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.


December 05, 2007

Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 12/05/07
Returned from: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog url:

Continuing to look through the archives now that I'm home, I found these Hamid stories:

The massive snows of the winter led to equally massive melting of snow in the spring. As a result of all this runoff, Hamid’s house was slowly sliding down the mountainside it was situated on. Apparently the walls were starting to separate, and the mud brick wall that surrounded his yard was also
suffering damage. I questioned him about his home at length. His house is over 100 years old, and made out of the inferior sun-dried mud bricks, so it leaks when it rains. The roof is flat and supported with wooden beams, so it is not in any danger of collapsing.

Talking about the house led to this conversation:

“Hamid, do you have any photographs of your house you could bring in?”

He shook his head. “No, sorry.”

“Too bad. I really wish I could come to your house and visit. I would love to see it and meet your family.” As I said this, it suddenly occurred to me that I would not be able to meet all of his family. “Hey, if I came to your home, would I be allowed to talk to your mother and sister-in-law?”

Hamid laughed. “But my mother doesn’t speak English.”

“I know that. But could I talk to her through you? Would I even be allowed to see her, or be in the same room?”

“No, she would have to go in another room.”

“And you only have two rooms, so she and your sister-in-law have to go hide in the other room while we visit. Is that right?”

“You are right. When my friends come to visit, they must go in the other room. If you are very close friends, you may speak briefly to the women, but just to give greetings, then they leave.”

I wish I could say this surprised me, but it doesn’t anymore. This is the Afghan way.

“If no one is visiting your home, and you are all home alone as a family, how may women dress? Are they still required to show only their face and hands?”

“No, if we are alone, they may dress as they wish,” Hamid replied.

“So does either of the women in your home like to wear western clothes?” I asked.

“My mother is very old, so she always wears traditional clothes. My sister-in-law likes to wear Indian clothes sometimes. She does not need to cover her head or face in the house,” he explained.

“So she has to cover her face when she goes out? Is this Afghanistan or Islam?” I was surprised to hear she had to cover her face.

Hamid probably thought I was being a bit dense. “Sir, as I have told you, Islam says a woman may show her face. However, many in Afghanistan only allow the women to show their eyes, as they do in Saudi Arabia. Actually, it is the husband’s choice.”

“So your brother requires her to dress like this?” I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight.

“Yes. He believes other men will look at his wife if she shows her face.” By this he meant “lustfully look at".

“If you were married, how would you let your wife dress?”

“She could show her face. I am not worried that other men would look at her.”

On another topic, we were reading the paper at lunch (two of my hutmates had joined us) and were discussing a recent suicide bombing. The AP story from the Stars and Stripes discussed the bombing and another attack, and then added a comment to the effect that the current government was widely regarded as more corrupt than the Taliban or the Russian-allied government.

Why would this sort of comment be added to an article about suicide bombings? It is dead wrong, at least based on what I’ve heard. I asked Hamid if the current government was more corrupt than the other two. He did not think so.

“Do most Afghans think this is the worst government?” I continued.

“No, not at all.”

“Of the three governments, which one do most people like the best?”

“The current one.”

“Well, this reporter says that most Afghans think this government is the most corrupt of all.”

Hamid snorted. “This is not true.”

This is hardly a statistically significant survey, but it does jive with what I’ve heard from others. Why would a reporter feel the need to insert such a comment? How would would a reporter know what "most Afghans" think about anything? I suspect that surveys around here, if they are conducted at all, are dodgy affairs at best. And if a reporter had, say, a liberal bias and hated the current administration, might they not want to put everything in a bad light? Luckily, news no longer needs to go through the media filters. Isn’t blogging grand?


You mean, let's say that an author might be particularly biased and add a comment like this:
"But if a reporter had, say, a liberal bias and hated the current administration, might they not want to put everything in a bad light?"
I hope you're right about the state of the Afghani gov't but I'm too cynical. Besides, the least corrupt wouldn't a succesful democracy make. Also, Hamid;s perception is probably based significantly on his experiences with it and I'm sure has been greatly influenced by his relationship with you. Now, if you were in charge, I might be a little more optimistic.

I better put a disclaimer in here right now. Yes, I know Hamid is not unbiased in his views, and neither am I (though I am not an apologist for the current administration). But it is odd that a story dealing with recent bombings managed to stick in a comment about how corrupt the current government was. I wish I had the article to share with you all; you'd see what I mean. It would be like me discussing football scores, then suddenly commenting on the merits of vegitarianism. Huh? Where'd that come from?

I'd be curious to see the article as well (not being a subscriber to Stars and Stripes). I really had two impressions from what you said. First, this was an "army newspaper". I imagine not much is printed that isn't reviewed from a strategic/tactical perspecitve of some kind. Why would they print the article if it was inaccurate or biased against our interests? (Again, I know near zero about the paper. Maybe the answer is obvious to insiders).
Second, I assumed (a dangerous activity) that there was a transistional statement of some kind between Boom---Corruption. If not, I'd be concerned. Probably as much about a botched editing job as poor journalism. But, being the cynic, I wouldn't really be surprised.
Thirdly (hehe) I took an overly sensitive offense to "liberal bias". Personally, I feel that being a "Progressive Liberal" allows me to question opinions, accuracy, and veracity, not facts. I try not to spin and have empiricaly observed that so called "conservatives" (especially the punditry) are much more likely to do so. We (if I might be so presumputous) tend to stick more with facts, so I tend to react when assumptive accusations are made with the word "liberal" being a key adjective or noun.
Finally, I meant what I said about your being in charge. I would trust you to operate based on the facts and reality rather than fantastic supernatural beliefs. Besides, have you seen the latest Alicia Silverstone commercial about vegetarianism?

I would just like to clearify that the Stars and Stripes newspaper is not associated with any branch of the Military and does not subscribe to any views of said military. As a matter of fact they have been banned at some military instillations for violating privacy laws of military members.

On another note the story was from the AP and republished in the paper, not from a reporter for the Stars and Stripes.

Just my two cents on the subject but being with Doug Traversa when this story was published, I agree with his assesment of the story and with Hamids views. Sure the government of Afghanistan has problems but being worst than the Taliban is a far stretch.

Thanks for the clarification re: Stars and Stripes Capt. Templeton. To clarify on my behalf, I never said, nor did the article text refered to by Capt. Traversa state or infer that the Taliban were "better." The only statement is they were less "corrupt". I'm fairly comfortable in saying I'd prefer to be robbed by Karzai than beheaded by a Taliban with my wallet intact.

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