Sunday, December 19, 2010

My second cup of tea...

A US Army MATV augments the Afghan National Police while providing
perimeter security around the Tani District Center
Those of you who have read Greg Mortensen’s Three Cups of Tea are most likely aware of the origins of the book’s title. Mortensen’s creative titling of the book refers to an ancient Balti proverb: "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family...

I would argue this same proverb proves relevant here in the Pashtunwali culture as well. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to call upon the Tani District Sub-Governor (DSG), our second meeting of sorts. (This was actually my first mission in country, profiled in my Nov 7th post: It was all worth it...During our first meeting, which took place roughly six weeks ago, the DSG sent me home with a “District Development Plan” for the Tani District. This was essentially a 5 year, comprehensive strategic plan for the district.  The vast majority of the projects mentioned in this plan dealt with schools, roads, and other infrastructure projects. I had a feeling this would be the case as the bulk of our first discussion consisted of these topics as well, all quite a bit outside the realm of agriculture.

LTC Kulich accepts a serving
dish from the "Wizard of Tani"

One addition to our meeting today was the inclusion of our Executive Officer, Lt. Colonel Kulich. After hearing during our debrief following our initial trip to Tani that the DSG spoke some broken German, LTC Kulich decided he would like to join in on our next meeting. As we learned several weeks ago at Shaikh Zayed University with Major Gulley’s gift of cookies, tasty treats are warmly welcomed as a friendly gift to start a meeting. Appropriately enough, LTC Kulich happens to be married to a German woman and she had recently sent over a shipment of delightful leibniz butterkeks. Cookies once again proved their diplomatic wonders, this time even warranting a gift in return. It's amazing what a little taste of home can do.

Much to the surprise of us coalition troops present, our second cup of chai with Mr. Dhalil Khan would also be accompanied by a meal. This was a great indicator that the District of Tani was eager to work hand-in-hand with our team to better the lives of their people.

As you might imagine, fine-dining is quite hard to come by in most parts of the Khost Province. The soul fact that five whole chickens were slaughtered in preparation for our lunch speaks marvels about Dhalil Khan’s hospitality towards coalition forces. The chicken was also accompanied by a wonderful concoction of long grained rice, raisins, and other vegetables they call pulao here in Pashto. Rather than using a plate, we were each issued our own individual serving of naan to place the rice and beans on top of. Each piece of bread distributed was about 10 inches in diameter, closely resembling a pizza crust. This proved rather practical and made for easy clean-up!

One cultural aspect that still proves a bit harder to digest is the absence of a single piece of silverware anywhere on the table. You really have to trust that the others you are dining with have thoroughly cleansed their hands prior to the meal. Also, you might imagine the logistical considerations required to place rice and raisins into your mouth make this quite a complex operation.

The wizard explaining the agricultural value of
check dams in the area, again...
The DSG had asked that we have somewhat of a working lunch and we were more than happy to honor this request. Following our lunch he immediately placed a map (the same map he referenced during our November meeting, with the same locations highlighted) on the surface that had just previously served as our dining table. No matter how much I stressed to the DSG that we weren’t in the business of building check dams, he continually returned back to the conversation and reaffirmed the need of more in his district. Fortunately, there was a representative from the Provincial Reconstruction Team present at our meeting as well. Apparently this wasn’t the first time they had heard about the need for check dams either as they stressed to the DSG the need for him to fill out the paperwork required for such projects. Mr. Khan then claimed there was too much bureaucracy involved in getting a simple project approved and once again I was reminded of the many similarities to government back in the USA.

As we wrapped things up, it appears a project involving sustainable forestry would be the most beneficial for the people of Tani. I promised the DSG I would contact my friend John Groninger (who was now back on campus at Southern Illinois University) to check on the possibility of involving the Tani District in the Afghan Water, and Agriculture Technology Transfer (AWATT) program that he worked with. Within the AWATT program another possibility of a “Foster-mum” initiative could also be a viable option. In this program, local village women care for a sapling for a set amount of time before turning it back over for planting.

DSG Dhalil Khan is a very light hearted man who speaks fairly decent English. I would say he spoke English during 60% of this past meeting, only relying on interpreters during especially technical discussion involving tree types or soil science, etc…Another cultural hurdle present in many of these meetings we conduct is the expectation of some tangible good at the conclusion of each meeting. The DSG was adamant that our next visit provide something he can deliver his people, even noting his generosity in feeding us a meal. “I even feed you; next time if you come without something for me to give my people I put you in jail!” he quipped.

Ironically enough the only jail in Tani is the bathroom he refers to as “jail” a few doors down from his office. After using this restroom and noticing the lack of any indoor plumbing, I’m in no rush for my third cup of tea- that is until we can work out something to deliver the people of Tani. 

My first official "state dinner" consisting of naan, pulao, beans, and chicken.
(From L-R: Interpreter Isah, myself, Interpreter Kazi, Tani DSG Dhalil Khan, PRT rep, and a civil affairs team member)

1 comment:

  1. God bless you and may you have safe travels and successful missions. My son Major Tony is with you. Enjoy reading your blog. Look forward to reading about your recent events.