Tennessee National Guard
KABUL, Afghanistan (4/26/12) -- “Ma’am! Ma’am! Excuse me ma’am!” the little boy said to me as he ran alongside me on the sidewalk.
Fellow members of the 230th Signal Company and I were on our first mission outside the gates of Kandahar and traveled to the one area where visiting with locals of the city was allowed.
I had no idea that my curiosity and my camera would be the tools that bridged the gap between two cultures that day.
It was called the “Green Zone”, a small stretch of sidewalk between two Army bases in Kabul. It was an interesting walk down that short concrete path, and we met a variety of friendly locals, ranging from small children to elderly grandparents - even a bomb-maker who swore he changed his ways after his hands and eyesight became mangled from a premature explosion, stopped by to say hello as a young boy led him around.
The small group of children soon became large, they ran to us, and alongside us, all wanting to sell us bracelets they had made from glass beads and colored thread. I hated to turn down their offers but I had no cash to give.
“Come on ma’aaaaam,” the littlest salesman said to me, disbelief in his tone. “Hook-a-brotha-up,” he said in perfect English as he held out his hands and shrugged his shoulders.
Those words stopped me in my tracks and I belted out a laugh; I couldn’t believe what had just come out of his mouth and I knew instantly that Americans have influenced these kids more than we knew.
“Where did you learn that?” I said through tears of laughter.
“From my school,” he said and then pointed to my jacket sleeve, “your pens, I need those for my school, may I have them?”
I was hesitant for a moment, wondering if he was telling the truth and what kind of weapon he might be able to make from them. I always carry nice pens, taking pride in the ink that I put to paper, knowing the words written with that ink may have the ability to change things. It was a decision that lasted a few seconds in my head but in the end, his manners won me over.
"OK," I said with a smile, "but you must promise to go to school and teach others everything that you learn, especially her." I said as I pointed to the small girl, flawlessly beautiful and eyes bright, trying her best to keep up with the boys twice her size.
He put his hand to his heart, nodded in agreement and my heart almost melted.
My team and I continued our walk through the “Green Zone”, now with an entourage of small children. Everyone that we encountered stopped what they were doing to observe the camouflaged strangers in their area and they were especially interested in my camera.
They were washing vehicles, cementing crumbling walls, praying on their beautiful handmade rugs, it didn’t matter; they stopped what they were doing. They all wanted to be photographed and I happily obliged. I posed them, photographed them, and then watched the delight on their faces as they saw their pictures appear on that 3 inch screen located on the back of my camera.
It was such a simple thing that left us in the midst of a special moment, where two worlds merged on that small strip of sidewalk called the “Green Zone”.