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CALLING DR. RUTH |

March 20, 2007

CALLING DR. RUTH
Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 3/20/07
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog url: traversa.typepad.com
Email: traversa@gimail.af.mail

In ongoing conversations with my translator Hamid I continue to learn more and more, not all of it good. Despite this, Hamid is my friend. His world is stunningly different from mine, and sometimes the realization is jarring. If you’ve read the comments on my previous post, "Children", you’ll see that some people are wondering why we are over here supporting a government made up of people with such beliefs. The political and security issues aside, simply working with Afghans and sharing ideas is a good thing. No, they aren’t all going to suddenly change overnight, but perhaps Hamid will treat his wife more humanely (once he gets married) due to our conversations. Ideas and free thought are fantastic. That’s why the Taliban shut off all communication with the outside world. They didn’t want their people exposed to other ideas. Anyhow, here’s how the rest of our conversation went.

After our discussion about marriage I was pretty worn out. I looked back down at The Stars and Stripes, and saw an article about raids on a bunch of drinking establishments in Kabul. I asked Hamid if he had heard about this.

"Oh, yes, they are usually Chinese restaurants.”

“So the Chinese restaurants serve alcohol?”

Hamid nodded. “Oh yes, and they have prostitutes too.”

“What?” I exclaimed.

“Yes, they come over here with Chinese women, and have food, but you can also spend time with the woman. It costs $60 for a half-hour.”

Hamid is full of surprises. “How would you know that?” I asked.

"The soldiers talk about this all the time. Many of them go.”

“You’re kidding. Isn’t it bad for them to go to a prostitute?”

“Oh, no, it’s fine,” he assured me.

I was incredulous. “So Islam allows them to go to prostitutes?”

“No, Islam does not," he corrected me. "I mean the government doesn’t care."

This of course didn’t jive with the newspaper article. As best as I can figure it, once in a while the government raids the houses of ill repute to keep the hardliners happy. But apparently it’s not a big deal to get into these places.  Where soldiers get the money is another question. Sixty dollars is a lot of dough. But Hamid has an apparently encyclopedic knowledge of the dark underbelly of Kabul. I will spare you the details.

I went back to the paper, and turned the page. There was a large in-profile photo of an older black man with a beard. Hamid asked me who he was. I scanned quickly and explained, “This is an article about gays and lesbians in the movie business. It says that audiences don’t seem to care so much whether actors are homosexuals, but the movie industry doesn’t like to use them in movies.”

I might as well have lit the fuse to a barrel of TNT. Hamid did not disappoint me.

“But he is old,” he exclaimed, looking confused.

“So what?” I said, just as confused.

“When people get old, they turn to God, because they know they will die soon.”

“So what?” I asked again, doing my best impersonation of a broken record.

“But he should not be gay if he is old. He should be turning to God.”

"Hamid, he doesn’t think he is sinning or doing anything wrong. He just likes men rather than women.”

“So he doesn’t believe in God?” Hamid asked, trying to grasp the concept of an older gay man.

“I don’t know if he does or not. Plenty of homosexuals believe in God. They just don’t believe in your God.” I could tell his brain was turning into Jell-O.

“So are there gay Muslims in America?”

“I have no idea. I know there are many gays that call themselves Christians, even though conservative Christians who take the Bible literally say homosexuality is a sin and God hates it. Yet there are many people who believe that older parts of the Bible don’t apply today, so the verses that forbid homosexuality don’t apply now. There may be Muslims in America who believe that about the Qu’ran too.”

Hamid shook his head. “No, that’s not right. Men should not be gay. Now when they are young, they don’t take their religion seriously, and they may try this, but when they get older they reject it and turn to God.”

Now I was pulling my hair out. “Hamid, that is what you believe, but many people believe very different things. You know that is what America is like.”

“But still,” he protested, “they should change when they get older.”

“Hamid, when you get older, do you think you could suddenly decide you liked men rather than women?”

“Oh, no, of course not.”

“So why do you think others can change? I’m not an expert on why some people are gay, but I doubt they just decide to be gay. Even though it is not illegal in America, there are many people who hate gays, and even more who think it is a sin against God. Sometimes people beat gays up, just because they are gay. Sometimes they are murdered for it. Just like you and I are attracted to women, others are attracted to people of the same sex. Yet they certainly don’t think they need to change, and they don’t think they are sinning. It would be like saying you should become a woman, because it’s a sin to be a man. Would you wish to become a woman? Could you?”

He heard the words, but I don’t think they made any sense to him.

“I’ve heard that in Canada, gays can get married. Is this true?” he inquired.

“Yes, I think so.”

“Why would they want to get married? They can’t have children.”

Here we go again. Hamid believed the only purpose of marriage was to have as many kids as possible. Did I mention that Afghanistan has the highest birthrate per capita in the world? I think I now know why.

I explained that if two people love each other, even two gay people, they would naturally want to get married if they loved each other. I also explained that spouses got other benefits, like medical coverage, and that was another reason for wanting to get married.

“But they can’t have kids,” he protested again.

“Look, I keep telling you that in America, people don’t get married just to have kids. Many couples choose to never have kids, because they just want to be together, just the two of them. Besides, they could adopt children if they wanted to.”

“But they would not really be your children...”

I gave him the stern look again. “My brother was adopted. Are you saying he wasn’t really my brother?”

Oh, what an awkward silence ensued. He finally looked down at the table. “Of course he is your brother.”

I eased up a bit. “I know what you are trying to say, but there are many children without parents, and many people adopt. Don’t ever say they aren’t really their children. It’s not the blood relation that matters, it’s the love given that makes them your children.”

“But I don’t understand how a woman can make another woman happy in bed. Or a man make a man happy.”

Terrific. How did I know we’d end up here? “Hamid, you don’t know anything about sex, do you?”

“No.”

“Do you want me to explain it to you?”

“Yes.”

“Right here? Right now?” I looked around to make sure no one would be listening in.

“Yes, please.”

So I had to explain, in detail, (with tactfulness, of course) the intricacies of lovemaking to a twenty-seven year old whose total knowledge came from the snickering coarse talk of the soldiers, not to mention the marines he used to work for. I wasn’t at all embarrassed by this, as he certainly needed to know what was what. He really knew next to nothing. I guess it’s not that important when you look at women as nothing but baby factories. I’m fairly certain you can’t go down to the bookstore and buy The Joy of Sex translated into Dari. I do know that sex counselor wasn’t in my job description.

Comments

So, did you have to draw pictures on paper napkins? Hamid has a working knowledge of English, so he wouldn't need a Dari translation,(puzzling it out would make it more fun!) There has got to be a DVD version...the Karma Sutra would be useful...Hey! airdrop a bunch of sex manuels, TONS of condoms, and toys (not the little kid kind) and stand back and watch the war disappear! In the face of an adaptable, evolving enemy, one must take desparate measures.

Also, Hamid seems unaware that in the U.S. children are a finacial drain on the parents, not the other way around. Unless your children do VERY well and are very generous and kind, the money spent raising kids, plus the money lost by engaging in said activity would be far better socked away for retirement. Make sure he's sitting down when you break this to him...

Winning the hearts, mind and libido one soldier at a time.

Captain - What a great story, if albeit a bit humorous, proving once again that the exchange of ideas to promote understanding is as least as important as military force.

Stay safe.

Another entertaining dialog between you and Hamid. I wonder what Hamid would make of the fact that modern medicine has ample evidence that maternal antibodies to the glucocorticoid receptor may be the biological basis for homosexuality, reinforced by opposite gender role model conditioning? Would he view it within religious context, as repayment for sins of the mother, or even father?

It would be interesting to hear of his reaction to the 'birds and bees' facts - and perhaps, a little eye opener on the biology of homosexuality, in humans and many other animals. Hmm, seems to be related to altered gender states due to population pressure.

Another nice post, thanks sir!

How engaging that was... But as I am reading, I'm thinking how old is this kid? 16? 27?? That's amazing he arrived at that age with so little knowledge... Be safe and God be with you, always...

You have a great future as a human reproduction instructor. What a great relationship you have with Hamid and the other Afghans.

Wow, the Taliban did a pretty good job of making sure the Afghans' world was very small. I wish I could meet you and the other who write and are written about.
Keep safe.
chriso

I would respectfully suggest to criso that Hamid's worldview didn't start with the Taliban. I would also suggest that most Afghans' beliefs are closer towards the Taliban than to our own.

It's actually interesting how homosexuality among young men seems more easily accepted in Afghanistan than in the US.

My question to the author is: have you asked Hamid why he fights against the Taliban? Is it because he doesn't agree with their ideology or is it because the chief of his clan is aligned with current Afghan government?

Cirusso, to answer your question, all three interpreters I work with believe that the Taliban have an evil and distorted view of Islam. The Taliban forbid women to go to school, forbade music, TV, many books, etc. They were a brutal, thuggish, oppresive government. This is what the three of them believe. I've never heard any of them even refer to their tribal affiliations.
One thing I hear over and over again from them is that the Taliban taught many things that were in opposition to the Qu'ran. They also believe the Taliban will end up in Hell.

Thanks for taking time to discuss these topics with Hamid and your other interpreters. The artful conversation begins lifelong changes. You are a blessing to Hamid, whether he knows it or not. You have changed his world, perhaps in more ways then you ever imagined, but a positive change none the less...
Stay safe! And, keep chatting!

Doug, knowing how much you are looking forward to coming home to be with your family I can only imagine how difficult it is going to be for you to bid farewell to Hamid and the other interpreters. I've told you this before but it seems appropriate to repeat - the time you spend in dialogue with the interpreters discussing freedoms, "life", and basic human relations is just as, if not more, important than the time many other troops spend in more direct combat. The oppression by the Taliban has left so many in a vacuum they don't know how to escape.

More than anything I appreciate and respect the way you simply give Hamid information that allows him to think and make decisions. Not once I have read anything to make me think you are attempting to direct him on what to think.

Well done Doug. Well done.

Great post and a wonderful look into the mindset of some of the Afghans (and these are the ones on our side)! Well handled and I think that your patient and careful descriptions/explanations of what life in America is like is more valuable than any govt. program... (Although I guess you could be considered a government sponsored program too!)

Anyway, thanks for your work and your posts.

Doug,

You, with your one on one dialogue with Hamid, are doing more for democracy in Afghanistan than 1000 soldiers with guns.

I thank you for your decency and human kindness.

His wife-to-be thanks you too!

God bless you!

Thanks, everyone, for the kind words. There are many more conversations with Hamid, as well as Wali and Han, on my blog at traversa.typepad.com.

Wow Captain, I must say I am impressed. As a safe-sex advocate pretty active in the gay rights movement, I can say congratulations on not running away from all of these "teaching moments" you have with Hamid. I don't say that just because you're passing along messages I'm familiar with and like to hear--but because you weren't embarassed or non-confrontational and shared beliefs freely. That's true dialogue, and I don't think it happens enough in this country even between people of cultures much more similar than yours and your interpreter's. I lived with a Muslim family in Senegal for six months and didn't have as deep of a discussion as the ones you've posted. And it heartens me that you didn't back away from this chance--because ultimately it is going to have to be men's speaking to other men about truly loving women that will end the violence and mistreatment. Bravo. I wish you (and the rest of the troops) the best.

I think the readers' psychic slips are showing! Among fundamental Muslim cultures, true affection is shown only with members of one's own gender. Note Hamid's concern that the actor was 'still' gay even though he was now an old man. While the Qu'ran does preach against homosexuality and it is punishable by death in many Muslim cultures, they don't quite mean the same thing there as here. Two men hugging or walking arm in arm is natural for all men there, 'gay' here. Even a certain level of sexual expression is acceptable though unspoken. But for two men to live as 'husband and wife', to maintain an exclusive emotional and sexual bond in a Muslim culture - fatal.

We use the same words - they don't mean the same thing.

If anybody hasn't read Doug's full conversation about Afghans and homosexuality, I suggest visiting this entry in his blog:

http://traversa.typepad.com/afghanistan_without_a_clu/2007/02/be_afraid.html

Dear Capt. Doug Traversa-
I read your 4/2/07, informative history lesson on Afganistan, as told by Han and yourself-- and just now have scrolled to this piece.
You are an amazing communicater, both to the "The Sandbox" readers and to Han.
You're also broad in your thinking, and have a great curiosity about people and cultures- it's a wonderful example of and for, all Americans.
Such involvement in life will make your's a most interesting one- and one filled with benefits for both you and others.
Best to you>>>Rachel

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