It’s about 2230. I’ve been riding in the back of an Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or M-RAP, for about an hour. Due to the five-point safety harness and my body armor, shifting positions is difficult, and my left ass-cheek went to sleep twenty minutes ago. My turgimon smells like shit because he hasn’t showered in a few days, but I recently ate some very piquant food, so I’m retaliating.
The roads here are bumpy, and very few of them are paved, so I’m glad for my helmet. It bangs into something above me often enough that I’d probably have cerebral hemorrhaging without it. We pull to a stop, and the patrol leader signals us that we’ve reached our destination. For operational security’s sake, we’ll call it Patrol Base X. Once we get out, the PL organizes his men into a formation, and after we move inside, he and his men set up fixed site security. They are my support for this meeting. They keep an eye out for threats so I can focus on what’s in front of me.
What’s in front of me is a semi-powerful local figure; a village elder. We’ll name him Mr. X Khan. All the old important guys have some type of honorific attached to their given names, and Khan is one of the more common ones. Mr. X is in charge of most of the Afghan Local Police manning PB X. He’s agreed to meet with me at this time of night because during Ramadan, or Ramazan as the locals refer to it, most folks try to sleep during the day. Their religious beliefs require fasting and prayer. No water or food allowed during daylight hours.
As we greet each other and sit down, I take note of the fact that no chai is offered. This is significant, because hospitality is one of the five pillars of Islam. This is the first shura(meeting) I’ve been to that did not have refreshments provided by the host. After the requisite getting-acquainted-with-each-other BS, I get down to business. I want to know how many men he has, and where they’re all at. He obliges. During this, I’m keenly aware of a few folks lurking in the shadows, no doubt with AK-47s. I’m not worried about them. They are the PL’s problem.
In the soft glow produced by a shop light hanging from a vehicle hood, Mr. X then proceeds to fill me in with all his bitches, gripes, and moans. I make no promises save that I will ask my superiors about a solution. It’s always the same with these guys. I always reply the same. After about thirty minutes of playing the gracious guest, I’ve had my fill and rise to depart. Between his nattering and the steady stream of ants crawling up my back, I’ve decided to call it a night.
Then the guy hugs me. Not a one-armed man-hug like back in the States, but a full-on Afghan-cheek-pressed-to-mine hug. He smells worse than my interpreter, if that’s possible. After the short walk back to the rolling box of incredible nasal sensations, we leave. Two hours later, I’m still picking ants out of my shorts…