Deployment Journal: Kindness is universal|
Posted 3/18/2011 Updated 3/22/2011
by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
3/18/2011 - HERAT, Afghanistan -- The more time I spend around Afghans, the more I realize that these are some of the most intriguing people on the planet.
The small percent who threaten my life are rare, and most people here simply overflow with warmth and kindness.
This week I was honored by meeting perhaps the bravest woman I've yet known.
Dr. Shemsi Noorazai is the sole female doctor at Herat Regional Military Hospital, studied medicine in Kabul during Russian occupation, and concealed her talents from oppressors during Taliban rule. All the while, she continued to secretly treat sick or injured women.
"It's difficult being an Afghan woman," she told me. "I hope in the future, the amount of women in government jobs will be equal to that of our male counterparts. I hope the hiring process progresses to the point where gender is no longer a factor at all."
I made Doctor Noorazai's acquaintance during an event at HRMH set to honor her and 11 other female employees.
I'm always intrigued when I get the unique opportunity to converse with Afghan women but in this case, the situation was exceptionally distinctive because I talked directly to her, without a translator.
She spoke a decent amount of English, which, by the way, she learned formally during a period of history when Afghan women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male escort, much less study in a university. Doing so could have cost her life.
Still, this brave doctor prevailed and dedicates her life to helping sick or injured women, many of which come to see her after suffering injuries in their own homes by their husbands or male family members.
Meeting that remarkable doctor capped off an already successful week of covering U.S. and Italian Airmen who advise the new Afghan Air Force, and visiting a 300-year-old aqueduct that supplies water to thousands of families in Shindand District.
The AAF airmen were motivating. Though they are still very limited in their capabilities, I couldn't help but reflect on my own Air Force's history while with them.
They recently gained their independence as a service and were the Afghan National Army Air Corps prior to that.
Those airmen were thirsty for knowledge and sponged up any training or advice the Italian and American Airmen offered.
At the aqueduct I was privileged to meet some of the poorest, yet kindest Afghans imaginable.
Some parts of the aqueduct caved in during February floods in the region, and about two dozen workers were there re-digging the tunnel by hand.
They are first lowered about 10 feet under the ground using a rope and manual cranking system, then tunnel along by crawling as they fill leather buckets with dirt and send the buckets back up a pulley.
When I approached the site, I immediately noticed the workers were very skinny and extremely poor as some didn't have shoes and their clothes were worn out. The laborers earn 300 Afghani (about $6) per 10- to 12-hour day, and state they are happy to have work at all.
Most of their earnings go to support their families and most didn't even have a packed lunch to eat.
As I took photos of them working, I remembered passing a small na'an (Afghan bread) bakery about a mile up the road so headed to the bakery and purchased about $14 worth of bread.
The laborers, who ranged in age from 12 to mid-40s, got very excited when I returned to their site with a 3-foot stack of na'an in my arms.
My coworker, Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Hickok, and I distributed a piece to each worker and then sat to break bread with them. We didn't have an interpreter with us so our communication was very limited but we got by with the few Dari phrases we each knew.
Aside from that, we drew many pictures in the dirt as our main form of communication.
The men repaid our kindness with Chai (Afghan tea). Before they returned to work and as I was about to leave, one man challenged me to an arm wrestle.
As we squared up and locked hands, I thought back to cultural training where I learned that Afghan people are big about saving face so I put up a struggle, but gave way to his win in the end.
When he pinned my hand down, all the other Afghans let out loud roars of laughter and patted me on the back. I imagined they were heckling me about how a 'Soldier should be stronger' as during their laughter they kept feeling my biceps and pointing to my Army Combat Uniform.
What an experience!
I don't know many people who've gotten the opportunity to interact with so many good Afghans in back-to-back days, but I'm thankful to have been given that chance.
I wish all my Afghan memories were good ones. However, just two weeks ago, an ANA friend of mine was killed while defending his combat outpost during an insurgent attack.
I'm not naïve enough to believe everyone here is good - evil continues to exist.
For every insurgent trying to tear this land apart, there are 99 other hard-working Afghans just like the men at the aqueduct, and for every radical fighting to oppress minorities, there are 99 other brave men and women like Doctor Noorazai.