Monthly Archives: April 2009

Goodness, Grandma, What Big Planes You Have

Since I have some responsibilities in the area of airfield infrastructure, my education continued yesterday with observation of some unloading operations. Now, when the Navy loads groceries on a ship heading for sea, the truck comes to the pierside, a forklight lowers the pallets down to the pier, someone breaks open the pallets, and a human chain passes the cartons, one by one, up the gangplank and down to the food storage areas.

No such primitive and inefficient goings-on here, of course. This was a cargo-configured 747 coming in from Dubai; they had a cargo handler that took two triple-stacked pallets at a time, lowering with a scissors jack, and they managed to fill six flatbeds in about 20 minutes, once the bird was on the ramp and the doors were open.

Meanwhile, one of those gi-normous Russian surplus cargo planes rolled by. It was a very impressive evening!

Desert? What Desert?

The weather here changes. It changes from sunny to sunny. It changes from still to breezy to windy to battern down the hatches. It changes from clear to overcast. It changes from dry to humid. The mornings are quite fine: clear blue sky (no dust yet), cooler and sunny – almost feels like an early fall day.

Yesterday afternoon I saw my first sandstorm. I was in the office, minding my own business, when I realized the light coming through the window had taken on an odd orangish cast. Then the buildings across the way started fading away, not unlike a Bainbridge fog but much much yellower. About that time one of my teammates came roaring in, muttering about how he’d foolishly left his dorm-room window open. A half-hour later, it had passed and things returned to their normal dusty selves.

Oh That’s Why They Call it an Air Field

Continued with administrative settling in and orientation here at KAF today. By mid-afternoon I was able to get my badge and access credentials from the security office, which also entailed recovering my passport. That’s twice this trip I’ve been separated from my passport (once when I had to send it off with the visa application) – and I must tell you, I really feel a bit helpless/vulnerable/constrained without having it in hand.

Once I had my badge in hand, it was permitted for one of my teammates to take me on a tour of the flight line. There is certainly the odd assortment of things-with-wings around here. For starters, the original civilian air terminal is open again, and receives 2-3 civilian flights per week; one came in while I was watching yesterday. Of course there’s airlift, and I was greeted with a glimpse of home on the tail of one of those: the heavy lift air wings can now put a “home field stripe” on their tail, and one from McChord was bright green (same color as state flag) with the outline of Mount Rainier. Also a varied assortment of helocopters and fixed-wing aircraft from many different nations. Being a salt-water type, this was all rather new and interesting.

Down the Rabbit Hole (19 April)

A colleague of mine who recently returned from an assignment in Kandahar described it as “the total reverse of Bainbridge Island” and I think he’s hit the nail on the head. After packing and hotting the hotel breakfast buffet one last time (congee bar! five kinds of smoked fish! six kinds of fresh fruit juices!) I transferred over to the charter/air freight terminal (waving to my friends the FedEx and Brown planes) and after a suitable wait, we all boarded a recycled DC-9 for the two-hour flight to Kandahar.

I noticed some surprising swaths of green sprouts as we started our descent – I’m told those are the poppy fields. There was quite a lot of this crop coming up, whatever it was.

Kandahar is best described as a dusty anthill: much activity and much dust! But the quarters and the offices are reasonably clean, the people are friendly, and I’m still hunting for coathangers.

Last Night in Port (18 April)

Today was a day of rest. Turns out, in the multi-cultural Middle East, the weekend can be a long one: Muslims observe Friday, Jews observe Saturday, and Christians observe Sunday. Add in Thursday as the day before, and can be difficult to schedule meetings!

At any rate, took a day of rest. For breakfast I scouted the hotel buffet and settled on the scrambled eggs with salmon, served with bacon and hash browns. Fresh croissants on the side. Oh, upon entering the restaurant, the hostess greeted me with an offer of an eye-opener. They do this every day: offer a choice of two custom juice blends, in a shot glass, as you enter. I think today’s was fresh pineapple, ginger and mint. I read for a while outside, trying to be a good de-jet-lagger by getting morning natural sun, before it just got too bright and hot. Lunch was a Vietnamese shrimp salad — served on a bed of slaw made from cabbage, seedless cucumber and tomatoes, in a piquant vinagrette. Very good hot weather stuff, I’ll have to try making something like that when I get home. Dinner was … well, fantastic …

At sea, of course, there is the tradition of the “last night at sea” dinner. So I made this a “last night in port” dinner instead. One does need to make one’s own traditions, doesn’t one? I selected the French restaurant, and sat outside on the lanai (I’m sure the emiratis call it something else) on canvas covered cushions in a rattan chair, with a canvas marquee overhead, and a lovely soft evening breeze. First the server brought out an amuse-bouche: three little bites, each different, on toast (pate, aspic, and smoked salmon). For a main course I ordered halibut, pan seared with Noicoise vegetables (hand carved!) on the side, sauced with a crab reduction “prepared like a soup”. For dessert, the label said pineapple beignets, but I think Pineapple fritter is more accurate (the fresh fruit was encased in a batter, not a yeast dough), served with pasionfruit sauce and pinacolada sorbet. An absolute delightful way to end my stopover in Dubai.

Midnight at the Oasis (17 April)

It’s Friday here, the Muslim Sabbath. This is a large hotel with many restaurants – I selected a Lebanese one for my “Sunday dinner”. Of course I had the place to myself – they opened for lunch at 12:30. So the chef comes out to explain the menu in English, and I end up splurging on the set dinner. What a fabulous feast! Now, mind you, I’m sitting at a table for six. They bring out enough little dishes to cover the table – a very interesting cold spread first. There was a dish of assorted vegetable pickles (olives, peppers, eggplant, turnip), a tossed salad in vinagrette (greens, seedless cukes, tomatoes, red onion), a cold salad of fried cauliflower with fresh tomatoes and mint, a cream cheese with yogurt and herbs dip, stuffed grape leaves, a mashed potato salad, an eggplant dip, a hummous dip, and very fresh hot pitas straight from the oven. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. Then several small hot plates were brought out, and I am less successful in identifying the ingredients of these. There was a dish that looked like long olives, but was a type of meatball. There was a spiced ground meat mixture encased in batter and fried; there was a cheese mixture wrapped in phyllo as if it were an egg roll and fried; and a meat mixture encased in a yeast dough and baked. Now the platter with the main course comes out: this is grilled brochettes of chicken, of beef, and of ground lamb, served with a fluffy pile of fresh green herbs. For dessert, a fruit platter (cantaloup, watermelon, pineapple, kiwi fruit, and a fresh lychee) served with two plates I could not identify at all. One was small rollups of something like a stiff milk pudding , filled with a ricotta mix. The other was like a milk pudding or blancmange. Both were soft, light, chilled, innocuously sweet, and went very nicely with the fresh fruit. And after, mint tea, of course! Quite a feast, there was enough to have fed four I’m sure. But I got many tastes of many different things over the course of my leisurely two hours. A very nice treat for the traveler!

On the Road (16-17 April)

I reached Dubai after a 9-hour flight overnight from Seattle, a four-hour layover at London Heathrow, and a 7-hour flight overnight out of London. All flights on British Air’s Boeing 777’s, which were pretty comfortable and had capable, friendly cabin staff. Amenities included a tasty (yes, really) hot dinner, cold light breakfast, and that really great entertainment system: your choice of 18 movies. Watched Inkheart and Quantum of Solace out of Seattle, and coming out of London they had a different set, so I watched Frost/Nixon and Slumdog Millionnaire. So it is recent, quality stuff. All flights ran according to Hoyle.

We came into and out of London Heathrow’s new Terminal 5; this is the soaring new ediface. Like most works of man, however, it has a few feet of clay. Just opened, it’s already oversubscribed (gee, I hope they’re planning Terminal 6 already), so we parked out at a remote stand and took a 15-minue standing-room bus ride to the terminal. They divided the transitting international passengers out (those not clearing UK entry) and sent us to security screening straightaway, so I lost my American water bottle. It did work much faster than the old Terminal 1 to Terminal 4 transfers, though. The main Terminal 5 area has the familiar Heathrow feel: lots of shopping, wait in several large sitting areas until your flight gets a gate identified, then head toward the gate.

I had four hours, so I tried to take best advantage. One of the available eateries (there did seem to be more, and larger, eateries than the old terminal) was a “Gordon Ramsey Plane Food”. Many of you know I am a Gordo fan, so I absolutely had to give this a try. What a restorative experience! I ordered a smoked salmon appetizer (sliced thinly, garnished with a honey mustard drizzle and served with green beans in vinagrette) and a luncheon portion of a pasta dish (orichette with wild mushroom sauce). Just … perfection!

The flight out of London was perhaps one-quarter full, unlike the full flight out of Seattle. We arrived at Dubai airport just before dawn local time, and the temperature was already 27 C (online conversion here). I’m staying at a very nice hotel close to the airport, Le Meridien. I knew I was in trouble when my hotel guide pointed out the lobby bar and said Happy Hour was from 7 to 8. No one eats as early as Americans!