About the Author: Kathy Gunderman serves as an U.S. Embassy Kabul Agricultural Field Officer stationed in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan.
During my training before I came to Afghanistan as an agricultural advisor, I learned that Afghan women have a very different place in society than Western women do. I wondered if I would be accepted by Afghan farmers, either as an American or as a woman. I received a lot of advice on how to dress and act, but I made the decision early on to rely mainly on just being myself and letting my agricultural expertise speak for itself. While on a mission to the Kapisa compound of the Director of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL) with the Kentucky Agri-business Development Team (ADT) to deliver varieties of seeds, I began marking off the variety and amount of seed coming off the truck.
The farmers who were unloading trucks were either politely ignoring me or casting quick sidelong glances at me. I know I looked strange to them, and I was not offended by their curiosity. Some of the bags had split and seeds had spilled out into the truck. As the men gathered the precious seeds in their hands, they looked at them full of wonder. They asked our interpreter what variety they were. He didn't know, so I told them they were sorghum seeds. They said, "Sorghum!" and nodded their heads. Then, with some shyness, they began to bring me different seeds for my inspection. I identified them as wheat, barley and oats, and with each new seed, they became friendlier and started making eye contact with me. They eagerly listened to how I identified each new handful of seeds. One handful was turnip seeds, and the interpreter didn't know the Dari word for turnip so I drew the men a picture of a turnip and they smiled with pure delight.
As we got ready to leave, one of the turbaned farmers reached into his pocket with his work-soiled and hardened hands, took my hand, and gently put something in it. I looked down and saw he had given me some dried mulberries and walnuts. I looked up and smiled, and he smiled back. Although the mix looked less than clean, I ate it with a lump in my throat, because he had offered me the only food he had. He was letting me know with this offering that he had accepted me. It was a great day.