On one of my last days at HQ ISAF, I was finishing up my out-processing - the process of getting signatures of the various agencies that were responsible for me in various ways, around 22 total - and I had some very interesting comments. Of course I was talking to all my Tali-Band friends, and their friends that I had come to know and appreciate, but I was also saying goodbye to the merchants that had shops on base that I had done business with.
The fine military folks were well-wishing, shaking hands and wishing me good flights and travel, but the most surprising came unexpectedly. I was at the shops on Carnaby Street - the line of shops that are behind the Milano, and talked to the jewelers - #4 - as well as Bahktar, where I had bought some very nice things for my children - The Mobin Tailor - where I had a couple suits made ($80 for a custom fit suit!) - and finally Joete - where I had purchased a carpet for myself, and for my parents.
The carpets are absolutely stunning - every one. I shopped at a couple of the other carpet shops, and the carpets were much more expensive - and not as ornate, in my opinion. For example at Sami's shop, he wanted $1800 for a small silk/wool carpet. Joete's prices were much more reasonable. I found great joy in explaining to Joete that my parents loved their carpet so much that they decided instead of putting it under the table in the dining room, that they were going to remove the carpet in the living room and put the carpet there. And - no one would be allowed to eat there - and risk spilling something on the carpet! He was very proud that my parents were so happy with the carpet. As am I with mine. :)
As I came to Joete's store - the last on the block of stores on Carnaby, Joete looked surprised when I told him I would be leaving, and he grabbed me and hugged me. After - with his hand over his heart (a very common expression of gratitude in Kabul) he wished me well, his family wished me well, he wished my family well, and then he floored me . . . . "I want to say, and my family also, thank you to you. Because you come to my country - and you help my country. For that I appreciate it - and I thank you, very much."
Totally unexpected - and completely humbling. This changes everything. This is the kind of thing they remember. Not that we were there to defeat them - or to destroy their country - no, they understand. Joete understands.