Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who'd a Thunk?

As I may have mentioned before, life here often borders on the surreal - and occasionally goes deep into that territory as it did today.

This morning I found myself sitting next to Afghan villagers in the front row of a viewing pavillion overlooking a soccer field where Korean soldiers were putting on a welcoming ceremony featuring traditional drums and Tae Kwon Doo dancing as the pre-game show. In the background huge armored vehicles rolled along, bringing in US soldiers from a neighboring base who came to tailgate (they had plenty of steak, but no real beer). After the kick-off, the traditional "olay, olay olay olay olay" song was put on the speakers (you know the one I mean) -  followed by traditional afghan music, while the sidelines buzzed with fans, most notably a rowdy group of Korean soldiers with an afghan flag who decided (or perhaps had been ordered) to cheer for the visiting team...

Needless to say, I had a blast - and enjoyed watching a great match that ended in a 1:1 tie.

Traitors!!!  or maybe just nice guys

It was great to see the soldiers enjoying themselves as well, as the security posture here tends to be quite high.  That's a nice way of saying that on the spectrum of bored minimum wage stadim guy checking for beer bottles and power tools on one end to TSA: Xtreme Edition cavity mappers on the other. We tend towards the latter. They made a lot of effort to bridge a huge cultural gap, and the afghans were visibly pleased.

As something of a third-party to the basically Afghan-Korean exchange, I had the chance to observe some of the more amusing aspects of the day. My favorite was the reaction of the afghans to the korean food that was offered alongside a traditional (and more appealing) afghan lunch of naan (flatbread) and lamb kabob. While the sticky Korean rice and (to my surprise) the kimchi was well-received, each and every afghan I saw was having a polite laugh over the spicy seafood noodle dish. They pointed at the chunks asking me to explain, in Dari, what the ingredients (octopus and shrimp) were. Regrettably, neither of these animals is among the 20-30 vocabulary words I have mastered - so I was pretty happy that with a lot of gesturing and emphasis on "big, big water" -  they eventually understood that shellfish are not native to Afghanistan.

My second favorite moment was watching the afghans watching the two female members of the Korean Tae Kwon Doo team. While somewhat more discrete than the likewise appreciative US audience, (who I have known to show their cultural sensitivity by cat-calling based on glimpses of ankles) more than one afghan stood to get a better view, and may not have blinked during the entire show.

Tricks and HIGH Kicks

In short - it was a really enjoyable day - far preferable than the one had by my colleagues in Kabul who (thank you for asking/checking) are all fine - but who spent their afternoon/evening in "hardened structures" while the attack/publicity stunt was resolved.

In closing, I would note for the record that cat-calling, however enthusiastic and colorful it may be, is generally ineffective when done from inside an MRAP.

The Afghans also seem to like the "Fighting" pose

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