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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lunch with the Locals

This email was reprinted with Tyler's permission.

30 Nov 2010

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well today is the last day of November for us here in Afghanistan, which is really exciting for me because my leave date is in January.  This means that since tomorrow is officially December, I can now say that I come home on leave next month.  It also means that I can say we’ve been here since October, November and NOW December.  I realize this seems very obvious and unimpressive, but when you think of home, and your loved ones EVERYDAY, being in your ‘third month’ is a seemingly big deal.

This past week I had a few new things to experience and make the time go by a little quicker.  One was an overwatch guard duty on the top of the mountain on our fob, and the other was lunch with a couple officers from one of the Afghan security agencies here.

When I think of going to lunch back home maybe I meet somebody at an Olive Garden or another similar establishment, however here it means stepping through a couple gates, downgrading about 60 pounds of armor and ammunition, and possibly your boots.  Now instead of walking back past a kitchen to wash my hands, I kneel down beside the entryway to a room and rinse my hands as somebody else pours water on them.  After rinsing my hands I pass through a doorway and as a guest everyone waits for me to sit down first.  As I look around the room I am the only person with a white face, I’m the only person in a uniform, and I’m the only person other than my Afghan linguist that speaks English.  When we went through training we went through encounters and situations such as this one.  I would walk into the room and use the customary greeting, and then we would make small talk about family and home life before coming to the real purpose of the meeting.  There was always a motive behind the meetings whether it is fixing a problem in the local village, finding out how to get the local mullah or village elder on board with the coalition, or some other wild problem created to cause stress under unfamiliar circumstances.  Today there are no problems to fix, no agendas to be met and no hidden message to unravel.  Today is about friends from different cultures gathering together in an unlikely circumstance to enjoy a meal. 

The room was a small room, maybe 8 feet by 8 feet.  The walls were probably 8 feet tall, and they were painted with dull white paint, with the bottom three feet being a more dull pea green.  We sat on the floor on little mattresses, and sat cross-legged around a large place mat which was covered with flat bread, and bowls of different foods.  The bowl I am eating from has a sweet liquid in it, and has cuts of lamb and potatoes in it.  The key is to tear a small piece of the flat bread off and fold it over on itself around the juices and meats.  It’s messy if you’re not familiar with it, and funny to watch, I’m sure. 

There are about 7 other people around our ‘table’ and they were all dressed in traditional Afghan attire except for my friend <name withheld>, he is dressed in an army uniform and a scarf.  He is sitting directly to my left and as a local linguist and will be responsible for translating directly what each party says.  The attire is typically what we Americans and linguists refer to as “man jammies,” and a wool blanket wrapped around the shoulders and torso for warmth.  Each man differs widely in age, but most sport a beard.  Several men appear as though they could be as old as mid sixties and look worn from a life of dust, sand and rugged living.  After eating lunch the mood turns more relaxed and each man gets comfortable against a pillow almost lying down against a pillow.

For the most part, the conversation was each man asking me questions about my family back home, or my girlfriend.  They assume I’m married because of the ring I wear on my right ring finger and I point out the differences between my ring and a wedding ring.  I explain to them the meaning behind the ring and my commitment to my girl to whom I am not yet engaged, or married to.  I tell them of how my brother was married a mere two weeks after we departed for Afghanistan.  Then the questions change gears and they ask me things that are probably above my pay grade to answer, so I tell them that in MY OPINION ‘this or that.’  The conversation is not only one-sided, however, as I get my turn to ask a fair share of questions as well.  I convey to them that for ten years they’ve had Americans living in their back yards, driving down their streets and I was somewhat concerned before coming here that they would be tired of us being here, and that maybe we had worn out our welcome in their country as guests.  I tell them that they’d had ten years to observe our customs and the way Americans behave in their country, and that I had no such chance before meeting Afghani people for the first time.  I told them that if I were to sit a certain way, or say a certain something that was considered offensive, not to take it that way because it would be out of pure ignorance.  The answers I got were nearly astounding and completely unanticipated. 

They told me that they truly appreciated the American soldier for coming to an unknown land, to fight for an unknown people with the chance that they may never see their home again.  They told me that we are welcome to stay as long as we can because we keep the evil people at a distance, whereas before this was not the case.  Before us, war lords fought each other, and there was no law of the land.  I learned that while they appreciated us standing in defense of them as a people, building their country structures, roads and democracy that the thing they truly appreciated the most was the friendship.  One man made a point to make sure that I understood that lesson above all others.  No matter how much I come to Torkham and maintain security, no matter how much we repair roads and buildings, or put our hard sweat and blood into rebuilding a country most Iowans will never see-it’s not the physical evidence we leave behind that they appreciate the most.  The thing they appreciate the most is me.

Love,
Tyler

6 comments:

  1. I simply can't begin to imagine how cathartic it must be to Tyler to be told an entire group of people appreciate his presence in their country.

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  2. This brought tears to my eyes and also relieved the fears I have had that we are fighting for people who do not want us there. This is obviously not the case. Thank you, Tyler, for sharing your experiences, and to Nancy & Tom for sharing yours. You are making a tremendous difference to everyone's understanding of this war. You are all in our prayers.

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  3. Friendship is a good thing even a small gesture means so much. Thank you Tyler for being an American Ambassidor of friendship.

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  4. So rewarding to know that my favorite project is paying off. Thanks for the feedback!

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  5. Thank you Nancy and Tyler for letting us share your correspondence! My son is in the military and we are not sure where he will be in January. It makes me less worried when I see information like this. It makes me proud that our fine military is helping these people, even though we want so badly to have our loved ones home with us.

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  6. Gail, let me know if I can be of support in any way now or during deployment. Enjoy the holidays. Nancy

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