Afghanistan is very different from America for many different reasons. One of the cultural differences we experienced was the fact we were female deployed to Afghanistan. But we were treated as females from Afghanistan were. The fact we had become Civil Engineers was more important and the people knew that we had authority. So they worked with us. We had relatively few problems. But Afghanistan culture and American culture did clash. One of our local national engineers pointed out to me and my female counterpart that since we were married and had been married for over a year that we were broken. Meaning we couldn’t have children. We tried to explain the difference to no avail. Read the story I sent home to family and friends.
This letter home from Afghanistan was written in 2010:
This has been a crazy week, we got a new employee (a civilian from the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE)) and he has a lot to learn and has started adjusted to daily life here at Morales Frazier (MF). He will be a great help for the next team because he will be hereafter we have left and the new team arrives. So he will have good continuity to help the new team know what happened when we were here. (Turns out he was not a good addition to our team and ended up being fired, apparently he didn’t like working for two female engineers)
When he showed up, some other members from the USACE showed up too. They were able to meet with the French (we live with the French on MF) and the Provincial Reconstruction Team (that’s what I’m a part of), it was an overall good visit, but it made the day a little crazy. The helicopter actually missed the helicopter pad and had to circle around to hit the right spot. Things just stayed crazy from there. Our local national engineers surprised us by showing up and we got pulled in six different directions but survived.
Local National Engineers and Cultural Differences in Afghanistan
We had two local Afghan engineers who lived in Kabul (the capital of Afghanistan) and would go to our construction sites and meet with contractors. They were a great help to us since they could move through Kapisa a lot easier than we ever could. They would also come to Moralise Frazier (the Forward Operating Base) about every two weeks for a few days to give us updates and let us know their plan for the next week. While we were in Afghanistan Zia’s wife had their second child.
Once when we were talking about children Sulliman brought up the fact we were both broken. In Afghan culture, you must conceive during the first year of marriage to prove that you have the ability to have children. Once you have one child it is normal to use birth control or other methods to prevent children. We explained that in America we would use birth control until we were ready to have children. Sulliman was convinced that we were trying to hide the fact that we couldn’t have children. The fact that she and I had both been married for over and year and did not have children was a scandal. No excuse we gave would change his mind. I’m pretty sure the conversation made Zia uncomfortable, but he did agree with him.
It didn’t matter that we explained that it wasn’t the same in American culture; Sulliman would remind us we were broken. I didn’t have any resentment for being told this and eventually, it became a joke, but it is a good example of the cultural differences between Afghan and American culture and why things in America don’t work the same way if they are implemented in Afghanistan.
On a side note: The other female engineer who I was deployed with now has children of her own and I have two sons. No medical intervention required. We are no longer broken.
[tweetthis]Cultural differences lead to confusion. Being broken in Afghanistan! @Airman2Mom[/tweetthis]
Too many languages for one meeting
The next day we had a meeting that was in three different languages, French, Dari, and English. It was dizzying trying to keep up with what the point was with the many translations. And I thought it was hard having a meeting in English and Dari. In the end, we only got a few things accomplished in the two-hour meeting. By the end of the meeting my head hurt and I was just glad it was over and was glad minor things had been accomplished. It was a little bit frustrating, but it opened up the complexity of one of the major issues for our team. The days have just continued to be crazy and there is more crazy to come, with us finally getting rhythm for going out on missions and running the day to day stuff. It should make time go fast.