Getting settled in a new area means more than finding a place to stay on the FOB, knowing where all the infrastructure is, and getting a temperature check on the fobbit factor. I am pleased to report that the new landlord is very professional and has a low fobbit factor. Even the meetings here are very simple and direct and quickly over with.
In short, I'm impressed.
We are also getting to know the local ANP, their leadership, where they are, where their trouble spots are, readings on corruption levels, and the efficacy level of their systems. The team that is RIP'ing out have been great, of course. These guys have emplaced a framework that we will work to expand. Everything is incremental.
Our first couple of trips out to see the local ANP commanders and their facilities have been normal. It takes a little while to establish the relationships. Afghans are always very friendly, but to truly get to know them takes time. And, in my experience, there are some that I have already shaken hands with who are not completely about serving their country. That is an unfortunate fact. As we get to know them better, and as we have more involvement in helping them to get their systems working, those men will become more evident.
The first trip was incredibly short, just time for a handshake and a look around the district center that is being built.
The second trip, in the opposite direction, took us quite a bit further and we spent a lot more time. We were doing an assessment on some of their facilities. The new bunch that we're working with are a lot more participatory in these types of things, actually employing their own resources to accomplish these things.
That's going to take some getting used to. It's good... it's just a very different way of operating.
CPT Mac and I were introduced to the district leadership and after a short exchange we were invited for chai. Chai is very important. Its importance is greater than you would expect from a simple act of sitting down to sip a hot beverage. It is a social experience that means a lot more.
For one thing, it allows the Afghans to be hosts to us, their guests. Hospitality is one of the 8 tenets of the Pashtunwali (I hope that I spelled that right.) While not all Afghans are Pashtuns (40% are,) I have found that overwhelmingly, this is reflected in Afghan culture.
Which is why the Taliban have served me chai. If it is on a day when they are not choosing to fight you, if you show up in their village, you will be invited for chai. If you accept, you generally have nothing to fear.
These gentlemen were doing their Afghan best to get to know us, and to set the stage for an honorable relationship. To an Afghan, to be inhospitable is shameful. They were making sure that we got off to a good start, and they did well. We had some very pleasant conversation and got to know a little about each other and what the general condition of their district is.
We also met a local schoolteacher who apologized for his very good English skills. We discussed the future of the children that he teaches. We agreed that there is a lot of work to do in Afghanistan, and that these children will take Afghanistan to a whole new level.
Too soon, it seemed, the others were ready to go. When we do things around here, if there are multiple functional areas to be serviced, they all get serviced in the same mission. We had to assess another project that is intended to help another small village with some flood control issues that they have.
The Lieutenant in charge of overseeing the development projects for that village explained to me that they had to make sure that all the village elders were present and that there was a true consensus before we would fund a project, so that one or two could not work against the greater good of the village as a whole.
Not all the elders showed up for the Shura, so we had chai and discussed the state of the current project before taking our leave. We looked at the flood device they are building with material that we have purchased for them. This is their project; they are the ones that asked for this, and they are doing the work.
The conop back to the FOB was uneventful.
The process of getting to know these ANP leaders and their soldiers will take a little time. My last bunch took a little time, but we wound up being great friends. It says a lot when one of them shakes your hand and then just hangs on to it as he walks with you, explaining what he sees going on in his area of responsibility. It's a little uncomfortable to an American to have a grown man hold his hand, but it is a sign of deep friendship here.
I'll know that our ANP truly feel that we are working to help them and that we understand them well when they begin to do that.