Morning coffee has been a fixture in my life for long enough now that times without it seem hard to recall, though in truth they aren't if I try. Before coffee it was (and to be honest, sometimes still is) a bowl of some kind of bright, crunchy, wholly artificial breakfast cereal.
Then, as now, people who share any decent number of mornings with me know to let me have my breakfast, whatever it might be, in peace. I am not anything near what you might call personable after waking, regardless of what time it is or for how long I slept.
It's not a matter of simply sucking it down to get caffeine into a badly tolerant system - if that were the case, two No-Doz would be both cheaper and more efficient. It's a ritual to greet the day, to gather my thoughts and anchor my attitude to neutral. Wipe away the bad dreams and focus on whatever the day needs, whether that means going over my notes again for the Big Test, or cruising the latest INTSUM, or going through the newsfeeds I subscribe to.
One brutally cold morning in Trashcanistan, the weather and DUSTWUN status of my green fuzzy not helping my attitude, I rolled into the hooch to find that the keyboard on "my" computer was being used as some sort of impromptu inbox. I had claimed that particular computer as "mine" weeks earlier, meaning that in the ebb and flow of bodies in the round-the-clock cycle of wake up/gear up/roll out/postmission/sleep, during the start of my daily pulse, nobody else had better sit in "my" chair. So the paper on the keyboard was most certainly meant for me.
I started the jetboil and carefully measured out a dose of the good coffee that I kept hidden behind a set of outdated technical manuals for equipment that was no longer in use. I briefly considered having a smoke while the aging coil heated, but the sneaky glances from a couple of guys with instant oatmeal packets made me guard the kettle until it was hot enough to brew coffee.
Five minutes later I was staring at a printout from some kind of Internet-based newspaper and a newspaper clipping from a private newspaper in Kabul.
A beleaguered "...the fuck is this?" was all I could manage, addressing the collective. "Don't fuck with me right now. Ya'll know better."
"Nobody's fucking with you, it's good. Trust me. Drink your coffee and read it. It's not work or bad."
Still suspicious, I picked the papers up. The printed article was some sort of Clinton-era screed reporting on the "yankee oppressors" in Puerto Rico, centered mostly on anger at the US military presence there, and particularly one of the bombing ranges used for gun and bomb practice for fighter pilots. It covered the riots and hunger strikes that went down after a civilian who had wandered into the clearly marked and active bombing range got blown up.
The Kabul paper was only a week old, but damn near a mirror image. Most people don't realize it, but there are several vast swaths of the Afghan desert that are marked as training ranges for artillery and aircraft munitions. See, our standards are so high that pilots need to keep training constantly, even while they're at war. These ranges are the parts of the desert that nothing but bacteria and lichen live in, and even then only during the three week wet season. They are cordoned off with ten foot fences and clearly marked in six languages every 100 feet. This should be a foolproof situation - an area full of explosions, fenced off, and with copious warnings in every language of the region.
But, there's no such thing as foolproof, particularly in a country full of illiterate fools.
Someone had written in orange gel pen on the Internet printout, "can't seem to quit blowing up brown people, even by accident, even on American soil"; and on the Kabul paper clipping, the same hand had written "seriously we've blown up thousands of houses and they get mad about THIS? ?"
I was about to fold them up and keep them when one of the guys said "Nono, we need those to show other people, but you can have this."
They handed me a tiny patch, obviously made at one of the local shops. It was cheap brown canvas with white stitching, and said ينقِي وپرسر.
The patch got hot-glued to my coffee mug, and I never said "good morning" again for the rest of the rotation. It took me a solid week to be able to keep a straight face when I used its replacement, and quite a bit longer than that for some of the higher-ups to get used to it:
"Yanqui oppressor go home!"