22 July 2009
Filed from Sangin, Afghanistan
(This dispatch is from Ghor Province, though I am now with British forces down south.)
Lithuanian soldier on Swedish C-130 from Kabul to Kandahar and finally to Chaghcharan. On his left are Filipino workers. Filipinos are like birds; the only place that an American has stepped that a Filipino hasn’t is the moon. Yesterday was a special anniversary for space travel: man first landed on the moon. I watched the launch from our family boat when I was five years-old. Apollo 11 was bright, and loud. Many people think that the Russians also walked on the moon, but this is untrue.The Swedish C-130 landed at Chaghcharan “airport.” Landmines still wait in ambush in the fields around the airstrip, and in fact a legacy mine (previous war) was found just about three feet off the road—just a minute from the base—while I was there. The mine has been next to the base for about five years and apparently nobody stepped on it. When soldiers say to you, “Sir, please don’t step off the road,” they mean “DON’T STEP OFF THE ROAD!” The director of the local hospital told me that mines strike about one person per month in this area.
Two Ukrainian officers were teaching Word and Excel downtown. One student, the one standing in the back with the blue vest, talked with me for about thirty minutes. He asked about the foods we eat in America. “Do you eat the pig?” “Do you eat the cow?” “The chicken?” Finally, he asked if I hate Muslims. I looked at him like he was crazy and he laughed with embarrassment and apologized for the question. I told him honestly that I like most Afghans.
There is something about Afghans that resonates with Americans. They value independence and personal strength, and honor is a part of their society. There is a substantial reservoir of expats—many are Brits or Americans who have lived here for years on end. Not on bases, but downtown in many parts of Afghanistan. Despite my personal negativity that we are losing the war, one doesn’t have to look far for sparkles of hope. Losing doesn’t mean lost. Difficult does not mean impossible.
When I visited Jerusalem earlier this year, the irony was too heavy to lift. Three major religions collide head-on in the Holy Land. Jerusalem is not the only Thunderdome; there are others. For instance, India has a place called Ayodha, which is sacred to the Hindus, and holy to the Muslims, too, and so the Indian Hindus and Muslims have murdered each other in large numbers for tiny speck of common holy land.