There’s an old saw that if you know three languages, you’re trilingual, if you know two, you’re bilingual, and if you know one, you’re American. Most Afghans know a BUNCH…everyone knows Dari and Pashto, and many also know Tajik, Uzbek, Russian, and English.
As a Coalition advisor in Kabul, I’ve found even a little Dari goes a LONG way. Here’s my take on the absolute least you need to know…
- Kumak! Help! Because you just never know when you might need it…
- Salaam aalaikum - Peace be upon you, the standard greeting in most Islamic countries.
Wa’alaikum salaam - And peace be upon you, the standard response.
- Soub baKhayr - Good morning.
- Lutfan - Please.
- Tashakur - Thank you.
- Chitur hasten? How are you? There’s a casual version, but this is the formal one, best for the first time you meet someone and to show respect for older or senior-ranking Afghans. They’ll let you know when they’re comfortable shifting to more informal language…
Man Khub hastam - I’m good.
Chuma chitur hasten? And you?
- Me baKhshi - Excuse me (to an individual).
- Tabrik basha! Congratulations! The perfect phrase for a graduation ceremony…
- Khoda hafiz - May God protect you, my favorite way to say “farewell”.
- Shohna ba Shohna - Shoulder to Shoulder…this is the NTM-A motto and it really speaks to our relationship with the Afghan National Security Forces. There’s a wide range of ANA and ANP capabilities: Some have to lean on us like a person with an injured leg; some can walk with us, side by side; and some are sprinting alongside us. But in all cases, we’re at close ranks, shoulder to shoulder…moving forward against the insurgency and towards Afghanistan’s future.
Bottom line: Learning some Dari won’t magically fix everything that’s messed up in Afghanistan. But it will help.