By Col. Gregory Breazile
KABUL, Afghanistan — I went to attend a ceremony the other day for fallen Afghan police officers when an interesting thing happened to me.
I jumped out of our armored SUV and stood off to the side of the road next to a building as our vehicles pulled around to park across the street from a small mosque.
As I was standing there I glanced over my shoulder and saw through a window that there were some people sitting in a small room drinking tea and eating flat bread.
When I glanced in the room I noticed the entire group of four people was staring at me in wonder.
They obviously don't see many Americans in this area and I think I shocked them since I wasn't wearing any body armor and was greeting people on the street.
I smiled at them, gave them a nod and looked away because I didn't want to interrupt their meeting.
A few seconds later I heard someone knock on the window and when I turned to look I saw a man with a white beard wearing a white turban standing at the window.
He was smiling back at me and he gestured as if he wanted me to come into the building.
I looked at him and made a hand gesture that I was waiting for my colleagues to park the vehicles.
The next thing I knew he opened the window and reached his hand out to shake mine and while saying the greeting “Salam alaykum,” which means peace be upon you.
After shaking my hand he held his hand over his heart which is customary in their culture during a greeting.
I gave him the same greeting and then he turned away from me and grabbed a piece of flat bread from the table next to him.
He held up the bread and said “Naan,” “Chai” while gesturing for me to come into the room. I told him again that I was waiting for my crew and couldn't come in with him.
I know he didn't understand a word of what I said but he got the point. He then reached out through the window, grabbing my hand, and put the piece of flatbread into my hand.
He made a hand gesture that it was for me. I then said to him “Tashakor,” which is the Dari word for thank you. He then nodded to me with a big smile on his face.
By this time my crew had arrived and we had to run to our ceremony. I waved goodbye to the man and his entire party smiled and waved back to me.
A few moments later as I stood at the ceremony I was thinking of how the Afghan people are extremely hospitable. Here I was a stranger from a strange land in a strange uniform and this man invites me to have lunch with him and his friends. This is just one example of the hospitality I have encountered during my tour here in Afghanistan.
The Afghan people live hard lives with little creature comforts but they seem to be generally hard working and hospitable.
My interpreter, Ahmad Yousofi, said “the Afghan people believe you must be hospitable to travelers.”
He said “we want to give our best to our guests and make them feel at home in our homes.”
Having had a few of these experiences, I can genuinely tell that this is the case for those Afghans that I have encountered.
These random acts of kindness from total strangers are nothing new to these people. I then thought of the similarities between American culture and the Afghans.
I thought Americans are by far the most generous people on the planet. We give to churches and other relief organizations to take care of many people around the globe.
The Afghans on the other hand live in a broken society that is fraught with corruption and extreme poverty and are still willing to welcome people into their homes and offer them the biggest piece of bread or other food that they have available to them.
This generosity from the poor is a heart touching gesture that has earned my respect for these people.
If not for the few extremists that live here Afghanistan would be a wonderful country to live in.
The beautiful landscape coupled with the giving nature of these people would make this a great place for a vacation.
This country has a long way to go until they will have a stabile society. In my estimation it will take probably 20 years or more to rebuild what has been destroyed over the past decades.
With the security situation getting better everyday and the refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan we can only hope that their economy will pick up and they will turn the corner toward an enduring peace.
I am thankful for the opportunity to serve these people because for the most part their hearts are in the right place and they just need a break to get back on their feet.
I have learned that hospitality is the key to building relationships and when I return home I will be ready to offer my piece of bread to those in need.
Col. Gregory Breazile is the director of communication, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. He is a combat veteran with 26 years of Marine Corps service. He lives in Stillwater.