Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Forgotten War:

Now I Find Myself Waiting

This morning I heard the news:

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – One U.S. service member and one Afghan local national employed by the Coalition were killed and another two U.S. service members were injured Wednesday when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in eastern Afghanistan.

I have a friend who is an "Afghan local national" that works as an interpreter for our forces whom I met via chat through a mutual acquaintance there who I speak very little about on this website because I feared disclosing too much information that might lead to his identification and thus endanger him.

We speak of little things like how many magazines are now printed in Afghanistan. He told me that he could go to a news stand and count at least 50 in different languages including women's magazines on fashion, clothing and food, though he said 90% are political. He told me that the men he worked with (US soldiers) had given him dirty magazines to look at and taught him some inappropriate phrases, which I helpfully reminded him would not be appropriate to use in front of or to women, though I am sure he already knew that he should not speak so in front of his mother.

I was laughing later thinking that this is, after all, one of the things that does not change when we go to war. Wherever an American soldier goes, so you will find him sharing his culture in the way that soldiers know best how to do.

We spoke in general that he wants to come to the United States and open a business. He already had a supply line set up and waiting, but he had to save money and wait to get a visa which is not easy, even for a man working with the coalition. He thinks he will only be safe if he leaves there and it is probably true, though he also said that there are many like him who must stay so if he must he would find away to keep working with the government since it may be the only way he will ever be safe.

Several times he said to me that he was a marked man and that he did not go home regularly because he did not want people to know who his family was or where he lived since it made them marked, too. I suppose it is these conversations, though I knew little what to reply accept that he should be careful then and always vary the way he went home, which make me understand war from outside the position of an American or even a supporter of our troops reading blogs and news reports.

My friend despised the Taliban, but feared sometimes that his country beyond the progress of Kabul would be forever plagued by the affliction not because all of Afghanistan was ideologically radicalized or even "Islamic", but because, as in many places, these people were simple people trying to eek out a living, with little education and with little opportunity to go beyond their ancestoral lands so they would deal with whomever came in strength in order to survive. He said that there was little Afghan nationality nor national pride, that it had been beaten from them in 25 years of war.

I've thought that about Iraq as well and something we should always understand in all future wars with small, failed states, that national pride is not created simply by borders or government, but is created over years and requires the ability to simultaneously create a new way forward while accepting all things that have come in the past to create it. It's a very long process which I suppose means that if we are to deny territory to those ideological radicals it means that wherever we go, we must be prepared to stay a long time and support them for a long time lest we find ourselves returning again.

I believe our little conversations may have helped him improve his english beyond the phrases that the soldiers taught him. I found myself explaining slang terms to him that I never realized before were slang at all. Those little cliches that we sprinkle in our conversations which we in our every day lives pay little attention to are quite confusing to English as a second language speakers.

I suppose that I should tell the funny part of our conversation because our mutual friend was teasing him about finding him a girlfriend and he was worried when we first spoke that his friend was trying to set him up. Of course, I am 14 years his senior so I assured him that was not the case that our friend simply provided a person as a pen-pal since he knew that our Afghan friend was largely cut off from his friends and family due to his occupation. He then told me that in Afghanistan, the age of the woman and man did not matter and that many men his age had married older women. He said that the concern over such age differences was strictly a western occupation.

Of course, in a world of tribal relations and marriages for dowry and property, like the old European fuedal system, that would be correct. It is amazing the little things you learn that you take foregranted as common social behavior which has no bearing in a land far away.

Still, I was nervous and wanted to make sure that my friend understood I was only a friend. I was even more nervous when he asked several times if I had a boyfriend because he was sure that, if I had a boyfriend, I would not be allowed to write him. I was hard pressed how to explain firmly that we were simply friends while at the same time assuring him that a boyfriend on my part would not change my mind about writing to him. I think that is another cultural difference. Then again, maybe he understood relationships between men and women better than my own illusions of independence? In either case, we got that sorted out without trampling too much on each others feelings or destroying a fragile friendship.

He had no girlfriend (he explained that no matter how much western influence they imbibed, any such prospects were extremely limited in their culture and would likely result in him getting his butt kicked if not worse) and he had no girl which he wanted to court. He did not want to marry an Afghan girl I think because he felt that doing so meant that he had given up his dream of leaving there.

You see, contrary to popular belief, in many places, America is still the land of dreams.

I last heard from my friend on Christmas Eve when he wrote to wish me Merry Christmas and told me that he had received some small gifts from the men that he worked with. I wished him Merry Christmas and Happy New Years in return.

This morning I heard the news that an "Afghan local national" had been killed along with a Coalition soldier which I knew meant a US soldier and my heart skipped a beat. They never say the Afghan's name and I only hear from my friend every few weeks while he is out on patrols or operations.

Now I find myself waiting like many others must wait to hear from my friend again.

I do not write about Afghanistan often, but it is not a forgotten war here.

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