AFGHANISTAN, THE BEAUTIFUL |
August 18, 2008
AFGHANISTAN, THE BEAUTIFUL
Posting date: 8/18/08
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Binghamton, NY
Milblog: Cheese's Milblog
I'm starting to get a pretty good handle on this place, due in no small part to our having visited every village in our sector. Thankfully, our leadership makes a point to visit with all the local elders to ask what they need and drop off some basic supplies. You'd think that the South Carolina boys we replaced had been doing this all along...and you'd be wrong. Some of these people hadn't seen American troops in years! How is that even possible? But that's neither here nor there, the important part is that we're doing it now, and the people love us for it. It makes me feel a lot safer knowing that all the villages are on our side.
This country is equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking. The people here are more ambitious and resourceful than any I've ever seen. In contrast to Iraq, where you'd see small children wandering aimlessly in the street, here you see small children herding sheep, manning shops and riding bikes weighed down with lumber. Instead of begging exclusively for candy, these children ask for pens, although I'm sure this is as much motivated by the knowledge that every soldier carries pens as it is by a desire to write.
One day, during a supply drop at a local village, I was doing crowd control when I heard someone ask me, "Where are you from, soldier?" I was shocked to see that it was a young Afghan boy, who spoke with little accent. We spoke for several minutes and I left feeling more than a little embarrassed. This kid spoke five languages, and could read English almost as well as any American his age. I signed up for Rosetta Stone that night.
In Iraq, our vehicle antennas had a tendency to pull down the haphazard electrical wires that seemed to have been carelessly tossed from house to house like nets. Every time this would happen, the locals would come ask for money to repair them, then hang them back up exactly the same way, if not worse. During my second week here in Afghanistan, we accidentally tore down a wire just as we entered a village. We immediately tied our antennas down to not cause further damage, as many of the village's wires were hung low. Keep in mind, this town had not seen humvees, or soldiers for that matter, in years.
A few weeks later, we drove through that village again. We tied our antennas in advance this time, but it ended up not being necessary. The villagers had raised every single wire to a height that was safe for our humvee antennas and had not asked for a penny from the reconstruction teams. Iraq this was not.
Unfortunately, the smell of diesel, human waste and burning garbage has followed me here from Iraq. I hope it's not me. This smell, in conjunction with the dilapidated buildings, slashed and burned vegetation and failing infrastructure, serves as a harsh reminder of the impact of Soviet occupation here. It's heartbreaking, because you see what used to be a beautiful country is now dangerous and filthy. Many of the trees were eradicated by the Soviets to deny cover to Afghan and Chechen marksman, and as a part of their "total warfare" campaign. The rest were used for fuel after the infrastructure was destroyed. It's like looking at your house after a devastating tornado; you can see how beautiful and strong it once was, but you don't know where to start putting it back together again. It's immensely frustrating.
At least I know, much as I did in Iraq, that I will always have an answer when people ask me if I'm glad that I came here, and if I thought I made a difference. This time, however, I believe that I'm only returning the favor for all that I've already learned here.