Afghan Culture As It May Affect Training

downloadFirst a little background. I gave a two week logistics course in Herat from 2007 to 2010. My classes were officer heavy. Majority were MAJ to COL with a few GOs sprinkled in. However, when I went to the Districts, I instructed CPT and below with a few NCOs involved.

Lessons learned are as follows:

1. Afghans have a great respect for Teachers. I ran into students out in the Districts and Provinces. They would put their hands over their hearts, bow slightly and address me as Teacher. They would thank me and seek advice. It happened quite often.

Afghanistan is an Asian culture. This respect for teachers goes back to the Chinese classical era (Lao Tzu, Sun Tzu, Confucious, etc).

Use that to your advantage by having your Interpreter refer to the instructors as Teachers.

2. Show respect for Islam. Regardless of your personal feelings. If you have to, fake the funk.

3. Let them get to know you. I set aside time in all of my classes for this. A period in the beginning where I talked about who I am, where I came from and the experience that made me the “expert” who teaches them these new techniques, etc.

4. I ended every class day with a couple of videos. Jennifer Lopez or Shakira. Nothing too crazy that might offend. They loved it. This actually drove people to attend my classes religiously. If I skipped a day or forgot to play the videos, my students would request them.

While these videos played, some of the students would approach me and talk to me on the side. It allowed me to get to know my students and gave them a temporary break or a new experience.

Many of these guys have never seen the internet or a music video.

5. Don’t be afraid to RESPECTFULLY speak about politics and religion. I learned much doing this about the motivations and personalities of my students.

6. Your interpreter is your primary source of contact and communication. I know this seems obvious but, for some reason, it is not.

The Teacher’s (instructor’s) relationship with the Afghan Interpreter will heavily influence your relationship with and effectiveness as an instructor/teacher.

If you do not like  your Interpreter, it will show. If you have a poorly skilled interpreter, you will not be able to communicate the skills, TTPs, etc that you wish to pass on to your students.

You and your Interpreter should be seamless. The Interpreter should be an extension of the Instructor.

When you are addressing the class, ADDRESS the CLASS. Then give your Interpreter the nod to translate. Look your students in the eye (collectively and individually) as you instruct. Do not address your Interpreter as you instruct your class/course. This will become second nature over time.

7. Speak a bit of Dari and/or Pashtun. The Afghans love this. A little is all it takes.

8. Greet your students at the door of the class each day (if this is possible). I did this each morning as they arrived. It sets the tone. It allows them to become comfortable with you. It shows that you care about them.

9. Do not be afraid to touch them. I put my arm around my Afghan counterparts shoulders all of the time. Touch has the amazing capacity to affect people’s impressions of you. It works. It will increase their respect and affection for you as their teacher enabling you to become a more effective instructor.

10. Learn a bit about the history of Afghanistan.  King Mohammad Zahir Shah (Pashtoon), Dawood Khan (Pashtoon) , Doostum (Uzbek), Ahmad Shah Massoud (Tajik), Abdul Haq (Pashtoon). Learn the difference between a Hazara, Tajik and Pashtoon. Learn the difference between a Shi’a and a Sunni. They will be impressed. It works. I’ve used this to great effect with the ANP, ABP, ANA and our guys.

11. Understand that, though these guys may be uneducated, they are not unintelligent. These guys catch on quick. They pay attention to how you treat them. They pay attention to your frustration levels. They understand body language. They may learn differently than you. They may take a bit more time than you wish because of the language barrier. They are not dumb.

12. Never show anger. This is an Asian culture. Face saving is incredibly important and delicate. They will kill over loss of face. Smile, be patient and laugh freely.

And finally, though it may seem to be common sense:

NEVER OFFEND ISLAM or MOHAMMAD. Do this once and you may as well quit and go home.

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