Helmand: A Nepalese View

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This post is by Anup Kaphle

HELMAND - I am not used to my appearance working in my favor. But one of the most frequent compliments I've bagged in Afghanistan is that I look like an Afghan, talk like an Afghan, and without my heavy load of body armor could possibly pass as one. (Graeme has this affliction, too, and is often taken for a freakishly tall Hazara.)

Except for the dust and the war, Afghanistan is not much different from my home, Nepal. Take naan-e afghani, for example. As Afghanistan's national bread, it is a staple in every household, often eaten with vegetables or meat, much like the flour roti of Nepal or India. When I sit under an open tent on a dusty Afghan roadside, tear from a big sheet of bread, dip it in okra cooked with tomatoes, and eat it with my dirty hands, I am in a way not far from home. I can't say I enjoy it as much as the Afghans do, but the experience makes me miss the good times I had with friends when I was young.

The other bond I share with the Afghans is linguistic. Graeme and I have followed the Afghan National Police and the British army Gurkhas who train them. Neither of us speaks much Pashto, but we communicate well using Graeme's Dari and my Urdu. In Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, I met a number Afghan National Police who speak Urdu, listen to Pakistani and Indian radio stations, and interact with the British Gurkhas as if they have been friends for ages. The Gurkhas ask the policemen to recite Urdu poetry, often love poems, and in return the Afghans ask for "mini flares" -- a small firecracker-like device that the British shoot in the air to warn drivers to stay away from their convoys. In either case, after long hours of patrol, sometimes through dangerous parts of town, this interaction is pure entertainment.

Listen to an Afghan policeman sing classic Hindi songs:

It's intriguing to watch the Afghans and Gurkhas connect with each other, through a language and culture that belongs to neither of them. That connection has allowed both to work closely, and has helped the British gain important trust from their Afghan counterparts.

We'll post more soon on the Gurkhas and the Afghan National Police, and the fight for Helmand.

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Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is gcaw.net.

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