Posts Tagged ‘Afghan phrases’

High five

High fives in Kunar*

Soap bubbles

Bubbles in Kabul**

One of my most popular posts is one from a while back on Dari Phrases You Need to Know.   In case it’s not obvious, this is the sequel:  Ten phrases that can take you beyond the “minimum essential” and into the “nice to know”…

  1. Mushkelnest – No problem.
  2. Qabelishnest – You’re welcome.
  3. Zhwan! – Energy/life.  Soldiers will often say this after being recognized for exceptional performance.  I asked a terp what it meant the other day, and he struggled a little, as it doesn’t really have an exact English translation.  A different terp though, who can speak Dari, English, and Army explained, “It means ‘Hoo-ah!'”
  4. Drust – OK.
  5. Ba’le – Yes.  And its counterpart…
    Ne – No.
  6. Khub’ast – Cool (lit., “good is”).  You can make it a little stronger too, as…
    Besyar khub! – Very good!
  7. Booga booga booga – Say it, say it, say it.  Kind of an all-purpose phrase, it’s sometimes used like, “Blah blah blah…” but more often as the Dari equivalent of, “You go, girl!”
  8. Chitur hasti? How are you?  This is the informal version, used between friends (the formal version is in my previous post).
    Khub hastam – I’m good.
    Chuma chitur hasti? And you?
  9. Zenda bashi – Take care (lit., “health always”).
  10. Yak team wahed – One team together.  I love this phrase because it speaks volumes about the challenge of serving here in Afghanistan.  We have to build enduring National Security Forces in a country that, until we got here, didn’t even have a word for Team (Americans are known for being fiercely independent, but geesh, we’ve got nothing on the Afghans…).  After 50,000 years of history though, the Afghans finally have a word for Team:  team.  Almost without exception, Afghans are quick to pick up the good ideas the Coalition has to offer.  And teamwork is certainly one of our better ones!

Bottom line:  Language matters.  Give some Dari a try!

* Photo by SSG Gary A. Witte, US Army, from Soldiers Media Center on flikr.
** Photo by Stephon M. Sterns.

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On patrol, shohna ba shohna...*

Marine and Boy

On patrol, shoulder to shoulder...**

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… 

  1. Kumak! Help!  Because you just never know when you might need it…
  2. Salaam aalaikum – Peace be upon you, the standard greeting in most Islamic countries.
    Wa’alaikum salaam – And peace be upon you, the standard response.
  3. Soub baKhayr – Good morning.
  4. Lutfan – Please.
  5. Tashakur – Thank you.
  6. 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?
  7. Me baKhshi – Excuse me (to an individual).
  8. Tabrik basha! Congratulations!  The perfect phrase for a graduation ceremony
  9. Khoda hafiz – May God protect you, my favorite way to say “farewell”.
  10. 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. 

* Photo by Cpl Artur Shvartsberg, USMC, from Defense Imagery.
** Photo by LCpl Jeremy Harris, USMC, from Defense Imagery

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Print Plant

The MoD Print Plant, without mines


Civilian and military Print Plant workers*

Your slightly-cryptic but cool Afghan phrase of the day:  The hand is a flower.

In America, wild flowers exist…fields of bluebonnets, columbine, and bear grass bloom without human help.  And fields of dandelions bloom despite human help!

In Afghanistan, not so much.  There’s PLENTY of dirt here, but without nurturing Afghan hands, few – if any – seeds or bulbs would ever flower.  Thus, “[due to] the hand, a flower exists,” usually translated as…

The hand is a flower

I learned this phrase while visiting the Ministry of Defense (MoD) Print Plant.  The Print Plant is a real gem.  There, soldiers and Army civilians work together to print everything an Army needs…stuff like certificates, forms, posters, maps, training materials, and manuals.

The Print Plant is located in an ornate building, originally built in the 1930s.  When the ANA first moved in though, just over 5 years ago, the facility grounds were still littered with Soviet air-dropped landmines…I guess clearing the roof was more than a little sporty.  But Afghan hands cleared the building and then, with Coalition hands helping out, trained and equipped the men and women of the Print Plant.  Today, the MoD operates and maintains the Print Plant machinery with only a little help from a supporting contractor.  And they do all the graphic design work themselves.

Unfortunately, this level of autonomy is still rare within the Afghan National Security Forces.  But the MoD Print Plant is existence proof that transition of responsibility to Afghan hands can work REALLY well.

Bottom line:  The best things don’t just spontaneously happen.  But Afghan and Coalition hands can make flowers grow in even the most unlikely places.

* Photo by LtCol Dean Vrable, USMC

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Father and son

An Afghan soldier in Kabul, with his son and AK-47*

M-16 training

SSG Sokolowski trains Afghan soldiers to fire the M-16**

Afghan phrase of the day: “762 retirement.”

There’s no real retirement plan for members of the ANA or ANP.  We’ve done a bunch of work to put together an affordable yet decent retirement plan, but (as in any other country in the world) something like this is a HUGE political deal, so it’s seriously wrapped up in Parliament.  Not having a decent retirement plan is–for obvious reasons–a big contributing factor to corruption.  In a very real sense, skimming *is* the retirement plan.  Or at least the preferred one!  The other is the “762 retirement” plan.  See, the insurgents use AK-47s, which take 7.62mm (in the US: 30 caliber) ammunition…

Which reminds me, there’s an ongoing issue on whether to issue M-16s or AK-47s to the Afghans.  M-16s are the classic U.S. automatic rifle, and AK-47s are the classic Soviet (now Russian) one.  In sterotypical Cold War fashion, the U.S. weapon is much more accurate, but also much more expensive and complex.  So even though there’s a lot to be said for supporting U.S. weapon makers, there’s also a lot to be said for making the AK-47 the standard weapon here.  One of the biggest selling points for the AK-47, especially as we try to accelerate the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces, is that the training program for AK-47 qualification is much faster than the corresponding program for M-16s.  Everyone thought it was just familiarization, but there’s another issue that’s just recently surfaced:

Like I said, the M-16 is far more accurate.  If you hold an M-16 correctly, and aim correctly, and breathe correctly, and squeeze the trigger correctly, you WILL hit your target.  100% guaranteed.  But that isn’t necessarily a good thing in a culture where death should be Allah’s call, not yours.  You do all that with an AK-47 and there’s still a fairly good chance you’ll miss.  Allah’s call.  And if you hold it at your waist, aim basically downrange, and breathe and squeeze however you want, I can pretty much guarantee that the only person who’s gonna get hit is someone Allah WANTS to be hit.

Bottom line: Every day here brings new and REALLY interesting cultural insights…

* Photo by Michael Kaiser, from deviantART

** Photo by SSgt Larry E. Reid, Jr., USAF, from Defense Imagery

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Volunteer community relations mission

Unloading clothes and toys for a volunteer community relations (VCR) mission*

VCR football

Playing soccer (or football, to the rest of the Coalition) on a VCR mission*

One of the most important things we do is volunteer community relations, or VCR, missions.  Led by NTM-A chaplains from Camp Eggers, volunteers distribute clothes and toys to places like schools, orphanages and medical centers in Kabul and surrounding areas.  During the run-up to the Presidential Elections last year, the security situation in Kabul was the worst it’s been during my tour.  Many days, roads were ‘black’, meaning we could only travel on them for absolutely mission-critical activities, and even then, only with the permission of our most senior officers.  But even on those days, the VCR missions went on…the Command clearly demonstrated that VCR missions are a vital part of what we’re trying to accomplish here in Afghanistan.  And that makes sense:  VCR missions provide hope to Afghans that have none, and as the Afghans would say,

The world lives on hope.

In general, VCR missions take place once week.  Unfortunately, because of the security and transportation challenges, only a handful of people can go on the actual mission.  So the chaplains select randomly from the list of people who help out at the ‘VCR sort’.  This first part is truly a sight to behold: Scores of military and civilian volunteers putting order to the massive chaos of items donated by individuals and charities from all over the world.   It starts with a human chain, passing hundreds of boxes from the VCR storage area to a nearby open space.  The volunteers then sort the boxes into smaller piles, organizing them by type: clothing for infants, boys, girls, men, and women; toys; blankets; jackets; winter shoes; normal shoes; and so on.  Then it’s almost like Halloween:  A non-stop line of people with bags, stopping at houses, and receiving treats.  Except in this case it’s a line of volunteers with bags, stopping at each small pile, and receiving donated items from that station.  By the time a volunteer has looped all the way around the sort area, his or her bag is jam-packed with a complete mix of donated goods…one family’s worth of stuff.  A quick stop to tie off the bag and pick up another, then it’s back for another round.  The whole thing happens VERY quickly and with a very little formal organization…almost like a bunch of ants taking on a task that’s WAY too big as individuals but easy as a swarm.  Which is really the whole idea of the International Community’s work in Afghanistan…

Bottom line:  VCR missions change lives…both the volunteer’s and the recipient’s.

* USAF photos by SSgt Larry E. Reid, from Defense Imagery

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Vehicle Division

SMSgt Schell at the Central Workshop Vehicle Division


A well-maintained hand-cranked winch, 130 years old

Central Workshop is the National-level depot maintenance and production facility for the Afghan National Army.  Visiting there is like stepping into a Dickens novel…if Dickens was writing about counter-insurgency operations.  Want your AK-47 barrel re-blued and a new butt-stock created from scratch?  Central Workshop’s the place.  Need to smelt and cast a bunch of new insignia?  Likewise.  Need to repair an artillery piece with a blowtorch and sledgehammer?  Definitely the Central Workshop.  Need to install a new power supply in an HF radio base station or a new encryption board in a VHF hand-held?  Um, not so much…

At least that was the case before NTM-A/CSTC-A‘s Logistics Training and Advisory Group (LTAG) arrived.  The LTAG has a team of 10 US service members assigned to advise the 1100+ soldiers of the Central Workshop.  These advisers live at Camp Eggers, but work “outside the wire” alongside Afghans, almost every single day.  They have raised the capability and capacity of the entire Central Workshop…facilities and engineering, production control, quality assurance, test equipment, the weapons shops, the machine shop, and on and on and on…

But dearest to my heart is LTAG’s support to the Central Workshop Communications Division.   LTAG advisers have developed the environment the Comm Division needs to succeed: facility upgrades, spare parts, and test equipment coming soon.  They’ve also developed the soldiers the Division needs to succeed.  As I mentioned in a previous post, NTM-A basically took the five best radio maintainers in the ANA and trained them up even more…they’re now officially certified to train others, bringing the ANA one small step closer to being able to sustain itself.

But according to SMSgt Schell, the Senior Enlisted member of the US Adviser team, the toughest part of the job isn’t the technical challenges.  Nor is it the attitude of the Afghans…Central Workshop soldiers are–almost without exception–motivated and eager to learn.  The toughest part is convincing other Coalition members of the Workshop’s potential…”selling hope”, as SMSgt Schell puts it.  A great example is the Vehicle Maintenance Division.  Right now, the Division is largely without work, because the Coalition has put a “do contract” in place (where the contractor does the mission for the Afghans) instead of a “teach contract” (where the contractor teaches the Afghans how to do the mission).  Certainly, vehicle maintenance is tough, even within the US military.  Imagine it within a country at war, with a barely-functional supply system and a frighteningly illiterate workforce.  But Central Workshop soldiers understand maintenance discipline and have a long, proud history of finding a way to overcome any maintenance challenge.  There’s a hand-cranked winch in the machine shop, for example, that can lift a little over 3 tons.  It was made, from scratch, 130 years ago.  And it still works flawlessly.  There’s no doubt the Central Workshop has a LONG way to go.  But there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll get there.

Bottom line:  The Afghans have a phrase that sums up the effort nicely:

Drop drop becomes a river.

Five instructor-qualified radio maintainers is just a drop.  And the outlines of a “Vo-tech”-style vehicle maintenance program is just a drop.  But with the help of motivated LTAG advisers, there’s a river coming, fast.

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"I receive the certificate...

...for Afghanistan!"*

Unsurprisingly, there are  a BUNCH of challenges regarding education in Afghanistan.  But there’s a thirst for knowledge and education here that’s really cool.  You can see it in numbers like this:  “Educational access [at what passes for secondary education here] – 600,000 applicants for 20,000 seats.”  It’s truly tragic there are only 20,000 seats available.  But the number of applicants is awesome!

You can also see it in the pride Afghans get when they receive the graduation certificate from a course, turn to face their peers, and shout “For Afghanistan!”  Graduations are a Really Big Deal in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP); being able to attend graduation ceremonies as a representative of the Coalition is perhaps the most rewarding part of my job.

My first was a radio maintenance class, taught under an Afghan contract and paid for by US taxpayers through CSTC-A.  Until they started class, seven weeks before the ceremony, these soldiers had NEVER seen a Phillips screwdriver or electrical tape.  But by the end, they could make basic repairs, even including soldering new encryption circuits into the radios and loading encryption keys.  This is a neat technically, of course.  But it’s HUGE operationally, because these encryption cards keep insurgents from being able to listen in on ANA conversations using captured radios.  The graduates’ new skills will literally keep other soldiers alive.

Another was an opportunity to congratulate the graduates of a computer tech support class.  It was pretty basic stuff to be sure…I’m certain my 14-year old could provide better tech support.  But what was especially striking was that it was a 4-month class, and every graduate’s Boss valued the education so much he or she was willing to send them away from the fight and to a class for that long.  As you’d expect, there aren’t many people with computer skills in Afghanistan.  But those that have them can make a HUGE impact.

Perhaps the most amazing graduation so far though has been the radio maintenance instructor course, at the ANA Central Workshop.  Central Workshop is this SERIOUSLY steampunk maintenance warren, with a long proud history of sledgehammer-style maintenance (stuff like smelting ANA emblems and refurbishing AK-47s), but a short and slightly embarrassing history of oscilloscope-style maintenance.  Until the other day.  We basically took the five best radio maintainers in the ANA and trained them up even more…they’re now officially certified to train others.  Which is HUGE, for the individuals themselves, for the Central Workshop, for the ANA, and for Afghanistan.  We made quite the big deal out of it…80+ people there to recognize these five soldiers.  Which is entirely appropriate recognition for five soldiers who represent the future of the Afghan National Army–an Army that can train and sustain itself.

Education is EXTREMELY precious and desirable here.  Sometimes, finding that knowledge is surprisingly easy (the Afghans I’ve dealt with have–almost without exception–been extremely quick to pick up on new concepts).  And sometimes it’s almost unbelievably difficult.  But even then, they’ll move mountains to get it.

Bottom line:  The Afghans have a phrase that elegantly describes the whole situation:

We will find the lost diamond, whether on top or buried under the ground.

* Photos by SMSgt Brett Kolasch, USAF

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