One of the less thought about, yet still interesting parts of a deployment is the opportunity to experience a different landscape as well as those animals that are indigenous to the land. At times, those encounters with new animals can be entertaining and at other times it can be quite dangerous. Many who know of my trip to Afghanistan last year will recall my encounter with a sand viper one evening where he was not too fond to see me.
Fortunately, I have not had such an encounter this time, although I have still had occasion to meet a few animals here in Afghanistan. Located very close to the main entrance of the Kandahar Airfield is the compound that houses many of the interpreters that we use when communicating with members of the ANA or with local nationals. The entrance to the compound is very narrow and driving in can be quite a squeeze. One must negotiate the turn and the barriers at a very slow speed, otherwise you simply will be unable to make the turn and guide your vehicle through the barriers.
Located right at the entrance is a pet that the interpreters love to play with - a monkey on a chain. He has become a bit of celebrity as foreign military personnel love to drive by and snap a few photos or provide the monkey with a bit of food. I am sure the monkey - who of course remains without a name - loves the attention. But, he has become quite friendly and will even seek out food from the vehicles uninvited as they pass by at the required slow speed to make the turn into the compound.
Although I am a lover of most animals, the monkey and I are not good friends. Each day, without fail when I come to the compound, the monkey will jump from his spot on the top of one of the barriers onto my vehicle. As I drive by, he scampers along the hood, up the windshield to the roof and then finally back to his spot on the barrier once the vehicle has passed and his chain won't allow him to ride any further. On several occasions he has stood on the side mirrors and has reached inside the vehicle, no doubt to inquire about a free handout.
Most times I am prepared. I make sure my windows are rolled up and I will watch out for him in order to avoid any surprises that he may have in store. However, watching out for monkeys does not top my list of priorities in Afghanistan and admittedly there are those times when he has caught me with my guard down. In a country where the heat inside a vehicle with all the windows rolled up can be quite stifling, there have been times when I simply forgot to keep the windows up as I pass by. This is his invitation. Sadly, on one such occasion as I drove by at the usual slow speed with my window completely rolled down, the ever-friendly monkey on a chain jumped from his spot on the barrier right into my lap. Even should one expect a monkey to jump into your lap, it can be quite an experience. The shock is multiplied when you do not expect it. But what can one do with a monkey on your lap while still trying to operate a moving vehicle. You jump and hope that he doesn't bite. But jumping only seems to get him more excited. In fact, I even think he enjoyed the whole experience. It must be the shock factor. Sadly to say, his trip inside my vehicle turned out to be unproductive as I didn't have any treats for him and he eventually retreated. However, the monkey and I have reached a common understanding since that day. He is more than welcome to pounce on the vehicle and explore the outside all he wants. In exchange for staying out of the car, I will occasionally bring him a banana or two and throw them ever so gently in his direction from the tiny crack in my window as I drive by. Since we have come to such an understanding we have become the best of friends - my little monkey on a chain.