February 26, 2007
Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 2/26/07
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog url: http://traversa.typepad.com
Today Hamid (my interpreter) came with me to lunch, and I stopped by the hut to drop off my armor and rifle.
"Hey, you've never seen my blog, have you? Come in and I'll show it to you."
I pulled up my front page, and showed him the January archives so he could see how much I am writing. As we walked to chow, he said, "You really do write a lot. What do you say?"
"I write about anything that happens to me. People love to read about our friendship, because it gives them hope that we can have peace in the world, even if we come from different worlds. For instance, I wrote about our discussion the other day concerning friendship."
He laughed. "I bet you write about how much I eat."
Now I laughed. "Ohhhh, Yeeesss," I said dragging out each word. "You can bet I wrote about that. You are famous around the world for your massive appetite. I told people how you eat four plates of food and store it like a camel."
At this point we are both laughing very loud. We do that often. Hamid loves to laugh, and I love an audience, so we laugh a great deal indeed.
"But that's not true!" he complained, still laughing.
"Well, they don't really think you are a camel." But as for the four plates of food, it has been known to happen. "You can bet if we've had a good talk, I've written about it."
Once we sat down to eat, I waited for the conversation to take one of the unexpected twists I've come to expect (can you really expect an unexpected twist?). Interestingly enough, it was The Stars and Stripes that provided us some great stuff. I usually have a copy open and glance through it while we eat. The actual conversations start after we stuff our faces.
I saw a photo of the world's smallest prematurely born baby that survived. She was 10 ounces when born. I showed the picture to Hamid, and we discussed just how young (22 weeks) and tiny the baby was. I ended up discussing the miracles of modern medicine that allowed us to save such a tiny baby, and somehow we got to artificial insemination. Hamid was amazed that such a thing was possible. He had never heard of it, and I would soon learn how important this option would be in Afghanistan.
To Hamid, you get married in order to have children. In fact, he says that if a married couple does not have children, it is a great shame to them, and they withdraw from society. The man is assumed to be impotent, and is mocked and called a woman or a shemale. This disgrace is so onerous, Hamid says that if it is the woman who can't conceive, the man will usually marry a second wife so he can have children.
"Well, in America, we can only have one wife. Suppose I had gotten married, and my wife could not have children. What should I do?"
Hamid answered easily and quickly. "You should divorce her and marry someone else. What is a marriage without children?"
The cultural gulf exploded in my face. The utter casualness with which he said this was as shocking as when Wali told me gays and apostates should be executed.
"I married my wife because I love her. Why in the world would I leave her if she couldn't have children? I want to be with her."
Hamid seemed as baffled as I was. "But a marriage is nothing without children."
"Why?" I demanded.
"Who will take care of you when you are older? Who will pray for you when you die?" he explained.
"That sounds incredibly selfish. You only want kids to take care of you when you are old?" I countered.
"So when you get old, you don't want your children to take care of you?" he asked.
"Of course I would like them to, but that's not why I had children. I wanted children to share the love and joy of raising a family. As I told you, my family means everything to me. I loved having children, but I did not have them so I could have little workers to take care of me all the time."
Hamid and I paused; no doubt my thoughts were as alien to him as his were to me.
"Let me tell you about my aunt," he began. "When she got married, she could not have children. At first her husband loved her and treated her nicely. But as time went on, and she never had children, he started getting angry with her. Whenever people with children came over to visit, he would yell at her after they left. He blamed her, and even told her he would never have married her if he had known she could not bear children.
However, after 12 years of this, she was able to get some medical treatment, and was finally able to have a child. Once this happened, he started treating her nicely again and loving her."
I was saddened, but not surprised. "I find this hard to understand. How can men be so cruel? Why would they blame a woman for a medical problem that isn't her fault?"
Hamid shrugged. "As I said, a marriage without children is nothing. Why even get married?"
I had had enough. Cultural tolerance only goes so far. I got as stern as I've ever gotten with Hamid. My wife can tell you about the look. It melts steel, and has made teachers and ROTC cadets cry. Really.
"I love my wife. She is the most important thing in the world to me. Why in the world would I want to hurt her, divorce her, or shame her if she couldn't have children? That is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. I would never want anything to do with a religion that taught such a thing. It is absolutely hateful and pure evil!" I have no doubt that Hamid felt like a little bunny looking into the barrel of a gun held by a very angry hunter.
"NO, NO, NO," he waved his hands. "It is not Islam, it is Afghanistan that teaches this. It is our country."
I turned off my glare, sat back in my chair, and pulled my hair back with my hands as I tend to do when faced with a dilemma. "We really do come from different worlds. I can't understand why you treat women so badly. To me, marriage is a partnership and a friendship. I cannot imagine deliberately hurting my wife, as your men do."
"It is our culture."
"Well, I can't change your culture, but I hope what I say can change you. I am concerned about you. I don't want you to be like that. When you get married, I hope you will treat your wife better than that."
"I actually believe as you do. But I was telling you how most men think here." Hamid looked sad. "In fact, I have bad news to tell you. You know the girl I wanted to marry, the one my mother was going to look into in the spring?"
"Yes, of course." I waited for the bad news. It was written clearly on his face.
"Her father has a business in Russia. I found out last night that he is taking his family to live there. I will never see her again."
Sometimes I want to cry. In fact, as I write this, I do.