Laškar Gāh Reviews
Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan - Provincial Capitol of Helmand Province Mar 22, 2013
I spent several months near the center of Helmand Province, Afghanistan and had some interesting experiences. I traveled around a good bit with members of the Afghan National Army, ANA , and other members of coalition forces. One of the more interesting experiences was near the provincial capital of Helmand Province, Lashkar Gah. Lashkar Gah is an ancient settlement over 1000 years old known in Persian (Farsi) as Bost. The words Lashkar Gah translate to Army Barracks in English. The 2006 census was approximately 200,000 people.
I had arranged for some members of the ANA to help one of the small bases a few kilometers from Lashkar Gah by disposing of surplus scrap metal. In return, they gave me an armed escort into the town to purchase building hardware and supplies for my client. In the process we had a good time eating at various restaurants in Lashkar Gah and visiting many sites of ordinary life during this extraordinary time of conflict.
The ANA soldiers got a local contractor to furnish trucks to haul the scrap metal to the selling point in the city. Every time I could, I would tag along with them and after they finished their business of disposing of the scrap metal, we would eat at a local restaurant and then they would escort me to the various dealers in ordinary building supplies and hardware. The dealers of hardware were much different than what you would see in western countries. The dealers consisted of many small to tiny shops selling items in the areas of their specialty. Some were electrical shops, some plumbing, some wood for building, others for paint, metal, and appliances. There were no huge home center stores like Home Depot in the US or the large home center type stores we saw in Germany.
Each time I went with them to the scrap metal disposal location I noticed some children walking around with large bags, so big they were actually dragging the bags and they would look for things on the ground and pick the things up and put them in their bags. I could not tell if the things were for eating or for sale as they kept their distance from the ANA soldiers who were heavily armed with many automatic weapons. It was cold in January and none of these kids had any shoes. One day I had the ANA take me to the bazaar before they went to the disposal yard and I purchased a dozen pairs of children’s shoes in various sizes. All the children were boys except for one very cute little girl who always looked sad and had dirty clothes, hands and face.
Once we were at the yard, I asked my interpreter to ask the children to come over where we were gathered. The children came over reluctantly and my interpreter explained to them that I had some gifts for them. I handed him my camera and he took some photos of me giving the children some shoes. I wanted to see how they treated the little girl so I first gave her a pair of shoes I had purchased for a boy. Some of the larger boys immediately tried to take the shoes from her until I became very stern with them. Even though they could not understand my English, they understood my tone and also knew they were doing wrong so they settled down and I had enough shoes to give each one a pair. I had saved a special pair of boots with fur lining for the little girl. It was so entertaining to see the little girl’s happiness! I had them all pose for a picture with me afterwards. I had never seen the little girl smile before but after the fur lined boots were on her little feet she had a smile a “mile” wide!
Sadly, as soon as the photo session was over several of the children took their new shoes off and put the shoes in their bag. They again walked in their bare feet on the cold January ground. Well I thought, at least I had done the best I could for them and it was not up to me to change their culture and habits. The small girl proudly kept her new fur lined boots on though!
I had a good time going to Lashkar Gah with the ANA and had many other interesting experiences including meeting the mayor of the city. He made a special trip to the disposal yard to meet an American for the first time in his life. He said he had seen the American convoys in their armored trucks go past for years but never met an American in person.
Our trips became too widely known though. The counter intelligence people eventually told the US Marines commanders about my trips with the ANA and the Marines stopped me from going again, saying that if something happened to an American, it would make them look bad. So anymore trips with the ANA were forbidden.
I am happy I made the trips even though there was a degree of danger. The people in the city were very nice in an old world sort of way. I was treated with so much respect due not only to being an American but also due to my age as I was already older than the average life expectancy of men in Afghanistan.
I would definitely like to go to Lashkar Gah again if the war is ever over.
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