Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Afghans Have Two Faces

I recently took pictures of some of the Local National (LN) workers as a favor to them. LNs are workers hired from the neighboring villages, brought onto the base daily to do a variety of jobs. They typically work as a unit, and are supervised by either military escorts or civilian contractors who supervise their daily duties.

They saw me taking a picture with my digital camera, and asked if I would take one of them. It was an interesting situation because the way they asked was as if children pleading with a parent for a new toy, eyes serious with anticipation. Before obliging, I asked their military escorts if taking a picture would be breaking any rules. I was told it would be all right.

I took each worker's picture, printed them out on some card stock, and handed them out the next day. I was amazed, because they looked at the pictures as if they had each just received a $50 dollar bill. To say they were appreciative and grateful is an understatement.

At the time, one of my translator friends was having a smoke. He saw that I had given them the pictures. After being shown the pics and complimenting them on their newly acquired prizes, he went to his office. I followed. He proceeded to tell me something that burst my bubble. He told me that he advised the LNs to put their pictures in a safe place and to be careful with them. Why?

Seems once the LNs are back in their own environment, they need to be careful of Taliban who may question them about possessing anything "Western". The translator explained that Afghans have two faces; one for the westerners, and one for the Taliban. This made sense to me. I saw how the LNs were thrilled to have their picture taken, even though they know it's something the Taliban strongly discourages. In their homes, or among fellow villagers, they must be ready to wear the Taliban face, not that they are believers in Taliban tenets, but rather, out of fear for their lives. Some Afghans understand that having two faces is a prudent coping mechanism.

I understand now, and am sad for them. I saw, and briefly shared their joy over the pictures. Yet, something so simple and common in my world, is potentially complicated, and dangerous, in theirs.
Teachers: Talk to your students and ask them if they have ever used a "second face". Are they one way in front of their friends, but another at home/work/school? This discussion could lead to an art project, or a recollected example of a character they've seen in a movie or book they've read.

1 comment:

  1. We all know that we have different cultures, but most of us never stop to realize how profoundly different they really are.

    I would never have thought about the photographs causing problems. But, in spite of extensive reading, I don't think I will ever comprehend the Taliban and their mindset.

    Thanks for the wake-up!


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