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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Learning Pashto
June 23, 2007

      I’m the only ETT here in Doa China temporarily – the other members of my team have gone back to Waza Khwa for a few days for resupply and to pick up some new members of our team, as well as bring back one of our HMMWV’s that has been in the shop for many, many days.  “Sgt Rock” has been in Waza Khwa working on the vehicle for over two weeks.

      I don’t mind staying here alone; in fact, I volunteered for it.  We have been advised by our higher command that we should have at least one team member at Doa China at all times.  Part of this is for continuity’s sake, part to continue to act as liaison with the other Army unit stationed here, and part to try to continue training.  As far as the training goes, I have planned to present another class on first aid tomorrow morning, going over how to treat chest and head wounds.

      I have been trying to learn Pashto as much as I can.  I have a little notebook I carry with me, and I have written about three dozen common words in it.  I am able to communicate at a very simple, basic level (sometimes using hand gestures or pantomimes), using my limited Pashto vocabulary, making two-word sentences (I’m sure my grammar and pronunciation are horrible, but if I can get my idea across, that’s what matters to me at this point).  Most of the ABP have learned a very few basic English words, too, like “water” and “thank you.”

      It seems it is at least as easy for me to learn Pashto as it is for me to teach them English.  I won’t become proficient at Pashto before I leave, but I am absolutely sure they will not be much farther along with English if I try to teach them.  My interpreter has told me Pashto is a very difficult language.  I believe this is because there are so many ways the Afghans chop up words and shorten words – it’s common to them, so they understand what they are trying to say, but for a newcomer, abbreviated words are hard to follow.  I am concentrating more on being able to speak a few words and instruct than I am in being able to follow a conversation or speak fluently with them.  If I can understand a few words in reply to a simple question, I will be able to communicate enough for my purposes.

      One may wonder why I am trying to learn Pashto when we have interpreters.  Good question – most of my teammates aren’t trying to learn Pashto, beyond a few polite phrases.  The other US Soldiers here in Doa China don’t interact with the ABP much at all (that’s our job), so they don’t make an effort to learn Pashto, beyond perhaps a word or two here and there.  But I’ve been in too many situations where I needed to communicate to an ABP, and an interpreter is not around, or they’re busy interpreting for someone else, or whatever, so I have to try to communicate directly myself.  It’s frustrating, not being able to understand or be understood, so I’m trying to lessen my own frustration.  I’m getting better and better at basic phrases, and I look forward to being able to hold simple conversations sometime soon.

      Time here has been going slowly.  The days are long and hot.  I have missed my oldest daughter’s church confirmation and junior high graduation, and will soon miss my youngest daughter’s birthday.  Father’s Day was a day like any other day here, nothing special, except some of us fathers got out cigars and had a celebratory smoke.  I did have a chance to call my Dad back home on Father’s Day and spoke to him for a few minutes, which pleased him greatly.  It was good to talk to him over satellite phone.

      I told the ABP commander about Father’s Day in the US over tea (I often stop over in the ABP commander’s hooch to have “chai,”, the Pashto word for tea, which they drink an awful lot here).  He said in his broken English, “Is good!”  He uses this phrase a lot – we have given him the impression Americans are pretty good people, and I would have to admit, most of us over here are.  It’s a good thing we send our best to do this job.

      To all you Fathers out there reading this, I hope you are doing your best to raise your children to be good examples as well!

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.