CALLING DR. RUTH
Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 3/20/07
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog url: traversa.typepad.com
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?”
“Do you want me to explain it to you?”
“Right here? Right now?” I looked around to make sure no one would be listening in.
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.