popcorn is served, a tiny post office - although a new one complete with ATM is rising in the middle of the former tent city - , and most recently added 11 Degrees North - our all hands club where sailors, airmen, soldiers and marines can go for their 3 beers per night. The bulk of the rest of the structures are the homes of the 23 tenant commands here on base. In essence, the camp and its CO - for whom I work - is like the ship's company of an aircraft carrier: here to make sure that the utilities, amenities and services are available for the folks who go further down range to assist with security stuff, humanitarian operations and most recently piracy interdiction.
I'll talk more about who is actually here in a later post, but I wanted to mention Ahab. The camp has become a haven for several bird species. One can find sparrows, pigeons, mourning doves, and the occasional ibis is sighted flying overhead, but by far the most omnipresent avian company here is provided by the crows. The species prevalent hereabouts is mostly similar to its North American brethren, save for being a bit smaller, and having subtly different coloration - the body is actually dark gray while the wings are true black. There are hundreds of them around, raucously calling to each other, shouting corvid jokes and gossip and vociferously scolding we poor earthbound creatures who must walk the dusty paths. In any event, one of this multitude, an ancient, disagreeable and ill favored bird with one or two flight primaries missing from his left wing likes to roost on top of my CLU. As I sit here now I can here the click click of his talons as he skips across the thin aluminum of the roof. It seems that he has taken a dislike to human kind as a general proposition and to me (or by report anyone living here in #37) as the specific example of all he objects to in our species. I am greeted on leaving in the morning and on return in the late afternoon with a harshly croaked commentary on the shortcomings of humanity which is perfectly expressed despite our lack of a mutual language. Following this diatribe Ahab, for so I have named him, will fly off to a nearby tree to share with the waiting mob of his brethren his latest editorializing, to general and vocal approbation. If I am not watching him, Ahab will swoop down and buzz me - the wind of his passage seeming to be right by my ear - much as his fictional namesake launched himself at his much larger nemesis. I don't know if this is counting coups by his lights, or if as I rather suspect, he is just a disagreeable old bird whose miserable humor is lightened somewhat by the chastisement of the ignorant and unwary.
I'll try to send along a picture and have been carrying around my camera in hope of doing so. The evil little blighter has yet proved elusive...but fear not faithful readers for " I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give up!"...to quote a more famous Ahab.