The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


November 02, 2006

 CAPT Matt Smenos
Posting date: 11/2/06
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Santa Maria, CA

I tried to explain that she was a genie -- or a djinn, as it’s pronounced in Arabic. For me, Barbara Eden strutting around in a pink halter top and pantaloons had always fit vaguely into my understanding of the mythology of the Middle East. To my friend and interpreter Aresh, it made no sense at all. I tried to explain who she was and what she was doing as he and I ate lunch in the television room at our little base, but I soon realized that this was an American idea, and kind of a dumb one. Define surreal:  "A white guy from the suburbs, eating grilled cheese sandwiches in a wooden hut in Afghanistan, explaining I Dream of Jeannie reruns to an Iranian-born Afghan employed as a Dari/Arabic interpreter by the U.S. government."

Aresh wanted to know why she was (relatively) naked and why her “husband” (The Major) allowed her to come and go (so abruptly) while dressed like that. I explained that The Major never chose her, that they were not married, and that, in fact, it often seemed he wanted to be rid of her. Yet she had chosen him as a master, and there was no getting rid of her. This explanation did nothing to clarify the concept for my poor interpreter. But Aresh is a good kid, and as frustrating as the conversation was for him, he satisfied himself by telling me he was glad no women he knew could make things happen like the woman in the show. Next week I’m starting him on Bewitched.


What does he think of women serving in the military? What does he think of U.S. civilian women? What kind of image does he have? I am dying to know! Please, tell us!!!

I guess we take our acceptance of the absurd concept for granted here in America where absurd ideas are tolerated for entertainment value. Gives new meaning to the phrase "they take it literally".

We are blessed to be exposed to many ideas and concepts that people in less fortunate countries are not.

Oh, this post made me laugh out loud. It's great. Usually I am in tears at the end of reading Sandbox, but today, I am quitting here with a smile on my face.

I would like to know what your interpreter thinks of American women personnel.

Finally, Lorrie, I have to say, in my expierience, while we Americans may tolerate the absurd in entertainment, when it's things that threaten our own basic worldview, we don't do a very good job of getting it. (I also wouldn't call appreciating the humor of I Dream of Jeannie the same thing as respecting actual Arabic folk tale-telling practices).

I just tried to explain to a classroom of American anthropology students why one woman marrying four brothes is a useful and logical marriage strategy in Nepal, and while they may accept it happens, their enculturated romantic selves will probably never accept that it's right or even that you can live that way and be happy, even though people *do.*

As for Aresh and his exposure to other cultures; well, Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic state. It's part of the problem there right now, but it's also a fact of life many people dealt with for a long time. I worked with an illiterate woman from Afghanistan who could speak FIVE languages she couldn't read (English, Farsi, Urdu, Punjabi, and Pashtu). That's not just exposure to other cultures, it's actually living with them.

I am not about to say that Afghan men get or respect or anything else a Western POV about women and their lives and roles- I don't know very many Afghan men, and not many of those will talk about that stuff. But I know for sure that any Afghan who can speak two languages fluently is more culturally competent than I am- in the New Afghanistan, this kind of competency seems pretty essential to participating in the reconstruction of the country.

PS: Maybe I am reading him the wrong way, but I wouldn't say that Aresh seems like he's so ignorant that he's taking the story lilterally, just that all the pieces of the puzzle don't fit because the context isn't familiar.

What a wonderful story! Maybe it's just me, but I think that exploring cultural differences like that make it all the more obvious that we're all human, after all.

You might also have some fun explaining to Aresh that Ms. Eden and all other "belly dancer" style characters before about the 70s were required to cover their belly buttons. They were considered too sexy. Oh how the world has changed. Time to break out my bikini, just because I can.

Thanks for sharing!

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