Last night, I wandered into the chow hall in the evening to catch the end of the USA vs Algeria world cup game. I was surprised to find as many soldiers as I did watching the game. I sat down at a table by myself with a cup of tea. Shortly, I was joined by the Albanian Muslim, Afrim, who runs the maintenance facility and Paul the Hungarian who has an MBA, speaks Pashto and is enlisted in the US Army. In front of me sat the Afghan interpreter, Gulam, who I have worked extensively with since I arrived here.
As the minutes ticked off the clock I could feel the friction between hope and disappointment building in the room. When the US scored in the last minute of the game, that room lit up in a way I cannot describe. Afrim, Paul and I were in a three way hug, cheering and screaming. I felt tears well up in my eyes, as they are right now. Initially, I was embarrassed, but then I realized there were several soldiers with tears running down their faces. For them and for me that goal meant a lot more than the US advancing into the next round of the world cup. We have lost eight soldiers from this base in the last 20 days.
Since being in Afghanistan, I have spoken to locals who are not familiar with the word Afghanistan. Identity in this part of the country was once drawn from the Pashtun culture, but thirty years of war has worn the scope of one's identity down to the valley they live in and the family they live with. As I watched the rooms full of soldiers celebrate the US victory I was struck by the power of our national identity and pride.
Postscript: Claire, the woman who emailed this to my son who served with her in Iraq, said right after the game they were attacked and spent hours in a bunker which made the world cup game experience that much more special. She gave me her permission to share this wonderful, sad story.