News: How to be normal in Afghanistan
Story by: U.S. Army Spc. Adam L. Mathis
PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – “Is kimchi supposed to be eaten hot or cold?”
It is a Saturday morning meeting of friends: a group of people standing around a griddle, waiting as batter turning into pancakes -- snow covers the ground and random, oddball statements such as questions are asked about Korean food etiquette when pancakes are being made.
Ignore the uniforms and weapons, and the group could have been standing in a college dorm room or a friend’s kitchen. In some ways, they were.
This was the kitchen of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shawn Kiene of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the recognized food expert, and the man keeping an eye on the griddle. Kimchi, according to Kiene, can be eaten hot or cold.
“Now those are ready to flip,” he said to a Soldier near the griddle. “Joe, you can let Randy do it, he might know something about it.”
This is why we need people like Kiene.
It’s about more than just a chance for camaraderie or well-made pancakes. By holding a Saturday pancake breakfast, Kiene, a corporate chef in the civilian world, a contracting facilitator and food adviser to the brigade, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, in Afghanistan, actually recreates a bit of home. A bit many deployed Soldiers probably don’t even realize they miss.
Daily life in Afghanistan is shaped by one constant principle: the mission.
Here, the job must be done or this bit of reconstruction or that mission to stop insurgents won’t happen. Some soldiers work at this job for 12 hours a day, some longer. Even during downtime, the mission defines life because it is all that happens during the day.
Back home however, community is rarely about one single thing.
Part of the joy of living with others is in experiencing the talents and knowledge they bring to any situation. The last time you sat in your living room with friends back home, you may have starting talking about sports, but inevitably, someone brought up their pet, their spouse, the car repair they are working on, a book this guy is reading, or a painting that woman is working on.
Talents and hobbies are often thought of as private, almost selfish, things. However, these are the basis of normal life for us. Things that come up in conversation are what drive us. They give us a chance to come together, discuss them and share in them.
A healthy social life is not defined by any one particular interest, but a group of interests people share, or at least are willing to try. Try imagining all of your friends only being interested in watching television and not talking about anything else. Then, try not to jump out a window.
Kiene’s pancake breakfast is a challenge. The hobbies we jealously make time for in Afghanistan, the ones we make sure we practice before going to bed, are opportunities to build bridges we had back home.
Your interest in computers, and the latest mod you tried, could be the starting point for a conversation with another guy about his kill record on Halo.
It is about more than just the hobby or the interest itself; it’s about being normal in a place that is not normal to us.