Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Another week down

The last few days have been slow-going, and I can’t really say why. Maybe it’s because I have been chained to my desk rather than going on missions or because, in just 18 days, I will be meeting my husband for a holiday in Germany! You know how time seems to slow just before a vacation, and then flies by while you are on the vacation? That may be what I am experiencing now.

As a nearly exclusively Muslim nation, Afghanistan has been observing Ramadan for the last month. Ramadan is a time of fasting and praying for the purpose of cleansing your spirit and growing closer to Allah. Because of this, work slows down and there are fewer planned meetings. The frustrating part is, we have difficulty completing our mission without interacting with our Afghan partners. Well, yesterday was the beginning of Eid ul-Fitr, or Eid, the three-day holiday marking the end of the fast. We have been lucky enough to receive invitations to participate in several Iftar dinners (a special gathering to break the fast) as a way to celebrate, and we have enjoyed socializing with our Afghan friends.

Today’s Eid celebration was in one of the large tents on the base and all the provincial leadership from Regional Command East was invited to participate. There was yummy Afghan food, traditional music and time to simply relax and learn more about our governor. He is more than 60 years old, has two wives and 20 children. His oldest son accompanied him to the event, and the governor considers this son to be his counterpart and best friend. This is something I could understand, as I consider my mother to be my best friend, as well. We talked of the wedding celebration he hosted for a prior team when one of the sons married, and we asked if any more were planned during our tenure. (It was a shameless hint at an invitation!) This man and his son were commanders in the Mujahedeen fight against the Soviets 30 years ago and are now doing the best they can to rebuild their country.

Do Afghans do things the way we would in America? Definitely not. One of the things we have come to accept is that there are different customs in Afghanistan than in America. A baksheesh (similar to a bribe) is not unusual for getting someone a job or even to pick up your paycheck. Sometimes, the quality of work is not what we would tolerate, either, but with the influence and tutelage of our engineer staff, this is showing considerable improvement. But, we have discovered our Afghan counterparts to be friendly, generally happy people who dislike the violence here as much as we do. Many of them have been affected directly by the violence and look forward to a day when war is once again in the past. For me, even with missing my family terribly, the experience continues to be one of discovering new things about myself and the world and making memories that will last a lifetime.


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