One hot pepper equals three cups of tea

Female troops used the power of sisterhood to make a difference

 

Story by Capt. Carla Getchell, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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Capt. Carla Getchell discusses agriculture projects during a Key Leader Engagement with the Kapisa’s Director of Women’s Affairs, Saifora Kohistani; the Education Director; and the Women’s Affairs Coordinator with the Director of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock, Sohaila Kohistani.

With March being Women’s History month kentuckyguard.com is publishing a series of stories celebrating Kentucky women and the roles they played in our military history. Following is one such story ….

FRANKFORT, Ky. — While preparing for my deployment to Afghanistan with the Agribusiness Development Team III in 2011, I was given a long reading list of books that would help me develop cultural understanding. One book that was considered mandatory reading at the time was “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson.

The book’s namesake is derived from the proverb that the first time you share tea with someone you are a stranger, by the second cup of tea you are a friend, and the third cup shared makes you family.

After months of training, reading, preparing, I was ready to go drink some tea.  What I learned after my first mission in Afghanistan was that sometimes all it takes is one hot pepper.

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Kentucky Army National Guard Capt. Carla Getchell with Agribusiness Development Team III poses with students after delivering school supplies to a school in Kapisa, Afghanistan. (Photo taken by Army Sgt. Jane Rothstein)

My team and I were fortunate to follow Maj. Bobbie Mayes’ extremely successful deployment with the ADT II team. She built on what the team before her had created, and left my counterpart, Capt. Paula Thrush, and me with thriving relationships with female leaders in the Parwan, Panjshir, and Kapisa provinces of Afghanistan.

During our first mission, Mayes took us to meet some of the provincial leaders she was mentoring for a luncheon where she would say goodbye to the women she had worked with and to introduce us, her replacements, who would begin our year-long friendship with them.  There were gifts and tears, and whole fried fish garnished with Afghan peppers. The woman who sat next to me reminded me of my aunt. She was jovial and easy to get along with, even if we could only communicate in hand gestures, smiles, and head nods.

The room was large enough to accommodate 15 or so Afghan and American women along with a couple male interpreters. Izzy and Abbie, our aging male interpreters were working hard to make their rounds and facilitate conversation between the chatting women. Because of this, Sohaila Kohistani and I played Afghan charades.

While we smiled and nodded at one another, I had carefully tucked the remainder of the fried fish head under the corner of tinfoil that lined my Styrofoam lunch container in hopes that none of my Soldiers would dare me to eat it. Instead, Sohaila began to motion toward a small, red hot pepper on my plate. She then smiled and gestured with the universal sign for eating. I immediately knew where this was headed.  Here I was in the middle of Afghanistan, in the middle of a war zone, and this woman was egging me on to eat a hot pepper.

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Kentucky Army National Guard Capt. Carla Getchell with Agribusiness Development Team III tries to wash down the heat after eating a hot pepper during lunch with Sohaila Kohistani at the Director of Women’s Affairs office in Kapisa, Afghanistan. (Photo taken by Army Capt. Paula Thrush)

Fortunately, I like spicy food, and while I knew it might be painful I would be able to endure it. Proving I could eat the hot pepper would set the stage for my relationship with this woman for the next year. As I raised the red pepper to my mouth I watched as every Afghan woman in the room reached down into their Michael Kors look alike bags and pulled out a digital camera. They were all poised to snap photos of the American woman eating the Afghan pepper.

It was definitely spicy and a bit painful. I made sure to make a show of grabbing a bite of naan, Afghan flatbread, and a gulp of canned soda to cool down the inferno that was making its way down my throat.  As I did this the women in the room laughed and chatted happily over one another.

For the next year, Sohaila and I worked closely with one another to improve the lives of the women in her province of Kapisa. She told the story of the pepper multiple times to the men and women we encountered. I did everything I could for her, and fought for even more. When it was time to leave I gave her a bracelet with small gold stars because I had learned that Sohaila meant morning star in English.

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Kentucky Army National Guard Sgts. Kristyn Robinson, Heather Carrier, and Kathleen Gallagher with Agribusiness Development Team III pose for a picture with Sohaila Kohistani before returning from a Key Leader Engagement in Kapisa, Afghanistan. (Photo taken by Army Capt. Carla Getchell)

I did not know the depths of bonds that would develop with the Afghan women I worked with and the women I worked with in Afghanistan. I was fortunate to have an amazing team. Our medic, Sgt. Kathleen Gallagher, was always able to calm down the villagers by helping their children with their medical needs. Sgts Heather Carrier and Kristyn Robinson were my main security detail the entire year.  They walked in and out of every room ahead of me. They kept me and everyone around me safe. Carrier even headed up her own projects. Staff Sgt. Jane Rothstein and Sgt. Claudia Rector got us all to Afghanistan, took care of us for the entire year, and got us all home with their amazing skills in personnel and logistics. They also were always willing to come out and work with me wherever we went.

I learned so many lessons from all the women I worked with that year. The lessons of compassion, understanding, and tolerance have stuck with me. Sohaila and I drank a lot of tea together that year, but it only took us one hot pepper to become sisters.

 

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