It has been raining here for the past few days, which is actually quite welcome since it has been bone dry since we arrived 4 months ago. I had a mission scheduled but it got postponed so I have not much to do today for the first time in a long time. A good day to post a blog!
There has been pretty regular fighting between the French and the Taliban recently, but I haven’t been involved too much. We had a new soldier arrive to our base yesterday who was not able to sleep last night due to all the firing and artillery going off. That was when I realized that we’ve actually gotten used to it. As long as the firing is “outgoing” instead of “incoming”, I sleep just fine.
I’ve been talking to my interpreter lately about his attempts to get to the United States. Everyone over here would like to someday visit the United States, but people who work with US Forces probably have a better chance. My interpreter in Iraq, Walid, was able to make it to the US after a few years of trying. Anyway, I started looking into the procedures for getting a US visa for my current interpreter because he really is pretty exceptional. I was amazed at how difficult the process is…
First, to get a normal immigrant visa, you have to have a sponsor – family member or spouse – who currently lives in the US. Otherwise, you have to utilize one of the special programs. My interpreter qualifies for 2 programs. The first one is for Afghans who have worked with the US forces. There are 50 of these visas given out per year (out of the thousands and thousands of applicants throughout the country). The second is a program for locals who’s lives are in danger due to their work with the U.S. There are only 150 of these visas given out each year.
For both of these programs, there are dozens of steps to take, multiple review boards, and miles of bureaucratic red tape to cross. Even if successful, the process would take years. Of course, this is all posted on the embassy web site in English in difficult-to-follow steps. In other words, it is next to impossible for an Afghan to go to the U.S. Furthermore, in my investigation and discussion with the locals, I found out that it’s actually almost impossible for an Afghan to go to ANY other country in the world, except for Pakistan and Iran.
I’ve always taken for granted that it’s easy to go travel the world and visit any country I want. However, I’ve realized that this is a freedom that most of the world’s population doesn’t enjoy. I’m sure there are good reasons for this, but I think it should at least be easier for someone who has worked and risked his or her life for the U.S. to move there after several years of service. Like most immigrants, they would probably appreciate and take advantage of the freedoms we enjoy far more that native citizens ever would or could.
Nick mentioned the other day that he would be interested in hearing about some of the differences in thought process or worldview that Afghans have. One of the most obvious differences is actually physical. After being here for 4 months and seeing only thin people, it is quite shocking to see the news on TV about the US – everyone seems huge! I had an Afghan come up to me the other day and ask if I could give him some pills to become fat. I told him that we normally procure our fat pills at fast-food restaurants.
Aghans live very close to the earth – literally. When we have a meeting or eat a meal in traditional fashion, they always sit on cushions or rugs on the ground. The Pashtun’s loyalty is first to his family and then his tribe. They seem to enjoy fighting and they are good at it. Unlike Arabs, an Afghan will give you a firm handshake and they seem to have very a macho self-image. Where I am located, they often take justice into their own hands or let their village chief administer justice (versus the government). Their society is much as I imagine some of the warlike Native American tribes to have been like 200 years ago.
Other characteristics include being very devout Muslims and anti-government. They are quite similar with the conservative Christian right in the U.S. in that way. They share many of the same values and ideas:
- You should go to church when the doors are open
- Garbage on TV and in secular culture has a corrupting influence
- The government should stay out of their lives
- The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental human right
- Family is the most important thing after God
Whenever the big-city government here comes up with some plan to disarm the populace, give free health care, start taxes, impose a police force that is made up of non-locals, and impose a secular education on the children, I think, “there’s no way these people are going to accept this… heck, I wouldn’t accept this in my own country. No wonder these people are fighting…” We are certainly not providing them with their version of utopia.
One of the negative characteristics with many of the locals that I deal with has to do with honesty. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they all lie, but they have a different version of the truth than we do. If a local person tells me something, I can’t really take it at face value – it might be the truth, or a gross exaggeration, or it might just be plain false. If a local official wants us to build a school, for example, he might tell us that there are over 200,000 children in his village when it’s obvious that there couldn’t possibly be more than 200 children. Maybe they think if they make a wild estimate, we will adjust our own estimate up by a few hundred. Or, maybe they have no concept whatsoever of numbers. Another example might be if they tell you that security is great and they haven’t seen any Taliban in months, when I know for a fact that a rocket just flew over my head the day before from this very area. Maybe they are afraid, maybe they don’t know, or maybe they are just not telling the truth.
I don’t think they feel any obligation to tell the truth. They might make something up in their head for personal gain, because of ignorance, or simply on a whim and they will tell it to you and insist upon it like it’s God’s truth.
One telling outward difference is the difference between our greetings – this is my theory anyway: Americans, when we see someone, will wave to say “hello”. The genesis of a friendly wave, in my mind, was probably derived sometime in the distant past for showing the other person that you did not have a weapon in your hand and meant no harm. The stereotypical Indian hand signal for hello – the outward facing palm. The first thing that soldiers (or policemen) are taught when you suspect someone is to “watch their hands”… and when someone is arrested, you will hear “hands up!” The bottom line to all of this is that a person could potentially have a weapon in their hand – by showing someone your open and empty hand, you are demonstrating that you have nothing to hide, you are forthright, you are open, you are friendly.
Afghans (and Arabs, for that matter), however, will greet someone by putting their hand over their heart. In theory, this signifies that “you are near to my heart”, “I respect you” or something similar. However, it could also signify something like “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer” or “holding your cards close to your chest” or “keep your enemy guessing”. I am certain that those values and sentiments are nearer to the mind of a Pashtun or Arab than being forthright, honest, and open.
Ok, I guess this post is getting to be rather long enough. I hope all is well back in the U.S. I was able to watch Kailee’s birthday party on Skype yesterday – Happy birthday again! This was the last family birthday that I will miss due to this deployment and I will soon see them, if all goes well, on my vacation in a few weeks.