Ten things we will never teach the Afghans:
1. Blowing their noses. Afghans seem to have an unshakeable dread of facial tissue. So they will sniff and sniff and sniff until the flow stops, which can take hours.
2. Entering ahead of a guest. No matter how long you work with Afghans, they always wait for you to pass first through a door or gate. Sometimes they are downright adamant about it, so it’s best to just nod, smile and comply.
3. Taking small portions in a buffet. Our Afghan staffers eat three meals a day at the same dining hall, but they treat every visit as their first and perhaps last. They wander around studying the selections, then pile enough food on their plates to feed a small army. Lucky for them, there are only big armies here.
4. Eating at a table. Sometimes they have to, but they don’t like it. They prefer sitting on the floor. For every mealtime in our office, five or six guys would squeeze into the only open floor space, sit in a circle and eat with their hands from their plate and all the others. Any leftovers (a rarity) would go into the fridge, where they would languish and eventually evolve into new life forms.
5. Speaking in a normal voice on a cell phone. The Afghans don’t have a monopoly on this, but they are world-class practitioners. They seem to believe that yelling is the antidote for a bad signal or an inferior phone. Their lungs are as leathery as their skin.
6. Safe driving. Afghans have a simple driving philosophy—go until something or someone forces you to stop. And just as nature abhors a vacuum, Afghan drivers abhor a gap. Someone will always fill it, usually in competition with several daredevil rivals.
7. Drinking coffee. A few Afghans like a good cup of joe, but tea is the drink here – black tea, yellow tea, green tea, and even apple tea and pomegranate tea. And for the few Afghans who are coffee fans, they don’t touch the typical American brew. Even if it perks until it gels, they say it’s too weak.
8. Whining. They ride in pickup truck beds in freezing rain. They stand in endless line in stifling heat. They endure humiliating searches and inspections just to come to work. Their jobs keep them away from their homes and families for days or weeks. They will complain when provoked, but always in a matter-of-fact, low key manner. They may have invented stoicism.
9. Feminism. Too many mullahs tell illiterate Afghans that the Quran ranks women in the animal kingdom just above donkeys. There aren’t enough civil society consultants and NGOs in the world to counter that kind of propaganda.
10. Sitting on the toilet. They use ground-level holes with starting-block footrests to do their business. When a Western-style commode is the only choice, they stand on the seat. With luck, they leave scratches. On a bad day, they leave muddy shoeprints.
Afghans are tough, gracious and patient people. As I end my year at Kandahar Airfield, I hope that someday they learn what peace is like.