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Sol 27 : Warrior Caste

The sun is setting, the plane is coming. The bags have been loaded, stuffed with clothing. The rifles are clean but empty. The hearts are guarded but full. The are a few families here, but most are gone. There are a few emails, but most have been sent. Napping, dreaming, waking in cold sweats. Anticipation, waiting, last minute rush. Sitting in the barbers chair I feel the comfort or a ritual, a ritual of my own making used to mark a life changing even. Tonight might be my last on American soil.

Warrior caste. Rituals of preparation…waiting.waiting.waiting.

Sol 16 : Vehicles, Counter Insurgency, Arduino

My training continues again this week, in preparation for Afghanistan. I should have my boots on the ground in another fortnight of sols(Check out this blog entry for an explanation of Sols). We had training on the big vehicles a few days ago, including the newer models designed to disperse IED blasts coming from below. Pretty brilliant equipment, with lots of goodies specially designed during the last 11 years of operations in Afghanistan.

Quick jump, I say operations in Afghanistan not war, because as I am learning, the conflict in Afghanistan is really not a war in most ways an average american thinks of war. Counter Insurgency Operations is as much about diplomacy with locals as it is about sending in helicopters to light up a target. There are no trenches with enemies on the other sides shooting back. There are bands of rebels in the mountains and allied villages causing trouble throughout a land ( I hesitate to call it a nation as the tribal structure of the Afghan way of life really doesn’t lend itself to the nation-state model well) and inciting distrust in a central government that seems more like a city-state in the Grecian sense trying to build some sort of modern country out of a confederation of tribes. Westerners just cant understand the tribal way of thought. We are too far removed, I think from those times.

On a separate note, I’m really getting into the Arduino/Maker culture, when it comes to learning computer science and electronics engineering. Horay, for self teaching another advanced topic! Who needs teachers when you have rabid desire for the absorption of knowledge. Self Actualization is awesome.

also this

Song of the day is “Fn Pig” by Deadmau5

Sol -15 : Comprehending Afghanistan

I actually have a painting of this photograph, I purchased in Thailand.

We lose a number of soldiers and sailors in Afghanistan to violence from Afghan Army and Police trainees. While a few of these have been attributed to Taliban infiltration, I have been informed that a majority come from cultural clashes. Clashes born out of the differences between kids from American cities, raised on TV and internet, free speech and access to anything the human mind can imagine, in contrast with a people mentally wreaked by years of war, the sights of bodies and violence a regular occurrence, and a regime so oppressive that even the simple act of learning to read or to dance is outlawed.

Is it any wonder that in a nation where it can be justifiably said that every man, woman and child has PTSD, there are conflicts related to culture? I am striving to understand these factors in text and then in person. Here is what I am learning today.

Let’s learn a little about Afghanistan:

“Afghanistan is often referred to as the crossroads of Central Asia. Its strategically important geographical location has made it an ideal trade and invasion route for centuries. As a result, its history has been marked by turbulence. Conquerors from the West passed through this region to reach the Indian subcontinent, and Hindu empires extended their territories from the East through the same routes. The armies of King Darius, Alexander the Great, Kushan King Kanishka, Genghis Khan, the Shahi rulers of India, Muslim rulers, and the British all marched through the area to reach their goals of colonizing these lands and those beyond.”

What does this do to a people’s genetic heritage? It is said by some genetic researchers that Americans are ambitious and desire the discovery of new frontiers because the people who traveled to the New World had those gene markers in their DNA. They passed them to their children and it is what drove us west across a continent and upward into space to plant a starry flag upon the moon. So, what genetic markers survive in a people such as those who live in the mountains of Afghanistan? Resistance? Hardiness? Defiance? I wonder about this.

The Afghans also have a tribal code that dictates thier morals. These are passed down through the generations and include:

“Badal refers to the right to retaliate if insulted.
Badragha is the safe escort of a fugitive or a visitor to his destination.
Balandra is the act of providing help to someone who is unable to complete his own work, such as a harvest. Repayment is usually a lavish dinner.
Baramta is the holding of hostages until claimed property is returned; service industry workers (tailors, barbers, etc.) are excluded from being taken hostage.
Bota is the seizing of property to ensure repayment of debt.
Ghundi is an alliance created against a common enemy.
Hamsaya refers to a man who has given his valuables to someone (usually an elder of another village) who can protect him from insult or injury.
Itbar is the trust in one’s word or promise as a legally binding contract.
Lashkar is a large group of armed men who enforce the ruling of a jirga (council of elders), much like a police and military force would.
Lokhay Warkawal is the acceptance of an alliance in order to gain protection from enemies.
Meerata is the murder of one male member of a family by another in order to ensure inheritance. This is a criminal act and the Jirga responds by punishing the culprit.
Melmastia is generous hospitality, and Pashtuns consider it one of their finest virtues.
Mla Tarr is the provision of armed protection to help a family member or a close friend.
Nanewatei is the act of forgiveness or the grant of asylum, even to enemies. It is not accepted where the honor of a woman is involved.
Saz is “blood money” or other compensation (such as a daughter in marriage) given to appease a family after a murder.
Tarr is an agreement that gives protection to the involved parties.
Teega means literally “putting down the stone” and stands for ending the fighting between two feuding parties.
Tor is disgrace through extramarital or premarital sex (or rape) and is punishable by death.”

It’s almost like having a time machine back to ancient hunter gather society. Very tribal and warlike, with themes of honor and insults, protection and hostages. From a sociological perspective these people are fascinating, but to our modern sensibilities they read like a Conan fantasy novel. All blood and honor, it comes off as barbaric and in many senses of the word it is. It is also a way of life that has evolved to protect an often conquered people. I feel both sympathy and disgust, but mostly comprehension and understanding, even where I see action I strongly disagree with.

I was going to talk about Afghan food, but that seems inappropriate now. Let me give you a sound to clear your thoughts.

Introspectively Yours. Todd.

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