One thing about being in the Army that is rarely highlighted in movies or in the media is the amazing opportunity to meet people from all different walks of life and to encounter rich and unique experiences that would just not happen otherwise. Have you ever seen the movie, Pay it Forward? (If you haven’t, I recommend it.) Well, I had an experience this week that reminded me of the message from that movie. This experience reminded me of the goodness that still lies within people, even when it sometimes seems like the world is increasingly full of harshness and disconnect. It also reminded me of how inspiring people can be and how random acts of kindness can truly touch lives. It all started with my search for the perfect traditional Afghan carpet.
I apparently have something just short of an obsession with buying Afghan carpets here and my search for the perfect one. Friends almost don’t want to go to the bazaar with me due to a fear of getting stuck sitting on the little chair or on the ground as I search through piles with the vendors. I have spent hours upon hours researching them online and have probably had hundreds unrolled before me to examine at the various shops here and on my travels throughout the region. Each one is a work of art in my eyes. I appreciate the months it takes to create just one high-quality hand-made piece. I can’t help but attribute the unmatched uniqueness and allure of these carpets to being creations of the hands of creative, intelligent Afghan women who may not otherwise be able to express these qualities (I’ll share more on this topic in a future blog I’m sure). I love to decorate my home with things from different countries I visit; therefore I couldn’t possibly turn down the opportunity to save a couple hundred dollars on these amazing traditional rugs. So while I was on a mission near Jalalabad, I decided to take advantage of the lower prices offered by the Afghan vendors there.
After perhaps an hour or more of the men unrolling carpets and displaying them for me, I ended up deciding on guess which one? Ha, the very first one of course. It was a brilliant shade of red and had unique designs and traditional borders often seen in Afghan rugs. This particular one came from Khan Mohammadi north of Kabul. I also had my eye out for a carpet to give my best friend, Jillian, and her family as well as one for my parents, so decided to return the following day with a fresh eye. The following day I showed the business owners some pictures on my camera I had taken of my mom’s emails that showed the styles of rugs they liked. The brothers showed me three Baluchi rugs that displayed the trademark patterns and colors. I found one that was almost identical to the example I’d shown them on the camera. I can’t wait for my parents to see it—I think they will love it! Then we haggled over price and the brothers were gracious in taking into account how much I had on my Eagle card at the time. Finally we came to an agreement, smiled, shook hands and they wrapped up the rugs so that they packed neatly into the large plastic “tough box” for me. The search continues for the perfect rug for Jillian….
In addition to getting a good deal, this is the other perk of my shopping as I travel: shorter post office lines! Imagine having ONE post office for over 25,000 people with only 2 customs agents to search through every package and only 2 cashiers. It’s NOT fun or quick to mail anything from Bagram Air Field! So I wanted to mail off my carpets from FOB Fenty. I also had a few other souvenirs to include rosewood jewelry boxes and a stone camel figurine. My crate was pretty heavy. As the customs agents searched through it, we struck up a conversation and laughed and talked. It was evident they had a great work atmosphere, so I shared that observation with them. The man, Roy, began to offer me love advice and his co-worker, Irene, kept warning me not to listen to him. It was really funny. When my search was complete and I moved on to weigh in and pay for my postage, we continued our conversation and jokes. When I was told it would be $50, I handed over my Eagle Cash card, thinking it was my debit card since I wasn’t paying attention. I was too distracted by Roy and Irene’s humorous banter across the room. The lady said, “Uh oh, you only have $9 on this” and I said, “Oh, ha I know that’s right—I just spent all my money on Afghan rugs. Sorry, I thought I handed you my other card.” And then when I corrected my error she gave me a funny look and informed me they only take cash or Eagle Cash cards. Uh oh! I had no way to pay for my postage!
Overhearing this, Irene called out to her co-worker, “How much is it?” and when she heard the cost she responded with, “I’ll pay it for her.” What? I was completely surprised and touched by her generosity. “Irene, I can’t let you do that,” was my reply and she insisted. “Well, I’ll get your address and pay you back once I’m back in Bagram,” I said and she again insisted that it was a gift and that she would not allow me to pay her back. Being the sentimental person I am, I of course got teary-eyed and rushed over to give her a big hug and thank her. We spoke for a while and I let her know how much her random act of kindness meant to me. Her actions not only helped me get my package home to Texas, but she lifted my spirits that morning and gave me a renewed sense of appreciation for humanity and the potential of altruism to be an agent of change in our world.
Natosha Monroe is an Army Reserve Mental Health Specialist stationed in Afghanistan. She is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.