Mystery Woman Plays Dial-A-Date In Afghanistan

Benjamin Tupper is a captain in the Army National Guard, and he's a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Women in Afghanistan live very restricted lives. Tupper recalls a young Afghan couple who managed to bend the rules — at least for a little while.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And the lives of women are rigidly restricted in nearby Afghanistan as well. Commentator Benjamin Tupper, who's a veteran of the Afghanistan war, recalls one young couple who managed to bend the rules for a little while.

Captain BENJAMIN TUPPER (Army National Guard): My interpreter, Hamid, was sitting in my hooch waiting for me to finish a document that he would translate into Dari. His phone rang and his face lit up when he saw the incoming number. I could hear the voice of a young woman. I assumed it was his sister, but he was blushing and smiling from ear to ear.

He told me the young woman had randomly called him the week before. She was a complete stranger who had been dialing phone numbers, hoping a young man would answer. When Hamid did, he was more than willing to participate in her dial-a-date game. At first, she wouldn't tell him her name, not because of shyness, but because in Afghanistan single men and women don't interact at all.

But after minutes of anonymous phone conversation, with no chance of ever meeting, Hamid and his mystery woman declared themselves boyfriend and girlfriend.

We all know love when we see it, regardless of our cultural lenses. And Hamid was knee-deep in it. He literally skipped with joy. As a sign of the seriousness of his commitment to her, he explained with pleasure that he had spent over $20 on phone calls in just the last week.

I asked him what they talked about. It was nothing bordering on love and romance. They talked about their day and their plans for tomorrow. Yet in an Afghan context, this bland conversation was pure titillation.

What could the future hold for Hamid and his girlfriend? Maybe their telephonic romance could blossom into an exchange of email addresses. If they were really adventurous, they could send cell phone photos.

But these seemingly innocent acts would be a great risk to the woman. In Afghanistan, such harmless communication would be seen as a violation of family honor, with real and severe consequences.

Hamid received calls from his girlfriend for weeks, but the frequency decreased. With no chance of developing the relationship further, he became resigned to the fact that his cell phone tryst had run its course.

Hamid returned to the gray and draining life of daily combat patrols and tedious document translations. His girlfriend either lost her phone privileges or moved on to a new anonymous phone number.

But while it lasted, Hamid was a man in love, a million miles away from Afghanistan's war and poverty. In a war-ravaged land, it is better to have loved and lost an anonymous partner on a cell phone than never to have loved at all.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Commentator Benjamin Tupper is a captain in the Army National Guard, and author of the upcoming book "Welcome to Afghanistan, Send More Ammo." You can comment on his essay in the opinion section of our Web site, npr.org.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.