I went to a bar in Copenhagen to have a Christmas beer -- a julebryg -- as part of my ongoing vacation plan to lap up all the things we don´t have in Farah. I asked the person next to me if I should leave a tip (nope!), and it was enough to start a conversation.
"You're not from here," he said. I told him he was correct, that I'm an American but living in Afghanistan, and his eyes narrowed a little bit.
"What do you do there?" he asked me. Heavy emphasis on the there, with an ominous sound in his voice.
"Development," I said. "Schools, roads, hospitals." That isn't strictly true, of course -- development is firmly USAID's schtick, and one that State doesn't have much to do with. I figure, though, that we're all part of same development-related team, and schools and hospitals are easier, conceptually speaking, than the more nebulous "governance advising."
He took a swig of his beer. "You're in the army," he said. It wasn't a question.
"No," I responded. "No, I work with them -- I live with them, actually -- but I'm not in the army. They do their thing, and then we come in afterward for reconstruction, for schools and roads and everything else the people need."
He looked pointedly away from me and down the bar. "It's horrible," he said, "that war of yours."
(Technically speaking, the war is not strictly ours: Denmark is a troop-contributing nation and has about 750 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly holding down a fire base in Kandahar province that's affectionately known as the tallest, blondest Combat Outpost in all of Afghanistan. It didn't seem like the time to bring that up, though).
He shook is head. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I don't want to talk to someone who's part of that horrible war." And then he stomped off. It was all every uncomfortable, even though I wasn't particularly sad not to be talking to him any more.
"I hope you threw that whole viking destruction of Europe thing right back at him," a friend of mine commented. I didn't -- I'm not nearly that clever -- but it did lead to a little bit of introspection. For one, there's the whole Vietnam Vet Gets Spit On aspect of it, even though I'm not a vet and generally don't welcome or entertain comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam.
But more interesting is that it occured to me later him getting all hot under the collar in my involvement in the war didn't faze me at all, because I don't actually think of myself as being part of the war. That seems kind of ridiculous, now that I've typed it out, but it's true -- the war seems like something that's tangential to me, that's happening around me, mostly in other places though occasionally very near to me, but something that I really have nothing to do with. The fact that I'm surrounded by a sea of camouflage and get driven to my meetings in a car capped with a .50 caliber weapon doesn't really change that fact.
That may be a little ridiculous, but since I work hand in glove with a bunch of guys who consider their job title to be "warrior," I (job title: bureaucrat) will leave the war to them.