I learned yesterday that even when you are at your most frustrated and annoyed, good things can come out of a bad situation.
I had the worst headache yesterday, so after coming into work for a photo shoot that got moved to 8 p.m. I decided to lay down for a bit. Not 10 minutes after I turned off my light, my phone rang, and against my better judgment, I answered. It was work. Bad idea. I got assigned to go into Kabul to do a cultural piece about what Afghans do on a typical Friday, which is their religious day of worship, their day off from work.
As I grumpily gathered my gear, I realized was in no mood to talk to people. This isn’t going to work, I told my boss. We don’t have an interpreter, no one speaks English, etc. But he was determined that we go, so we headed out to the Olympic Stadium, which was built in 1923 by King Amunullah Khan, in celebration for defeating the British; it marked Afghanistan as an independent nation. Under the Taliban it had a less illustrious role – it was the site for public punishment, including executions and stoning. Since 2001 it was gradually gone back to the people and is now used for local and national sporting events. On this particular, beautiful, sunny Friday, it was filled with people playing soccer, having picnics and hanging out.
And of course, the first person that we spoke with, barely minutes after getting out of the vehicle, spoke English. Seriously. There went that excuse, right out the window. As I walked around the field, I started to enjoy the day, the weather and just being out with the people as they played in the sun. We don’t get many opportunities to freely mix with the Afghans without a lot of military people around so this was a nice change. I started taking pictures of people playing soccer and soon, kids started crowding around. The ball came to me and I kicked it back, to big smiles from the players.
We left shortly after to move on to the next spot, where again, we were greeted with smiles, curious glances and eager children. Sometimes the kids want to just talk to you, or be near you, maybe have their picture taken and some want something, anything they can get from you and they won’t take no for an answer. It can be frustrating and sad, but I don’t like to hand out money. I hadn’t brought candy like I normally do, which in this case, may have been a good thing because there were quite a few kids and it could have turned ugly, quick, especially if I hadn’t brought enough.
There were lots of people playing soccer and cricket, this time in fields near the old presidential palace and we stayed for a bit, talking and taking pictures.
On our last stop, on a crowded city street, with lots of traffic, our colonel got out of the vehicle to buy some sodas and bread. I hopped out of the vehicle to keep an eye out and to see if I could get any more photos. The light was going, but it was beautiful too, casting a soft, golden glow on everything. An elderly man walked up to me, speaking in English. As I chatted with him about being a “soldier” and what we were doing here, the line of questioning went down a familiar path.
“How old are you,” he asked. Sigh, I knew where this is going. Sure enough, the next question came out: “Are you married?” I guess to be a 28-year old, single woman with no children is not a common occurrence here, and often my responses are met with looks of surprise. “Why are you not married?,” he asked. Oh boy, how to answer this one. I smiled vaguely and said, “Someday, I hope to be.” This usually works, earning me nods of approval and big smiles. I’d interviewed several people who turned the tables on me with these types of questions – both men and women. This time the man looked at me and said, “You finish being a soldier, and then get married. It is good what you do.” This time it was my turn to nod and smile, and although I think women can have both a career and a marriage, I’m not sure that’s something they are accustomed to here. I guess it was a big step just to have him be accepting of a woman “soldier.” I'm glad he's got it all figured out; at least one of us does!
Regardless, as we headed back toward camp, I realized my headache was gone (although I was starving!) and that I was no longer frustrated by the day, and in fact, was happy that I’d gotten to go.