CLEANLINESS AND GODLINESS |
April 11, 2007
Hamid swung by the hut today to get me for lunch after he had hitched a ride back to Phoenix. I was just finishing up some writing, so I had him come in.
“Remember our conversation about the Snicker’s bar yesterday?” (Drew and I had spent a great deal of effort trying to figure out what Hamid’s favorite candy bar was).
“Yes,” he replied.
“Would you believe I wrote about that in my blog yesterday?” I laughed.
“No. Why would you want to write about that?” he exclaimed disbelievingly.
“Wait. I’ll pull it up and read it to you.” After a minute I had the blog up, and started reading the section where Drew and I were trying to figure out what candy bar he wanted. As I read, Hamid stared at me in amazement.
“No, you didn’t write that.”
“Yes I did. I told you I write about our conversations. Let me finish reading.”
As I continued, using proper tonal inflections, Hamid started laughing uncontrollably. I actually had to stop reading so he could recover and hear what I was saying.
Once I was finished, and he stopped laughing, he still seemed stunned.
“But who would want to read that? Are people really interested?”
I turned off the computer. “Yes, people really do read this stuff. They love to see what your lives are like, and our interactions with Afghans is interesting, even if we are trying to figure out what kind of candy bar you like. Most blogs are about combat, or at least being in a combat unit. But many of us don’t see any combat. Some people enjoy reading about our lives too.”
I put on my weapon, and we headed off to chow. “Not only are you famous, but someone has already said they are going to send Snickers just for you.”
“But doesn’t it make me look bad if I am always asking for things?” I guess my lessons have been taking hold.
“I’ve also told them that you only ask because I am your friend, and it’s okay in your culture to ask friends for things. It’s just another way for people to learn about your way of doing things. Plus, I tell them how I like to give you a hard time when you ask for things. I have fun and get a laugh out of it.”
After we got our food and sat down I expected to eat in silence as usual, then talk. But Hamid was in a very talkative mood, and launched right into questions. Today he wanted to talk about religion. He wanted to know where our religious leaders live, what they wear, and how we pray. I did my best to explain it all, considering how many different religions there are in America. He seemed very surprised that we only bow our heads to pray. Muslims must do ritual cleansings, and when they pray they touch their foreheads to the ground.
Hamid began an explanation of the importance of cleanliness when praying. “As you know, we must wash ourselves before praying. In fact, if a man has had sex or a wet dream, he must not only do the usual cleaning, he must inhale water to clean inside his nose.”
“What? You inhale water?” This was a new one on me. I’d never heard this before.
“Yes. You must cup water in your hand and inhale water until it goes up into your nose, where your eyes are. Then you blow it out. Sometimes it makes your eyes water.”
I was still in shock. “Yes, I imagine it would.”
“You must also shave at least every other week.” He saw I was puzzled, since many Muslims have beards and a full head of hair. “Not your face, I mean your groin.”
I don’t know what comes after stunned, but whatever it is, I was there.
“You shave your groin?” I asked weakly.
“Yes, and our ass and armpits too.”
What comes after the thing that comes after being stunned? Is there a word for it?
“You shave your armpits, groin, and ass? Every two weeks?” Clearly I was being punked. Where were the hidden cameras?
"Actually, I do it every week. I do it every Friday morning, since that is our best day (he meant holy day). Don’t you shave there?”
“No.” Still reeling from too much information.
“You never shave your armpits? Never?” Hamid looked skeptical.
“No, never!” I pulled my T-shirt sleeve down to show him my hairy armpit. He actually recoiled a little bit.
“In America women shave their armpits, but it’s for looks, not for religious beliefs.”
Hamid needed a little time to digest this. Clearly he had not realized just how unclean we were. He continued after a bit.
“I have heard that people from India do not bathe every day, and they can smell very bad.”
Non-plussed, that’s the word. I was non-plussed, as in “puzzled or perplexed". As a rule, Afghans aren’t very fragrant. Of course some are better than others, but there are some that clearly don’t take their cleaning ritual very seriously.
“Hamid, I’ve not been around many Indians, so I couldn’t say. But you realize that there are many Afghans who don’t smell very good, don’t you?”
“Well, some do not clean like they should. It is very important to be clean for God. As I said, I always get very clean on Fridays. We know the world will end on a Friday.”
I give up. I thought I knew a great deal about Islam, but Hamid is showing me what a rank amateur I am.
“Friday?” I managed to utter.
“Yes, God will return and destroy the world on a Friday. It is written.”
“In the Qu’ran?”
“Yes, our mullah tells us. There is something I’ve been meaning to ask my mullah.”
I can hardly wait for the next bombshell. Hamid is in good form today.
“You know that a woman should cover most of her body. Only her face and her hands should show. Also a woman should not work outside the home.”
I nodded. “I know that’s what you believe.”
“Women should also not talk to men outside of the family, but I have heard some say that a wife may only see her husband and her own brothers and father, no on else.”
“But,” I said, and felt like saying it several times, “your sister-in-law lives with you, and you see her. Are you saying that is wrong?”
“Some people think so. I need to ask my mullah.”
I stared at him. I said one word. “Why?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why would you do this to a woman?”
“If I see a woman, I might have thoughts about her, or she about me,” he replied.
“It sounds to me like you don’t trust women.”
“Oh, we trust them. But they might have thoughts to have sex with others.”
“Hamid, I understand why you have these rules and what you hope to achieve, but basically you put women in a prison. They can’t work and they have to cover most of their body up, just to prevent bad thoughts. Why not make the men stay home and cover up, and let the women go out and run things.”
Hamid really seemed to be thinking this over.
“No matter how much you say you love and respect your women, you essentially put them in prisons once they get married,” I continued. “What if they want to go to work?”
“The man must provide a home and make the money.” This is no different from the view of many fundamentalist Christians back home.
“Yes, I agree the man should work, but what if the woman wants to work?”
“You mean like a hobby?” he asked.
“Or just so she isn’t bored.”
“But she must keep up the house!” he protested.
“Look, my wife works three days a week. She’d be bored if she didn’t go out and work. She likes making a little extra money, and she can quit if she wants to.”
“If she is bored, she can watch TV.” Hamid had it all figured out.
I decided to change tack a bit. “Doesn’t it bother you to be working around our women? They don’t dress the way you think they should.”
“No, you have your own religion, so you worship God in your way. Is it true that all Americans believe in God?”
Don’t you love the way our conversations bounce around?
“No, not all Americans believe in God, but probably a good majority do, though as I keep saying, there are many different religions.”
“But they all believe in one God, right?”
“No. After all , we have Hindus in America, and they believe in many gods, just like the Hindus in India.”
Hamid was the one who looked shocked this time.
I looked closely at him. “You do realize the Hindus worship many gods, don’t you. You watch TV shows from India all the time.”
He really seemed taken aback. “Yes, of course I knew this.”
“Well, you certainly looked surprised when I said it. Have you heard of Mormons?”
“Well, they also believe in many gods, though they only worship one God. They also believe that one day they can become gods.”
Now Hamid was at that point that comes after being stunned. He put down his silverware (okay, plasticware) and looked at me to see if I was joking.
“I’m serious,” I stated firmly.
He threw up his hands and shook his head. “That is crazy. To think you can become a god.”
With that we finished cleaning up, and headed out of the chow hall. We had both learned some surprising facts and, despite the vast gulf in our culture and beliefs, parted as good friends once again. I guess that’s the bottom line here. No matter how bizarre the information that we relate to one another, nothing has weakened our friendship. Hopefully it is one of many seeds being planted in this country, which will allow our peoples to grow closer.