Hello from Afghanistan

By Sgt T. Wilson


Night Patrol
Wow. it really has been a not very interesting week. The Marines that are here now will be leaving soon and new Marines are already arriving. And…our linguist is on much deserved vacation in Hawaii for two weeks. She has been here for 9 months. So needless to say we have been bumming around the COP(combat out post) for the most part. This is when time seems to creep by.
One of the Captains is from MI and he has a sign that says, “Afghanistan: I would rather be here then in Ohio, Go Blue” He wanted to take a picture with him and the children, with the sign. So he came and got us, the FET, children whispers I guess. : ) We went out to the front gate of the base and started blowing up balloons and blowing bubbles. And soon enough the kids started coming. At first it was 3 or 4, then they just started trickling over and we ended up with about 20. They loved the balloons. We had those really long balloons, so we made them hats. Again, it strikes me that these simple little toys that American kids take for advantage, is something they have never seen before. Kids here arent really kids in some instances. They work hard, and help take care of the younger kids.
We went yesterday..finally..and did a VCP (Vehicle Check Point). Which is basically were the Marines and the ANA (Afghan National Army) and the ANP (Afghan National Police) search all the vehicles/donkeys/bicycles/people walking that come through. Your probably thinking Donkeys? But it is very common here to have kids riding around on donkeys. They also use them to carry crops they are harvesting. Sometimes the donkey will be carrying so much stuff you cant even see the donkey and then there will be a kid sitting on top of it. They dont have horses here that I have seen. Motorbikes are also a HUGE thing here. Most of them dont own a car but they usually have a motorbike. You would be amazed how many people they fit on those things too. A family of 4, 3 men…its not unusual.
Ok back to the checkpoint. The ANP and the ANA do most of the searching, except for the women..thats why the FET are there. The ANA and ANP do not have women, or at least its extremely rare. Out of the 75 people that came from there were 8 women. Sometimes the insurgents will put things on the women because more times than not there is no women to search the women. A lot of times if they see a women in the car or on the bike they wont even search the men. So you can imagine how useful this can be to insurgents.
The women if they are out are always escorted by a male relative. And they are usually wearing a burqa or some other sheet like cloth that covers there entire body. Its not like this in all of Aghanistan. In the cities women walk around by themselves and dont cover everything up. But helmand province is the most conservative…it has a lot to do with their tribes. Afghan is a tribal society. The Pashtuns that are mostly in helmand are more conservative. I think I’ve mentioned this before but I dont think I mentioned what a burqa looks like. Imagine a large sheet drapped over the entire body (like someone dressing as a ghost at Halloween). At the eyes there is a small square area that is covered in mesh. you cant even see their eyes when you look at them, but i guess they can see enough to get around.
Yesterday, when the women realize that we’re women they lift up the burga (they were clothes under) and let us see their face and search them. The older women usually dont wear a burqa they just cover up with a huge scarf that wraps around the entire body and hide their faces. Many of the women as soon as they realized we were women started to talking to us, telling us their medical problems. How do I know you ask? They say the work doctor a bunch of times. One women even took my hand and put it on the places on her body that hurt; her head, her chest and her knee. We didnt have our linguist so there wasnt much we could do…we couldnt tell them anything. I gave one woman my water because she said she had a headache. They dont drink water so a lot of times that is the cause of headaches. I dont know why they assume that we are doctors or can help them medically. They always do though.
During the VCPs I always try to give the kids something, candy or snacks when they come through. I want to make it see less intimidating. It has to feel that way i imagine. Just think if it were you and you were stopped by a bunch of people in uniform with big guns and told you and you belongings have to be searched. Its for their own safety and our safety and they are probably use to it by now, but theres no reason not to make it a little bit better of an experience. : )
When we are doing these types of things we always get a few different reaction from the men and children. There is the look shocked and stare with out saying anything look. It happens often. You can see the surprise on their face when they realize there are women out with the men in uniform. They stare as they are walking. Dont say anything…just stare. I’m surprised sometimes they dont hurt there necks : ) Then there is the man giggling. Thats what I like to call it. I’ll say “salaam Alikum” and they will say it back but giggle as they do it because they cant believe I’m a female. Or they will turn to whoever they are with and say something like “its a girl” and giggle and stare. The ANA and ANP are the same way. The afghan men seem to be fascinated by us!! : ) The women on the other hand are very hard to read. They rarely show emotion or let there face show any expressions. You can never really tell what an Afghan women is thinking.
I guess thats it for now. Hope you all had a great Halloween.
Tiffany Wilson