Afghanistan Turned Me into Travis Bickle

on July 4, 2011 in Uncategorized with no comments by

Some of you have tweeted or emailed asking for details about my trip to Afghanistan, here it is…the horror.

This trip changed me.  I can’t watch TV or go to McDonald’s the way I used to. Every time I hear a Kardashian whine about a handbag that doesn’t match their shoes, I want to send them packing to Afghanistan.  Every time I hear a French-pedicured white trash girl complain that the bathroom at the gas station isn’t up to her standards, I want her to shit into a WAG bag and throw it into a blazing firepit. I’ve come back to America with the contempt of Travis Bickle for anyone who complains about the cool ass candy coated life we have in this country.

I can honestly say for most of my life, I’ve been a completely ignorant American when it came to anything outside of Silver Lake.  Didn’t care about any country ending in “stan”.  I liked my DVR, I liked complaining that my Starbucks latte wasn’t hot enough. I was living in the Dead Kennedy’s “give me convenience or give me death.”  Then I went to the Middle East in 2009. Let me clarify, the UAE –  the United Arab Emirates, which is really the “nice” version of the Arab world.  It’s the Gulf countries that are filthy rich with oil money. Granted in Saudi Arabia, they still publically execute and crucify people every Friday, affectionately known as “Chop Chop” Fridays by the locals. See this blog for details There was a hint of a modicum of a whiff of a level of civility there that made me kinda ok with the Arab world.

In all honesty, I came back from my first trip to the Middle East really disliking parts of the Arab culture. Let me clarify, I met many wonderful Muslims, and I am not hating on ALL Muslims. But as a Western woman, the way women are treated in the culture  is one hard schwarma to swallow.  I didn’t like seeing women covered in hijab (head scarf and modest dress), or worse, Niqab covered head to toe – hands and all with only eyes showing. In places like Saudi (and towns in Dubai) women are not allowed to drive, get an education, own property, leave the house without a male relative escort or even wear jeans in the street. Nothing chapped my ass harder than seeing the 2nd Sex and the City movie take place in Abu Dhabi. Granted they ended up in high jinks over their western libertine ways, but to glamorize a world in which women have minimal rights was absurd.

This is a total fiction.

Even Dubai, which is advertised as the wild west is still Muslim and if you go during Ramadan -their high holy month, which I did, be prepared to not be able to even sip a bottle of water in public for fear of being arrested by the religious police. And yes, they arrest Westerners in Dubai who break the rules of Ramadan. Their house, their rules.  If you so much as nibble a kebab in public during daylight hours and someone sees and reports you, you end up in prison. Be prepared to starve to death while in prison, because they don’t feed you. That’s right, you have to have a relative bring you food every day to stay alive.  Did I mention this is in fabulous Dubai?  I think I smell the location for the next Bridesmaids movie.

In addition to the way my Muslim sisters are mistreated, I also didn’t like the way TCN’s are treated. A TCN is a Third Country National. A person (man) usually from Pakistan, India or Nepal who basically is treated like a slave. They do all the dirty work in the Arab world and are never granted citizenship, or the right to vote and are usually mistreated by the people who hire them.  Shit, at least in the good ole US of A, we give our immigrants the right to citizenship … eventually.

Flash forward to three weeks ago, I land in Kyrgyzstan to do 2 weeks of shows in Afghanistan for our troops. If I thought the UAE sucked, I was in for an even suckier treat – the real deal – the shit. As I stood on the Tarmac with a 50 pound Kevlar vest and helmet on waiting to board a cargo plane to Kandahar, I  asked our escort Danielle if this was really going to happen. “Am I really going to fucking Afghanistan right now?” I thought of Max Fischer in Rushmore naively asking Bill Murray during a wrestling meet “So you were in Vietnam? Yeah. Were you in the shit? Yeah, I was in the shit.” I, like Private Joker was about to be in a “world of shit.”

Let me preface this by saying I’ve never wanted to go to Afghanistan. I’m not some adrenaline junky looking for kicks. Believe me, being a comic is terrifying and emotionally damaging enough. For the record, I did this because I am extremely patriotic. As an immigrant myself, I believe in giving back to the country that gave my family so much. It’s a mitzvah and my civic duty as an American to do this. The way I see it, I’m lucky. If I was going to experience war first hand, going as a tourist is the best way. Sure you have to wear a helmet and a fucking 50 pound Kevlar vest everywhere, but it’s only for two weeks and you won’t come home in a body bag.  Others who experience this war aren’t so lucky.  I was just a grumpy tourist.

I’ve been home for over a week now and every night I dream about Afghanistan.  Even though I was only there for 2 weeks, the experience will forever be burned into my memory. I think I understand why veterans can’t sleep after being in war and hate civilian life when they return. You can’t un-see the horrible shit you saw. Or un-experience the awful experiences you had. Civilian life seems mundane when you had bullets whizzing past your head every night as you slept in a ditch. Again, I just had the tip. The military gets the whole 6 inches in their ass, daily. I dream every night about the dust, the heat, the smell. The awful food in prepackaged brown pouches.  I dream about Camp  Leatherneck in the Helmend Province.  About the little Afghan boy in the ICU with burns on his arms and legs, groaning and crying in agony alone with no parents to comfort him. The British and American soldiers with shrapnel in their bodies and faces from stepping on a Taliban made IED (Improvised Explosive Device). The skinny, dark brown Taliban POW being lead to a helicopter with his hands tied before him, wearing ominous blinding goggles.  I wanted to take his photo, but some commander yelled at me, rambling about the “Geneva Convention and human rights”..blah blah blah. And then there’s the smell. Oh, the smell. Let’s start there.

Did you know that when you’re in war, there’s no time to build a proper sanitation system for soldiers on a base? Every base is a mini-city complete with food and drinkable water and sanitation. But let’s say the mini-city is just being built. How do you think they get rid of all the pee pee and poo poo made by troops? Well, they burn it. In Vietnam they used to put all the excrement into a steel drum, pour diesel fuel on it and mix it up. Nowadays, bases use a more sanitary means – the WAG bag.

Yes, a WAG bag. I had a marine holding a rifle show me how to use this. Put the plastic baggie over makeshift toilet. Do your business, pour powder into business then carry bag of waste over to fire area. I threw my bag of shit onto a burning mound of other people’s shit. Talk about a game changer. I don’t think you’ve lived until you’ve thrown your own bag of shit onto a pile of other people’s burning shit. P.S. Ever smelled burning shit? It’s a distinct aroma. A mix between a home perm kit and sweet BBQ.  This smell will stay burned into my sense memory forever. I think this is why war is referred to as “being in the shit.” You literally are breathing shit, throwing shit and are surrounded by shit all the time. For a realistic look at the war in Afghanistan I recommend the documentary“Restrepo”. It’s on Netflix.

That’s where you throw your shit bag.

We were based in camp Leatherneck and every day flew to different FOB’s (Forward Operating Bases). Some were so remote that only a few marines stayed there, shitting into WAG bags, eating frozen ham and cheese sandwiches. These men and women were deployed usually for 9 months at a time. That’s 9 solid months of breathing shit air in 120 degree weather, not taking a decent shower or eating decent food, away from loved ones and dealing with the Taliban.  And boy those Taliban are rotten apples.

On a positive note, I hear it isn’t ALL bad for women…When you fly over Afghanistan, all you see are hut looking houses, sometimes with a massive wall around the house. This is done when a man loves his wife very much and allows her to work in the yard without her Burkah on. Awwwww, sweetie you shouldn’t have.

There are no women’s rights in Afghanistan. If a woman speaks to another man without her husband’s permission, her nose may be cut off. The Taliban have been known to throw acid on girls and women who “get out of line” by doing things like attending school or working. It’s an all around bad place for us with ovaries, but believe it or not the USA does shit to help. We, unlike the Soviets who just bomb stuff then leave, attempt to improve and give back to the countries we bomb the shit out of. We build schools for the Afghans, roads, train their military and pump millions of dollars into their economy. My hope is that one day Afghanistan will be a better place for its citizens. For now,  Kabul is the only place that resembles society, but the rest is literally living in the year 1390. No really, it is the year 1390 in Afghanistan because they don’t follow the Christian calendar. Pinky swear.

I’m hopeful, but not delusional that Afghanistan will one day be inhabitable. There are people way smarter than me trying to figure out what to do with that country. As a comedian, I have no intelligent opinion on the matter of why we are there or what we should do.  But I can say that I admire the Americans who fight these shitty wars. Most of them I found were very optimistic and idealistic people. They love their country and believe in protecting it. And that I can dig. These people deserve ticker tape parades and free handjobs for the rest of their lives for the work they do.

So today, on the fourth of July I celebrate this great motherfucking country and the women and men who serve it bravely and tirelessly. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing a job I am far too chickenshit to ever do.

Afghanistan, I hope to never see you again. But as a member of this planet and human race I wish you all the best.