Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
One of my cousins, a Pastho/Farsi expert, is in Herat (Afghanistan) since last month. He's a soldier in the French airforce. He initially joined because he had dropped out of college and was bumming around, and thought "oh cool I can learn something in the military" (don't ask me what took him, he was always among the anti-military folks I knew before that, and always the odd man out throughout his childhood - i.e. the kind to save grasshoppers or scold my uncles for being barbaric to rabbits, when my uncles went on hunting trips) ... and although he does his job seriously, he's no killing machine (he is in the Middle-East/Afghanistan informations department of the airforce, stationed at the Ministry of Defence, which means he doesn't even know how to properly hold a gun or put a helmet on right, as he often goes to work wearing shorts).

This is just to describe the guy. Not all soldiers are maniacs. This one is a sensitive, smart person, who believes that the army should be first and foremost a force used to ensure peace, not to wage war (I know that the fine line between both these concepts can be blurry, but basically I'm just insisting that he's a really good guy). He once said that he would take up arms and rebel, should Le Pen be elected.

Well, he's been sent to Herat because he's studied Pashto and Farsi while in the military (but not through the army, he went during off-hours to the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, a 210-year old university in Paris that specialises in rarer languages, and excelled there).

He sends occasional emails from Herat about what's going on there (he's stationed on some Italian military base). The first thing that struck him when he got there, was that a lot of the soldiers never even leave the base. He, however, gets to leave, visit schools, hospitals, act as a translator. The second thing that struck him, is that Afghans are incredibly polite in the way they deal with  foreigners. They ask questions in a light way, without ever trying to embarass you, they mark long pauses in conversation, to let you gather your thoughts. A remarkable people, basically. He is something of a popular figure in Herat, as each time he opens his mouth dozens if not scores of people gather around him, amazed that finally a foreigner speaks their language (no one else does!!). These gatherings however get his officers really anxious. The kids ask a lot of questions, like "is it true that in France you can live with someone without being married?". But of all the questions he's had so far, the one that really made him feel like crying, was this one that an old man asked him: "is it true that the streets of Paris smell like perfume, that planes fly over to drop perfume over all the streets?". It made him feel like crying because this naive, innocent take on life, was both fantastic and sad. He answered "no, paris is polluted, it's a lovely city, but reeks of car exhausts".

The other day he was invited to a girl's school. And he sat on the school's koran (you know, korans are usually placed on folded-up wooden resting gadgets, that look like chairs). The girls laughed and said "ah sir, you shouldn't sit there, that's the Koran!". He, of all people, should have known. He is highly knowledged in their culture, knows all their poets, everything about their religion ... but even he, almost made a very offending mistake. If he can do such a thing, imagine what the average Joe Schmoe who's over there with a gun can do ...

by Alex in Toulouse on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 01:44:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ps: the informatinsn dept he's in basically reads and translates newspapers from these regions
by Alex in Toulouse on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 01:48:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]


Occasional Series