Friday, January 14, 2011

From the Centcom Blog: Humor overcomes cultural obstacle

This CENTCOM Blog story, by Petty Officer 1st Class Krishna Jackson who worked in Afghanistan out of Bagram is encouraging, and like THIS story involving Staff Sergeant Steven C. Staley from a while back, also shows the power of a well placed joke to bring down walls:

From the media and my trainers, I expected that, as a woman and, on top of that, a military woman, I would be very unwelcome in a country where a woman’s honor relied on her complete modesty and her loyalty to her culture and family.
My negative expectations were confirmed when I asked a U.S. Army sergeant why he kept hand sanitizer hanging on his vest. He said he shook so many hands with Afghans that he wanted to avoid any health issues. But you don’t have to worry, he told me, because no Afghan men will be shaking your hand.

At first, I gave him an odd stare. Then it sunk in: Because I was a woman no one would be shaking my hand. I shrugged it off and continued to take photos of the training. I refused to be deterred by the comment since I figured I could make friends with almost anyone.
Along a chain link fence that ran along a dirt road, 30 Afghan soldiers waited for their next command. I studied their faces and noticed how varied their appearances were. Some looked Asian, some Arab and others Hispanic. The one common factor seemed to be that they were all of a medium-tan complexion but their features, and even their hair color, varied as much as I would see in America. I realized that this was because they were a mix of cultures, just like in America, united under one nation. I wanted to learn more about this nation Afghanistan.

I walked along, taking photos of whatever got my attention: mostly the training or the very malnourished dog that seemed to love the American soldiers’ company. As I ventured closer to the line of men, I made eye contact with one of the soldiers who was holding something in his hand. Another Afghan soldier asked me if I’d like to see what he was holding. I smiled as if to say “sure.” The soldier held out his hand and opened it to show me he was holding a wasp. I think he and his buddies expected me to fear it, perhaps scream like a girl and run away.

Instead, I made a joke. “Is that your friend?” I asked with a big smile and all the soldiers near him started laughing.

In broken English, the first Afghan who spoke to me said, “Yeah, that’s his little friend, his only friend.” That made his colleagues laugh even more.

She might have been able to pull out the old reliable "Say hello to my little friend" but that would have likely garnered puzzled looks.

Was this wasp a stinging wasp? Alive? A pet? Or were these guys trying to play a prank on the girl soldier? If so, she was very quick on the uptake. Something that jokesters the world over will respect!