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.


October 15, 2007

Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 10/16/07
Returned from: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog url:

Without a doubt the stories people enjoy most are the discussions I had with Hamid, my friend and interpreter during my year in Afghanistan. I’ve gone into my archives to share some more with the readers of The Sandbox. This story took place a few days after I sent some cookies (snicker doodles) home with Hamid to share with his family. As usual, the conversation took place in the chow hall during lunch.

“How did your family like the snicker doodles?” I inquired.

“Snicker doodles?” he asked, looking puzzled.

"The cookies you like so much. I gave you a bag to take home. They’re called snicker doodles.”

“Oh, I did not know.”

“Did your family like them?”

“Of course,” he laughed.

I rolled my eyes at him. “Don’t say,‘Of course.’ Just because you like them doesn’t mean everyone else will.”

“Everyone likes them. Now they ask every day if I’ve brought something home.”

This is not unusual. Wali (another interpreter) takes candy home every day for his cousins. It’s a good thing I have lots of stuff to put in the pumpkin (a plastic Halloween pumpkin filled with candy I kept on my desk).

Framed_traversa_snickers “I’m glad you shared with everyone.  I thought you might hide them and keep them for yourself,” I accused in jest.

Hamid laughed. “Oh, no. You know I wouldn’t do that. But I do have a question. Do you have any of the candy with dried fruit in it? You brought some in before.”

Now he had me stumped. I couldn’t think of anything I had brought in with dried fruit in it. “Do you mean little boxes of raisins?”

Hamid shook his head. “No, it is chocolate with dried fruit in it.”

Often Afghans use the word “chocolate” to mean “candy,” so I had to confirm that he did indeed mean chocolate.

“Sorry, I can’t think of any candy bars with dried fruit in it. Do you mean the chocolate-covered cherries?”

“No, it had dried fruit, like raisins, or nuts.”

The light came on. “Ah, I think I see the problem. Nuts are not fruit. So did it have raisins, or was it nuts?”

Hamid was clearly struggling with this one. “I think it was nuts.”

I rattled off questions. “How big was it? What shape was it?  What did the wrapper look like?”

We finally figured out it was a small, block-shaped chocolate with nuts in a brown wrapper.

“That has to be a Snickers,” I concluded.

“Well, do you have any in your hut?” asked Hamid. He is not shy about asking for stuff. Sometimes I think I am just a grocery store for him.

“No, sorry, no Snickers, but I’ll put the word out. I’m sure all my friends back home will drop everything to get you some Snickers. ‘Oh, no,’ they’ll cry, ‘Hamid needs Snickers. Let’s get to the store immediately.’ After all, the only reason I have a blog is to get stuff for you.”

Hamid is laughing quite a bit now. He finds my sarcasm to be most entertaining, even if it hits very close to the truth.

Yet showing more chutzpah than he usually does, he asked me if I ever got any extra shampoo from care packages.

Mere words don’t do justice to the show I put on. I act exasperated and sigh.

“No, I don’t have any extra shampoo. All I ask for is candy for the pumpkin and snicker doodles for you. But is that enough? Nooooooo. Now you want Snickers too. Of course, Snickers, snicker doodles, you love all food that begins with ‘snicker.’ That explains it. Of course, I didn’t know you needed shampoo too. If you had told me earlier, I could have requested it.  After all, the only reason I’m in Afghanistan is to make sure you have all the goods you need.”

By now Hamid is clutching his stomach from laughing so hard. I’ve learned not to take offense when he asks for stuff, but I always give him a hard time. Once he mentioned that the previous group had left laptops behind as gifts for their interpreters.

“How lucky for them. Clearly the previous group was much more generous than I am. I assure you I am not giving you my laptop. Don’t get your hopes up.”

“Well, could you buy me a laptop CD player so I can watch movies?”

“Hamid, quit asking me to buy you stuff. You make more money than most people in Afghanistan. If you want to buy one, I’ll be happy to help. But it’s rude to keep asking people to get stuff for you. At least it’s rude to Americans.”

Thus cultures clash once more. However, I think the fact that he asks me for stuff is actually a sign that he considers me a friend. He has told me that in their culture, you can ask friends for things. So am I just a big gullible sucker? Who knows? I don’t think so. But this does help illustrate again how different our worlds are.

My friends did indeed round up Snickers for Hamid. A couple of weeks later care packages began arriving with Hamid’s favorite candy bar, and soon he had hundreds of them. As for a laptop, I did not leave one for him when I left, but I did send him home with a small television I had inherited.

Being the generous guy that he is, he gave it to his brother.


and of course in american culture that's quite rude to regift.
but for afghanis, maybe it's a demonstration how valued your gift was ... something so good that hamid had to give it to his brother, because that's what you do with really good stuff in their culture - give it to a friend?

Exactly, in some cultures your status is defined by what you provide for those "dependent" on you, whether because of family ties or friendship. Your identity is not just in what you have but in what you give to others.

What goes around, comes around...

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