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.

10,000,000 USD Out Of Thin Air!!!

PLEASE POST THIS TO YOUR FACEBOOK, LinkedIn, MySpace or GOOGLE PLUS PAGE.  You’ll have my undying gratitude.

Let’s find 10 Million People who want to give me a dollar @ silkroadsandsiamesesmiles.com. Just go to paypal and send one dollar to dave.kaelin@gmail.com. You’ll have my eternal thanks.

Gods Bless and have a damn fine day. Especially if you are one of the 10,000,000 who send me a dollar.

oh yeah, pls copy and paste this….even if you don’t agree and even if you don’t want to give me a dollar.

There’s bound to be some suckers out there who want to give me their hard earned cash.

Liberals, think of it as an entitlement or welfare…like a tax. Only instead of giving it to the Government first, you just give it directly to me.

Conservatives. Think of it as a private charity. Only instead of giving it to the Red Cross or your Church first, you give it directly to me.

I feel entitled to one dollar from one tenth of 100,000,000 people. It’s like tithing. Only different.

I will use this money to live a great life.  I promise.

But serously, SEND ME SOME MOOLAH!!!  I’ll love you forever and say a prayer for you to whichever God or Gods that you desire.  I do not discriminate.

Two Rocks

OK…

See the two rocks…

Well, some Muslims believe that it is forbidden to touch the penis (even one’s own penis) with one’s hands.

In order to urinate, they’ll take two rocks and hold their penis.

Being the polite and considerate culture that Islam is…they leave the rocks in the toilet so that they’ll be conveniently available for others.

Yes! The next guy WILL use those same two rocks to hold his penis.

And the next one…and the next one…and the next one…lol

Crazy Scheit!!!

Temple Club/Apsara Fusion Jam

Same video footage as before. But I felt like adding some modern music. This is Vanessa Mae‘s re-interpretation of Cream’s I Feel Free. Vanessa Mae is a sexy little uber-talented Thai-Chinese Fusion/Classical Violinist. She does some good stuff. Updated, fresh interpretations of classical, folk and pop as well as original work.

Check it out and tell me what you think of this version.

This is the lovely Vanessa Mae:

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The Temple Club and Apsara

The first time I visited Cambodia, I went with a small tour group. I flew alone from Bangkok to Phnom Penh and met up with my guide at the Airport. In Phnom Penh (P-nom Pen), it was me and the guide. He drove me around Phnom Penh. We stopped took photos of the various sites there. The National Museum. The Silver Pagoda and National Palace. Wat Phnom. After my tour of Phnom Penh, I was driven for 4 hours to Sihanoukville where I overnighted. I spent that night with an Irish guy and 5 Cambodian gals drinking beer with ice in a Karaoke Bar that doubles as a Brothel. The next day–early, my guide picks me up at the Inn and takes me back to Phnom Penh for the flight to Siem Reap and my first visit to Angkor Wat and it’s 1,000 Apsara.

I arrive in Siem Reap and am taken to the Angkor Sokha Hotel. It’s an incredible hotel with 4 bars and a swimming pool with a 20 foot waterfall. I get about 4 hours to hang out and do as I please so I get the hotel Tuk Tuk to take me to the local market. I like to buy a Buddha statue from each country that I visit in Asia. (I must have over 50 Buddhas by now.) Later that night, I’m picked up by the tour guide. We are joined by two German gals. We are taken to a Dinner Theatre and I see my first Apsara dance show. I like to think that I’m an artsy type. I can enjoy a bit of culture with the best of them. The Apsara. I loved it. Absolutely. Beautiful Costumes and gorgeous, spritely Cambodian women dancing and moving about gracefully on stage.

Since then, I’ve seen several iterations and interpretations of the dances. The video shows the Temple Club Apsara show. It last about 90 minutes. I find it fascinating. I can watch it all night. There are many dances showing various aspects of Khmer mythology and life. My favorite, though, is the mermaid dance. It is also called Khmer Classical Dance. Khmer Dance of the Ancient Style is the official Cambodian title.

The Apsara, in mythology, are minor deities who entertained the Gods. They were also caretakers of mythological heroes. Their province was gaming and gambling. So if you wanted to win and win big, you’d better have these gals on your side. They were sky dancers, river dancers. Like the Greek sirens, they lured men to their deaths. They cared for Khmer heroes at the behest of the Gods. They were lovers. They brought with them favor and intrigue. You can read of them in the Hindu texts of the Rigveda and the Mahabharata. An interesting note on costume. The original Apsara of the court danced topless. Unfortunately, they do not use this practice in Siem Reap today.

I’ll be going back to Cambodia in either February or June/July. I have a Sony HD digicam now. So when I go back I’m going to record the Apsara in High Definition. I’ll post it here. You can see here well enough. There are better shows. Better productions of the Apsara. We saw the Cambodian National Opera dancers in an open air theatre on one visit to Siem Reap. There was a Korea/Cambodian friendship Expo in town. My batteries died on me that day so I couldn’t get them on video.

Needless to say, I think this is one of the most beautiful dances that I’ve seen anywhere. I find it utterly fascinating. On my second trip to Phnom Penh, I met a former Apsara dancer. Srey Neang. She had broken her arm and could no longer make the hand and arm movements. She loved seeing the shows and it was nice to have someone to interpret the dance for us.

Apsara dance as seen in Cambodia today is said to have originated during the Khmer civilizations in the 800s to the latter part of the 13oos. At that time, the Khmer were conquered by the peoples of what is today Thailand. Thailand was known as the Kingdom of Siam. Khmer and Southeast Asian cultural experts

Khmer people, in general, love this dance and the stories and mythology behind it. Pol Pot, monstrosity that he was, attempted to end the tradition by murdering all Apsara dancers and teachers. I can’t imagine why someone would want to erase from human memory such a beautiful tradition. The monstrous ideals of communism. Thankfully, it survived. Khmer girls start studying the dance as early as age 4. There are dance troups that girls can join at very young age. Of the shows that I have seen, I would say that the girls on stage range in age from 14 to 26.

Enjoy the video. I have always enjoyed seeing the shows live. I hope this gives you at least a glimmer of the joy that visiting Siem Reap and seeing the Apsara has given me. If you ever get the chance…

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The Children of the Khmer


Cambodia is probably the poorest country that I have visited. It’s much more of a backwater than even Afghanistan. Their only industry is the silk trade. Silk crafts such as scarves, table cloths, clothing, etc. Not much else in the way of industry. Handicrafts such as statuary. Precious and semi-precious gems. Tourism must be one of the, if not the, largest industry for Cambodia. Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Siem Reap are the primary destinations of most tourists. Eco-tourism in the more remote areas for the more adventurous souls. It’s a country stricken with extreme poverty. High illiteracy rates. High birth rates. High crime.

A great part of the tourist industry is Siem Reap and the Angkor Temple Complex. Within this complex and in the three major cities of Cambodia, the children are exploited in order to make money off of the sympathies of tourists. It works. These are children of the Khmer. The children of Cambodia. The children of Angkor. Some. They’re simply adorable. You want to pick them up and hug them and make it all better someway. Anyway. Some will annoy the hell out of you. They’ll make you want to scratch your eyes out. Scream at the top of your lungs for them to get away. So many I wanted to adopt. Take home to my Momma or Sister to give them a good home. I have come to believe that every child deserves a good home. Children deserve a chance. These children are severely handicapped. Not physically. Socially. Economically. In many cases, emotionally. They didn’t ask to be born. But birthed they were. Brought into existence in a world of abject poverty and near hopelessness. My heart went out to these children. Many of whom are loving, adorable, huggable. Eminently lovable. You’ll see just what I mean in the above video.

Most, if not all, of the children seen here work from 7 or 730 AM to 9 or 10 PM. I’ve seen some of them out with their mothers begging or selling food ’til 1 AM. Not the life for a child. When do they get to just be children?

Another strange experience for me were the “beggar costumes.” The faux beggars. It must happen elsewhere. But I don’t think they are as brazen as what I witnessed in Cambodia.

Srey Mao and I had finished our day exploring the Angkor temples for the day and headed back to my hotel room. While passing Angkor Wat, we stopped to grab a beer and watch the sun go down over the great temple. As I did, a mother and 3 children approached us looking completely destitute and pitiful. They were filthy. So I bought some food and gave it to the mother. They went off to eat. The sun went down. I continued upon my path feeling good about having done something nice for someone.

I dropped Srey at the Banana Bar on Pub Street where she is manager. Then returned to my hotel. Grabbed a shower. Dressed and found my way back to Pub Street. By this time it was 9 PM. I sat and drank a few beers with Srey. Then walked over to the Temple Club for a few games of pool with the local gals. The Temple Club is one of the best places in Siem Reap to catch a game of pool. It’s also a great place to watch the Apsara Dance. (I will put some videos of this on the blog at a later date.) Each visit to Siem Reap, I find my way to the Temple Club. I love watching those beautiful little Khmer ladies re-enact the dance of the Gods. And I love to play pool with cute little Khmer women. I played pool for an hour or two and proceeded to get fairly well sauced on the old standby Jack and Coke.

Back in Kentucky, I’m a Kentucky Bourbon man. Rarely drink anything else. I’ll hit Jack sometimes in Kentucky. But usually only when I am first returning from overseas. It’s a habit. Overseas. No one knows Kentucky Bourbon. There is one bar that I have found from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur that serves Maker’s Mark and I once found a bottle of Elijah Craig at a liquor store. Both establishments are in Saigon–Ho Chi Minh City. I guess the communists like good bourbon.

At any rate, I finish playing pool and walk over to the Banana Bar to pick up Srey Mao. She and I return to the Temple Club and sit out on the patio.

That’s when I spot her. (Reminds me of Prince and Raspberry Beret. lol)

The little girl from our “sunset and beer” viewing of Angkor Wat. She is cleaned up and changed into a different set of clothing. I just start to laugh. Rolling up directly behind her is her little sister. Finally, here comes brother. By this time, I am laughing loud and hard. I can barely breath. I realize immediately what I’m seeing. What I saw earlier. The scam that these kids mother plays out every day. Srey looks at me like I’m insane and asks what is wrong with me. Why am I laughing? I point out the kids. She sees it and starts to laugh as well. So I tell Srey to call them over. I ask them to join us and I’ll buy them supper. Srey and I start to poke and prod our way around the subject of their little subterfuge. Whose idea is this scam? Why are they doing it? How long?

So we slowly pull the story out of them. They tell us that their father abandoned them and moved on to Phnom Penh and disappeared. Mom has them dress down in rags to look destitute so they can beg for money. Apparently, Mother can barely write. In typical Khmer fashion she is uneducated. No job. No prospects. It’s either beg or starve. So they ditch their good set of clothes in an alley. Put on rags. Beg for money for food and clothing. Trying to save up money for a simple room to live in.

Honestly, I can’t begrudge that. It may have been an over-dramatization. Even so, these kids were so happy to be eating that I can’t see how it could have been an act. Afterward, I felt so sad for these children that I purchased food for about half the kids on the street. They all shared. No one fought. One little girl came up and held my hand for the longest time. I wish that I had my camera to take a photo. She was adorable. I left that night like most nights in Cambodia with a new appreciation of the life with which I have been graced. Fortune by birth. This old Kentucky boy has traveled to many a place about which many can only dream. I’ve had experience after experience that has enriched my life. Made possible by the simple accident of fate by which I came to be born American.

I know that some of my fellow Americans enjoy poking fun at those who say that America is the greatest nation on earth. But the simple truth is that everyone born in America is blessed. We have the means to lift ourselves up from our modest roots. Our destitution if that is our lot in the beginning. We have the tools to overcome our challenges. Much of the world does not.

To have been born in America is truly a blessing.

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