Saturday, March 17, 2007

Saint Patrick's Day; Golf and Lamb...Kebabs

I could hardly pass the opportunity up. Major Ian Pruden, the Lead of our NonCommissioned Officer Training Team, and his Sergeant Major, WO2 Roman Cioma, had invited me to join them on Friday for a trip to the Kabul Golf Course with their Afghan Counterparts. I had heard that it existed from our Commanding General back in Camp Shelby, but getting the chance to actually see this level of progress in Afghanistan was something not to miss.

We left early in the afternoon, driving through downtown until we were to the Northwest of the City center. It was a quiet, cool day with a cloudy haze that mellowed the attitudes on this, the Afghan weekend. It took us about an hour to drive to the outskirts, all the while viewing a Kabul that evaded description from our seige mentality life within the confines of HESCO barriers and "Texas T" Walls. Sgt. Maj. Cioma had previously been stationed up in the North by Mezar E' Sharif and his driving was expert. We made it to the course, located in a heavily treed, grassy hillside up by the Kabul Reservoir. It is a place that Afghans come to enjoy time with their families, picnicing and playing in the cool, greenery and fresh air coming off the lake.

Shortly after we pulled in to the parking lot, we met up with Lt. Col. Sabor, the commanding officer of the NCO School at KMTC, and his executive officer and his Sgt. Maj. We then met the manager of the course, Abdul, who introduced us to our Caddies. Mine was an eleven year old boy named Jowid. We planned to join them on the course, but their idea was much more the camaraderie that came from sharing lamb kebabs and naan after we had exhausted our selves on the green. With Cioma as our body guard, we presented a secure posture, despite enjoying the relative relaxation. The clubs were old and filthy, the course lacked much of a green, but that fact that we were enjoying a low optempo day on a Golf Course in the capital city of the former home of the Taliban, seemed hard to believe.

I teed off from the peak, driving my first ball a couple of hundred
meters down range. That was one of about five great hits to come from my experience on the "Green" as I realized it had been 21 years since I had swung a club. The memory of my old Scottish friend Alasdair Watt echoing in my head from our time at New Mexico Military Institute together. We were out on the driving range in early 1986 and I damn near hit a Colonel with my ball. "Aye, Strong, A.V., yeoor no freakin' gulferrr, thas' fer shure, Lad. Ye jes' watch me fer now on." And, thus, 21 years later, yesterday, was the first time I had picked up a club since...seriously, a career Army Officer, not golfing.

I suffered through about five holes....suffered only because Alasdair's two decade old warning kept echoing truth in my game. If the course had not already been pockmarked and cut up from goats and the occassional landmine or cow bone, I would have been billed for the abuse I had offered it. Jowid, my reliable companion found my ball each time, whether he had to jump into the drainage ditch, look behind the inadvertent bush, or under the stray piece of barbed wire. He was a good kid. At one point, Ian Pruden had offered his interpreter a dollar if he out-distanced him in a tee. He never had to pay his 25 year old "Terp."

I offered the same to my eleven year old buddy. Not only did he outshoot me, his form and focus were impressive to witness, an Afghan Tiger Woods in a dirty jacket. At the end of our five holes, we rejoined our Afghan counterparts for a lunch of kebab under an enormous pine tree near the Golf Club House (identified by the spray painted title on the side of the building).

We rapidly immersed ourselves into an in-depth conversation of the state of affairs within the Afghan National Army, the situation we were facing at the school house of KMTC, and the current and near future environment of their country. After a delilcious afternoon meal of salted, grilled kebab, naan bread and fresh tomatoes, mint and onions, we prepared our departure. As we got ready to leave, Elias, the interpreter, offered us to stop at his father's home, quite near the course. We accepted and, after a short drive were greeted and welcomed warmly by his father, an Afghan Colonel in the Ministry of Defense.

We were seated on pillows on the floor and immediately offered hot chai, sweet honey cakes, nuts and raisins. We discussed each other's travels and the plight of Afghanistan for almost an hour. He reminded us that times like this are what make this visit worthwhile, getting to understand a foreign culture, broadening one's knowledge of the world. This from a former flight engineer who had travelled all over the Eastern world, a man who wanted his five children to see and experience as much as possible of the world, so that they could return to Afghanistan and make it a better, safer, place.

In the words of Sergeant Major, "This is quite a civilized way to spend a Friday afternoon, Sir."


Post a Comment

<< Home