With off-campus trips a rarity, Coish's colleagues sought to have fun within the compound. Their email inboxes filled up with announcements of upcoming diversions:
RAMBO IN AFGHANISTAN: A screening of Rambo III at the Duck and Cover. "Wear a headband for $1 off drinks."
FIRST MEETING OF THE KABUL FLY FISHING FORUM: "Preliminary research reveals there are trout fishing opportunities in Afghanistan." [Of course, no embassy staffer was allowed off the compound for a fishing trip.]
WINE & SWINE PARTY: Held at the quarters of the Marines who guarded the embassy, the festivities would begin with afternoon volleyball matches and swimming. They advertised that "North Carolina BBQ experts" would be brought in "to cook these porkers." [Apparently nobody bothered to consider the cultural offense of roasting a pig in a Muslim country.]
HOLIDAY CRAFT MAKING!: "No talent is necessary! Just come and enjoy the day with holiday crafts, music, and sweets! Please bring scissors, tape, and glue sticks if you have them."
The amusements grew tiresome after a while. Some staffers retreated to their trailers to watch movies on their laptops. Others grew homesick and despondent. The embassy health clinic doled out increasing quantities of antidepressant pills, and when a State Department psychiatrist arrived in February 2010 for a month-long visit, there was a rush to make appointments.
The most common salve, however, was booze. For those not lucky enough to be invited to a private party in one of the apartments, the Duck and Cover -- whose logo featured a duck wearing a combat helmet perched atop sandbags -- was the place to go. On Thursday nights, staffers crammed shoulder to shoulder in the pub, downing cans of Heineken, glasses of cheap Australian white wine, and bottles of hard lemonade. The place remained hopping until last call at 2 in the morning, when everyone stumbled back to his or her hooch.
But such nights were tame compared with Mardi Gras in 2010, when the embassy's social committee threw the party that almost ended all parties. Hundreds of revelers, including thick-necked security contractors, raggedy aid workers, and suit- wearing diplomats from other countries, packed into a tent next to the main embassy office building. The organizers had procured more than enough liquor, but the partygoers had access to only two restrooms. The queue for the toilets grew so long that inebriated attendees began to relieve themselves elsewhere. The deputy Turkish ambassador urinated on the wall of the chancery building. So did two American men who worked at the embassy. A female staffer pulled off her underwear and squatted on a patch of grass near the flagpole. Eikenberry couldn't do anything about the Turk, but both of the American men were sent home. When the woman was hauled into her supervisor's office the following day and told she would be disciplined, she claimed to have a small bladder and threatened to lodge an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint. She was allowed to finish her tour in Kabul. The following week, the word came down that there would be no more blow-out parties until the Marine Corps birthday ball that fall, and alcohol purchases at the embassy convenience store would be limited to two bottles of wine or one bottle of spirits per person per day.