May 01, 2009

Name: Deployed Teacher
Posting date: 5/1/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Deployed Teacher    

Today, as I was walking to the office, I came upon familiar LN* workers walking towards our building. Lagging behind was the elder gentleman of the group, limping a bit.

I'd guess him to be around 50-55 years old. It's hard to tell. In Afghanistan. If born in a village, people generally don't know what their birth date is. When asked for one's age, an Afghan might respond with something like, "I was born when the King died," or "The year the Russians invaded is when I was born."  In addition, I'm told, there are only two major ceremonies in their lives: when they're born, and when they die.

Mind-boggling, huh? Can you imagine the possibilities if we used that same reference system to answer the question, "When were you born?" A response in the US might be, "When the first car came out," or, "The year we landed a man on the moon," or, "When President Clinton denied having sex with that intern, Monica." But I digress.

Framed Teacher MINED As I approached, I asked the elder why he was limping, like he could understand my impeccable English. Then I reverted to what I know best -- gesticulating, pointing to his leg, and raising my voice like he had a hearing problem, as opposed to a comprehension problem. Now he understood my question!

I was stunned by his answer because I knew he spoke little to no English. He stopped, looked down, lifted his pantleg to show me a prosthesis, and exclaimed, "F***n' damn Russians mines! F***n' Russian mines!"

Whoa, Polish flashback! I was not sure whether to laugh at his impassioned, totally unexpected outburst, or be disgusted by the reality of the Russian legacy left for Afghanistan. After an awkward pause, I congratulated him on his impeccable English, encouraged him to continue expressing his feelings concerning the Russians, and we shook hands and continued our walk silently to the building.

I saw this gentleman later in the day, and having thought about what he'd said, asked if I could take a picture of his prosthetic leg to share with the world. He smiled and obliged.

In hindsight, the "mines" picture at the top of my blog, has more meaning than ever to me now, and I will always think of this man, my "I was born when the King died"-aged, Afghan friend.

*LN: Local National; hundreds of male workers are brought in from nearby cities and villages to do a variety of jobs on the base. Their employment helps stimulate the local economy.


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