One of my favorite things about being here are all of the interesting discussions I am part of. Discussions may be with my counterpart, his team, the guys in my office, my house mates, our guards, or any number of other people I work and interact with. I’ve always appreciated good conversations, and with so many different people and cultures interacting, it makes for a lot of interesting dialogue.

One day at lunch we discussed the differences in how things are expressed by different languages, including Dari, Pashtu, local languages, Russian, Persian, and, of course, English. Language has a huge impact on cultural norms from how to say hello to asking to borrow a pen (for example in one of the local languages, if you were to ask for something that the person didn’t have, they would respond by saying how shameful they are, but they would never actually say no.)

Another day, my translator was having trouble finding a word in Dari for different functions in Microsoft Word, such as adding bullets to text. Many of these English words have no equivalent. So he used the Dari word for bullets that go in a gun (a common enough word for a country at war for the past 30 years). Often, the English words become more common than the Dari words (for example, “motorwan” is the Dari word for “driver,” but everyone simply says “driver” in an accented way).

This leads to a discussion about whether I know how to drive…women were not allowed to drive here for many years, and even now, few know how. And the idea that I own a car is quite a big deal. And this leads to how in Afghanistan (and numerous other countries) there are actually 3 genders. There are men. There are women. And then, there are foreign-women (that’s me!) Men do business, tend their finances, walk on the street, drive cars, shake hands, argue loudly, and talk highly of their abilities. Women stay home and take care of their children, take basic positions (such as cleaner, receptionist, etc.), give their money to their families (either husband or parents), are timid and speak poorly of their abilities, and often go out with male escorts or at least their children. And foreign-women are just that. Foreign. They can do everything men can do (like shaking hands vigorously as a sign that you’re strong). On some level, they are treated and respected like men (that’s the unwritten expectation), but at the same time, men and women are continually surprised that the foreign-women don’t conform to their idea of a woman.

A discussion may start about translations, but then it becomes more about learning about cultures, assumptions, and everything else.

Of course, we still talk about movies, sports, security rumors, office politics, and other petty annoyances. 🙂