Mystery Woman Plays Dial-A-Date In Afghanistan
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.
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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.