Pashto Looks Good on Your Face

Pashto Looks Good on Your Face

In my own Home Design business prior to going to Afghanistan, I developed over those 30 years an array of forms and checklists to assist my clients and me through the home design and construction process. Like any business I had to establish a reason for people to use me. What set me apart from the other home designers? I continuously went the extra mile researching designs, construction methods and materials along with thinking outside the box to come up with the best design possible for my clients. So it’s no surprise I took this same zealousness to prepare for my deployment to Afghanistan and continued it throughout my time there.

Before leaving for Afghanistan I read as much as I could about the country, the war, the culture, history and religion. I even read an English translation of the Quran (the Muslim holy book). Thinking outside the box I reached out to a Muslim client from Pakistan and asked him to help me understand the Muslim religion. He gave me material to read, along with a tour of two mosques and set me up to attend a Friday prayer service. He talked with me about designing an addition to one of the mosques explaining in great detail the specifics required based on their faith and future requirements. This experience proved to be invaluable when talking with Afghans in Afghanistan.

Learning Pashto and Dari

Once in Afghanistan I took online courses to learn Pashto and Dari, the two main languages of Afghanistan. I also took in-classroom courses on different military bases and had my Afghan interpreters tutor me in our off time. I would teach them English and they would teach me Pashto and Dari.

Preparing for my interactions with the Afghan people resulted in good responses and cooperation. I earned additional credibility with my knowledge of their culture, history and religion, such as meeting with Afghans with the title of Hajji. They were shocked, me being a non-Muslim, that I understood that was a prestigious title given to a Muslim who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

In Afghanistan I spent a lot of time flying to U.S. military bases called FOB’s and COP’s. Some of these bases were up in the Pesh Valley where we saw a lot of Taliban activity, including in-coming rockets and sniper fire, making for some interesting days. All I can say is that it was a good thing I ran the sprints and hurdles in high school!

One time while having tea with Afghan army soldiers at the top of a mountain and listening to the Taliban talk on their radios, we talked about our families and every subject you could think of. There were no roads to where I was, just goat trails and a place for a helicopter to land. How do I explain this experience to people in America? While standing outside, I could be shot any moment and once inside their protective walls, the Afghans from Nuristan  just laughed and said it is God’s will what happens to us. Not that we were not on guard. We were cultures and civilizations apart and yet we could laugh and talk about our families and history. They were trying to speak English to me and I was doing my best to speak Pashto. I think my knowledge of their culture and history was amazing them. When I left they gave me a big hug, which is customarily only reserved for the best of friends and family.

The Icing on the Cake

It was common for people in Afghanistan to ask me how long I was going to do this job?  At least 5 years would be my answer. “I am living my dream and wouldn’t have it any other way.” They’d look at me like I was crazy. The icing on the cake came in one encounter I had when an Afghan interpreter was listening to me trying to speak with Afghans in Pashto. I can’t put into words how good it made me feel and so thankful for having this job and opportunity as she thanked me for making things better for the Afghan people and then said: “Pashto looks good on your Face.”


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