22 Feb 2007
(Written while listening to Drunken Lullabies and Swagger, by Flogging Molly)
Back at the airport today. Here's the National Airlines of Afghanistan.
I’ve reached 300 pages of writing (in Microsoft Word, 12 pt, Times New Roman, single spaced)! I deserve a drink. Where’s my ice tea mix?
Doug Templeton (fellow Captain and hut mate) is going to start writing a daily post that will be read on a radio station in his home town. I’ve read the first two, and insisted he allow me to post them here also. So after I’ve had my say, you will get the added bonus of reading Doug’s thoughts too. Doug has also been bitten by the writing bug. He has a second post up on The Sandbox. Now we are putting pressure on Mike to write something. Soon we’ll be running our own public affairs office out of our hut. We’ll call it the “West Berlin Public Affairs Office.” You’ll need to read my old posts to understand the West Berlin part.
Here’s the second part of my conversation with Hamid from yesterday. I continue to learn more and more, not all of it good. Despite this, Hamid is my friend. His world is stunningly different from mine, and sometimes the realization is jarring. If you’ve read the comments on my last post on The Sandbox, you’ll see that some people are wondering why we are over here supporting a government made up of people with such beliefs. The political and security issues aside, simply working with Afghans and sharing ideas is a good thing. No, they aren’t all going to suddenly change overnight, but perhaps Hamid will treat his wife more humanely (once he gets married) due to our conversations. Ideas and free thought are fantastic. That’s why the Taliban shut off all communication with the outside world. They didn’t want their people exposed to other ideas. Anyhow, here’s how the rest of our conversation went.
After our discussion about children, I was pretty worn out. I looked back down at the Stars and Stripes, and saw an article about raids in Kabul on a bunch of drinking establishments in Kabul. I asked Hamid if he had heard about this.
“Oh, yes, they are usually Chinese restaurants”
“So the Chinese restaurants serve alcohol?”
Hamid nodded. “Oh yes, and they have prostitutes too.”
“What?” I exclaimed.
“Yes, they come over here with Chinese women, and have food, but you can also spend time with the woman. It costs $60 for a half-hour.”
Hamid is full of surprises. “How would you know that?” I asked.
“The soldiers talk about this all the time. Many of them go.”
“You’re kidding. Isn’t it bad for them to go to a prostitute?”
“Oh, no, it’s fine,” he assured me.
I was incredulous. “So Islam allows them to go to prostitutes?”
“No, Islam does not. I mean the government doesn’t care,” he corrected me.
This of course didn’t jive with the newspaper article. As best as I can figure it, once in a while the government raids the houses of ill repute to keep the hardliners happy. But apparently it’s not a big deal to get into these places. Where soldiers get the money is another question. $60 is a lot of dough. But Hamid has an apparently encyclopedic knowledge of the dark underbelly of Kabul. I will spare you the details.
I went back to the paper, and turned the page. There was a large photo of the profile of an older black man with a beard. Hamid asked me who was in the photo. I scanned quickly and explained, “This is an article about gays and lesbians in the movie business. It says that audiences don’t seem to care so much whether they are homosexuals, but the movie industry doesn’t like to use them in movies.”
I might as well have lit the fuse to a big barrel of TNT. Hamid did not disappoint me.
“But he is old,” he exclaimed, looking confused.
“So what?” I said, just as confused.
“When people get old, they turn to God, because they know they will die soon.”
“So what?” I asked again, doing my best impersonation of a broken record player.
“But he should not be gay if he is old. He should be turning to God.”
“Hamid, he doesn’t think he is sinning or doing anything wrong. He just likes men rather than women.”
“So he doesn’t believe in God?” Hamid asked, trying to grasp the concept of an older gay man.
“I don’t know if he does or not. Plenty of homosexuals believe in God. They just don’t believe in your God.” I could tell his brain was turning into Jell-O.
“So are there gay Muslims in America?”
“I have no idea. I know there are many gays that call themselves Christians, even though conservative Christians who take the Bible literally say homosexuality is a sin and God hates it. Yet there are many people who believe that older parts of the Bible don’t apply today, so the verses that forbid homosexuality don’t apply now. There may be Muslims in America who believe that about the Qu’ran too.”
Hamid shook his head. “No, that’s not right. Men should not be gay. Now when they are young, they don’t take their religion seriously, and they may try this, but when they get older, they reject it and turn to God.”
I pulled my hair out a little more. “Hamid, that is what you believe, but many people believe very different things. You know that is what America is like.”
“But still,” he protested, “they should change when they get older.”
“Hamid, when you get older, do you think you could suddenly decide you liked men rather than women?”
“Oh, no, of course not.”
“So why do you think they can? I’m not an expert on why some people are gay, but I doubt they just decide to be gay. Even though it is not illegal in America, there are many people who hate gays, and even more who think it is a sin against God. Sometimes people beat gays up, just because they are gay. Sometimes they are murdered for it. Why would anyone choose to be gay when your life would be so much harder? Just like you and I are attracted to women, others are attracted to people of the same sex. I don’t know why, but I really doubt it’s by choice. It’s just the way you are. They certainly don’t think they need to change. It would be like saying you should become a woman, because it’s a sin to be a man. Would you wish to become a woman? Could you?”
He heard the words, but I don’t think they made any sense to him.
“I’ve heard that in Canada, gays can get married. Is this true?” he inquired.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Why would they want to get married? They can’t have children.”
Here we go again. Hamid believed the only purpose of marriage was to have as many kids as possible. Have I ever mentioned Afghanistan has the highest birthrate per capita in the world? I think I now know why.
I explained that if two people love each other, even two gay people, they would naturally want to get married if they loved each other. I also explained that spouses got other benefits, like medical coverage, and that was another reason for wanting to get married.
“But they can’t have kids,” he protested again.
“Look, I keep telling you that in America, people don’t get married just to have kids. Many couples choose to never have kids, because they just want to be together, just the two of them. Besides, they could adopt children if they wanted to.”
Hamid then decided to put his foot even further in his mouth. “But they would not really be your children.”
I gave him the stern look again. “My brother was adopted. Are you saying he wasn’t really my brother?”
Oh, what an awkward silence ensued. He finally looked down at the table. “Of course he is your brother.”
I eased up a bit. “I know what you are trying to say, but there are many children without parents, and many people adopt. Don’t ever say they aren’t really their children. It’s not the blood relation that matters, it’s the love given that makes them your children.”
“But I don’t understand how a woman can make another woman happy in bed. Or a man make a man happy.”
Terrific. How did I know we’d end up here? “Hamid, you don’t know anything about sex, do you?”
“Do you want me to explain it to you?”
“Right here? Right now?” I looked around to make sure no one would be listening in.
So I had to explain, in detail, (with tactfulness, of course) the intricacies of lovemaking to a twenty-seven year old whose total knowledge came from the snickering coarse talk of the soldiers, not to mention the marines he used to work for. I wasn’t at all embarrassed by this, as he certainly needed to know what was what. He really knew next to nothing. I guess it’s not that important when you look at women as nothing but baby factories. I’m fairly certain you can’t go down to the bookstore and buy “The Joy of Sex” translated into Dari. Sex counselor wasn’t in my job description.
The William Arkin Obscene Amenity of the Day (named for William Arkin, my favorite blogger filled with a seething hatred of the military)
Cris D provides today’s obscene amenity, with a big thanks to her husband for the photo. I thought our latrine trailers were nice, but this converted conex/latrine is just too cool. I am envious. And let’s hope that Mr. Arkin sees this. I suspect this conex cost a bundle. What a waste of taxpayer dollars. Anyhow, here’s Cris:
Here is a high class powder room for all those ladies who decided to vacation in Kabul this year. Not a bad walk from your hut, whoops I mean your 5-star accommodations - in the sun. But just wait until the snow lays thick on the ground.
Care Package: Rosemary Welch’s package of goodies, including lots of candy bars for the pumpkin, arrived today. Thanks, Rosemary!
Five Seconds of Fame:
No one got the quote, though two people said it came from one of the “Chucky” movies. This may be true, but it’s not the movie I’m thinking of. I’ll leave it up one more day. I’ll give a hint or two. It’s a horror movie, and the speaker is quite well-known in horror circles. An etra 30 seconds of fame for the winner!
Quote of the Day:
“Time to play.” (one last chance)
Four out of five dentists surveyed said today was a great day.
And Now a Word from the Other Doug: (yet another new daily feature!)
Today was a normal day going outside the wire to where I work and spending my day mentoring the Afghan National Army. The weather as of late has been pretty poor with snow off and on and everything is wet and MUDDY. The roads around here are so bad we nick-named one spot in the road Volkswagen. The pothole is so big you could park one in it. We are preparing for a spring offensive by the Taliban which means when the weather clears things will start blowing up again around here. We are extremely vigilant as we travel, and for the past 9 months it has served us well. We try to blend into the population, however, as we drive down the roads everyone seems to wave and give us the thumbs up so I guess we are somewhat noticeable. We have had a couple of close calls, but the trigger man seemed to be late and we were out of range before the explosion. I should also mention I travel a lot doing training out at remote Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) and so far I have survived 14 rocket and mortar attacks. Funny thing is after a while they start to become a common thing and after a while you react to it and then move on as if it were nothing. As my brother would say "and this is normal to you?" Sadly yes, you come to the realization that if its your time then there is really nothing you can do. You probably won't see it coming anyway, so no sense in dwelling on it. We have a mission and no matter what we will get it done. The Afghans we work with are very protective of us as well. They have become friends and brothers and we have deep appreciation of their struggle. They do appreciate our help and they are making progress. It takes time though; it took America 11 years to come up with a constitution after defeating the British. They already have one after 5 years, now they just have to protect it. The real change though is not going to happen until the younger generations age. The twenty-somethings will make the real strides. They are the ones we need to reach and we are doing more and more of that. They have to act quickly though since the average life expectancy is only 48, but that should improve as well. The people want change and they want peace. We are not just here building an army we are building a nation.
Well, there is some background info. Also if you have any questions, please feel free to email and I will do my best to answer. I think it’s important that people know what we are doing here. The press usually only talks about Iraq; I guess it’s a sexier war, but more progress is happening here and nobody seems to know about it.
A War of Words
One of the hardest things we had to adjust to when we arrived here was the language barrier. Very few of the members of the Afghan Army speak English and we have had only a cursory course in Dari, which is the national language of Afghanistan. So we depend on our interpreters to bridge the gap. These are young men usually between the age of 19 and 25 who have been hired by the government and they are paid about $700 to $800 dollars a month for their service. It sounds like a small amount, but most of the country is in abject poverty, so it works out to a middle class income. They do this for us at great risk since there is a bounty on their heads by the Taliban, and from time to time they have been kidnapped and even killed. A lot of them do not even tell their families this is what they do for a living because of the risk. I have had many deep meaningful conversations with them, and they are firm believers in a better Afghanistan and they want to do their part to help, and this is one way to do it and be able to support their families as well. The Taliban spends its time telling the population that we are here as an occupying army. This is easy for some to believe since they are largely uneducated and illiterate (another product of the Taliban government). Our interpreters spend a great deal of time trying to break this thought process, but they have to do it in a covert manner. These are some of the youth I spoke of earlier...the ones to make change. They have taken an active approach, and if more would do this there would no longer be a safe haven for these terrorists to launch their attacks. It is amazing to me, this power of information. I see it in the way the main-stream media shapes public opinion in the US and how foreign governments use it to control people. I guess this is why I have decided to get our story out. I want people to know there is hope and there is progress being made, and that we as a nation can be proud of our troops for what they have and continue to accomplish. The military is a tool of diplomacy but we need to be separated from the politics that wield that tool. We are well trained, in most cases well equipped and we know what we're doing. We don't know how to fail, it's what we learn as Americans and we will not fail here. Thank you to everyone for your continued support, and I hope to see you when I finally come home at the end of my year tour.
Capt Doug Templeton, USAF
Afghan National Army
Embedded Trainer, Afghanistan