Military stories from past to present, both wars.

Cultural lesson in Food

June 7th, 2008 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

Nice view

The other day, I had the opportunity to visit a police station in Kandahar that we built for the local Afghan National Police. Here is some background; in the past five years, the US has built up the Afghan Army to a point where they can truly fight the bad guys and kick some butt. In 2002, during the Bonn agreement, it was decided that the US would train the Army, the Germans would train the police, and the Italians would teach them law and justice.

Well after 80 million dollars spent, and no action on their behalf, the Afghan police force remained untrained, unequipped and highly corrupted. The onus then fell on the US to take over the Police portfolio from the Germans (who you think would be good cops) and do what we did with the Army. Hence, we have now what we call Focused District Development program, and we go into a District to recruit new policemen, build a safe and secure police station for them, and turn them away from the their former life as a corrupt, toll-taking scumbag, and make them the model of Police Departments world-wide.

Well, that is the working theory, and for the most part it’s starting to work as we take over a District within a Province. There are 34 provinces and over 360 Districts, so you can see that we have to prioritize where we spend our money and time. I was sent on a trip from Camp Adams down to this one District near Kandahar that is called “Fort Apache” since it’s out in the middle of nowhere and bumps up against the mountains of Pakistan. These guys are more like Para Military Policemen since they have to go up against the Taliban on a daily basis, and at last count they have lost over 400 good men this year.

We had to drive there, being bumped and jarred the whole way, on these dirt tracks which, in this neck of the woods, begs to define the word “road.” The poor guy in the gun turret was completely covered in sand and dust when we finally arrived a few hours later. Since it was super hot, around 112 degrees and with body armor on, we felt the gallons of sweat dripping down our legs as we stood there, in the hot sun, talking to the Police Chief about his little fort. You can bet that we downed some serious water and didn’t even have to use the bathroom. Thank God, or Allah depends on who you say that in front of, but that brings up another subject, toilets. When we set up a post, we supply what they call LSS’s- Life Support Stations, basically a trailer with toilets in them. Well, they were the western style toilets and for what ever the reason, the guys would stand on top of the seat and go that way. We then went to an Afghan style toilet, with the hole and no porcelain base, but found that the guys were using chucks of gravel to wipe with and discarding them into the hole which screwed up the plumbing. The great American’s finally gave up and brought in a trailer, dug a trench and put the gutless trailer over top so they just go into the hole and down into the trench. There are a lot of flies around for some reason in that corner of the camp.

They have a commanding view of the surrounding territory with good fields of fire to repel any bad guys that come out to play. Right down the road, not too far away at the next outpost, there was a report of 300 Taliban attacking this type of fort, (guess the Taliban didn’t like the loss of a big poppy crop), and when the report about this attack was received by the military, I think there was a bit of skepticism on our part as the number of enemy. A coalition jet was dispatched over the area, and sure enough, they caught the bad guys sitting out in the open when the bombs started to fall. At last count, they had over 100 dead Taliban who thought these 40 policemen were easy prey. The Afghans have no shortage of courage when it comes to fighting; the hard part is trying to get them to understand proper planning, i.e. make sure you have a full tank of gas when you leave and maybe some food to eat.

I got the grand tour with a buddy who came along for the ride to see how the police are doing. “Bob” and I admire the Chief who tells us how they patrol all the hot spots around this area. He is alone and unafraid with his little band of brothers, and eager to shoot it up with the bad guys because this is his country and proud of it. We slowly walk through the compound when “Chief Gordon,” the Police Chief, takes us past his kitchen area. His boys were cutting the lamb carcass that was hanging from the corner of the conex box. I thought “that’s funny; they left the skin on because it was a black lamb.” But as we came closer and he hacked the meat off, only then did I realize that it was completely covered in flies and they would buzz off for the seconds he cut the meat away and then settled back down onto the meat. It didn’t help that right before I left the states, my wife watched some program on flies and all the REALLY bad stuff associated with them which made me think about what sort of disease I was going to catch this afternoon.

I talked to the Army LtCol that was our guide, and explained that both “Bob” and I would like to leave before lunch so that we can basically run away… The Army guy just laughed at his two visitors and had the translator explain to the Chief that we needed to get back into town for another meeting. The Chief would hear none of that and replied that we were his guests and it would offend him if we didn’t stay and have lunch. Well, I weakly smiled and told the big man that we would be honored to die with, hmmm…I mean dine with him, so we walked to their mess hall.

This chow hall is basically a large metal shipping container with bench seats on both walls and one section of bench running down the middle. As we walked in, the flies began to swarm and it was a solid black cloud as they waited for their feast to arrive. The end of the box was open, and they had positioned a fan there which blew about half the flies down to the other end of the conex box where the junior policemen sat. The men brought out the large plates of food with Lamb, rice, beans, white yogurt, watermelon and bananas along with the flat bread. I have to say that once you get over the way that the food is prepared, or their lack of hygiene, or where the flies have been before lunch, it’s actually very good. The lamb is tender and they prepare it with little slices of fat in between the chunks of meat to add to the flavor. Yep, it was lunch with our host and his 5 million flies, but you can’t turn this down or you’ll cause a major incident. I just kept thinking about how my intestines were finally getting over the assault on my body 15 years ago from a visit to Turkey and now I had to start all over again. The things we do as Marines and take for granted as Americans.

I have to say that the only thing that saved me was the daily dose of Doxycycline that I’m on for the Malaria. Oh, did I tell you about how they prepare the Chai tea? That is another subject for a later date. We finished the lunch, thanked our guest for the outstanding visit and wonderful meal. When we left, our guide explained that we were fed a feast by their standards and what the cost of food is here. You think you have it bad in the states, they are running out of wheat here because the rocket scientist here makes more money planting poppies that you turn into heroin then a product you can eat. So they are having massive shortages of flour to bake the bread which is a staple with every meal. Things maybe bad in the US, but you haven’t seen anything like here, and I’m sure it’s the same in Iraq. At least Iraq has oil to sell, the Afghan’s have nothing but poppies for their GNP.

You guys take care and remember Cultural Lesson number 101, never turn down a meal with your host, that’s bad juju.

Semper Fi,


PS, all names, places and dates have been changed for OPSEC

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