Monday, December 29, 2008


If I ever put my law degree to use, I will have gained valuable experience in questioning people here as conversations with the Afghans can be challenging. I used to assume the difficulties I was having getting my point across or my questions answered were due to my interpreter’s lack of command of the English language. After all, an interpreter that speaks English at a high level is not likely to be working out here with us in these living conditions (no running water, spotty electricity); he’d likely be working out of a large base or for an NGO. But I’m realizing the interpreter is not the problem because when the Afghans question me and I give them the sort of non-responsive answers they often give me, they call me on it every time, indicating they’re getting a good translation. When I'm evasive (I often am because I just don’t have answers, or I don’t want to help with a particular issue but don’t want to say so.) the Afghans will come back with a Pashtun proverb like, “I’m banging one drum and you’re banging another.” But on my end asking even the most simple, direct question like, “So what time after lunch do you want to leave on the patrol”, brought back the following response, “There are two things very important to the Afghan soldier, the dick and the stomach.” And then we all laughed and he walked out of the room. End of discussion – and I’m left with the certainty that we’ll leave when they’re ready. So they are quite the masters of the non sequitur.

But it’s not just me they mess with. We had the head honcho local tribal leader here the other day to tell us about yet more weddings (Evidently, this is the wedding season, women being “very important in the winter time to keep warm at night”) and other valley news. These types of old men typically will complain to me about an illness, ache, or pain of some kind. Usually, we give them multivitamins or some such placebo, but yesterday I just told him laughingly, “Sir, your bones hurt because you’re old and even America doesn’t have a pill to fix that.” After the translation an ANA soldier chimed in with a few words which were translated to me as: "When a Pashtun man reaches 60 years, shoot him.” Everyone laughed.

One of my favorites is when our leader will complain about the corruption of the leader of our higher headquarters. For instance, so-and-so is claiming more soldiers on the books than he has so he can keep their extra food money allocation or so-and-so is keeping too many soldiers and not sending us enough, so his men don’t have to stand post or patrol as often. I’ll reply with, “Ok, I’ll look into it, and by the way, I’m going to count the number of soldiers we have here.” His response will be a scandalous expression and words to the effect of, “What!? Count my soldiers? You don’t trust me to give you accurate numbers?” And I think to myself: so we can’t trust the other guy but we can trust you right? It’s a game, and as such I try to find the amusement in it.

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