I’m here for a couple of days of meetings with the U.S. Army Civil Affairs Team to explore potential project ideas. As the Middle East manager for SoA, my work includes countries that fall under the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) footprint. The Command’s area of responsibility spans 20 countries, from Egypt in the west to the Central Asian States in the east. This means lots of travel!
While our work at SoA typically involves serious matters, there are occasional moments of levity that remind me why this line of work is so meaningful.
Last week, I visited Tajikistan to follow up on two exciting projects currently in the works (more to come on that soon). While there, I joined an Army Civil Affairs Team on a site visit to Gharm, a quiet one-road town set in the country’s remote Rasht Valley.
After lunch, we stopped by a local American Corner, a U.S. Department of State public diplomacy initiative. (Think a cultural center that promotes all things America through books, games, English instruction, and Internet access, which the kids use to get on Facebook). While there, these guys and I started chatting. They were handsomely dressed, polite, and spoke excellent English. The one directly to my right in the picture below asked me about different “American slang” and complained how some were difficult to understand. I let him know that I too felt his pain.
The boys pointed out that I looked Tajik. I thanked them and told them that over many years of travel, I have also been informed that I look Italian, Kurdish, Turkish, Greek, Peruvian, Bolivian, Syrian, Bosnian, Afghan, Iraqi, and on occasion, Lebanese, which where I was born.
I inquired about what languages they learned in school. Tajik, English, and Russian. English, of course, was their favorite.
“Do you want to study in Dushanbe when you finish school?”
Abroad or Dushanbe, the capital, were the majority answers. Indeed, these kids were curious about the larger world. I encouraged them to travel.
Could we take a picture with you, they asked.
Sure, why not!
“One normal then one crazy,” one decided for the rest of us.
“How do I do crazy?”
“Just look funny.”
Sounded good to me.
Project Manager – Middle East