A Moment of Acceptance

Posted by Kathy Gunderman
May 4, 2010
Barley Farmer Harvests Crops in Afghanistan

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.



Timothy B.
Massachusetts, USA
May 5, 2010

Timothy B. in Massachusetts writes:

Moments that last a lifetime.

I had suggested to a friend that some of you folks might want to consider contacting the Grange and asking them to partner with farmers in Afghanistan.

With 143 years history of helping small farms they would be perfect.

Kathy G.
May 5, 2010

Kathy G. in India writes:

This was a very touching article, and gives me hope that Secretary Clinton's leadership and new direction will eventually yield promising results in the stabilization of Afghanistan. Thank you Kathy...it is expertise as well as patience, open-mindedness, kindness, and wisdom which will win the day, not bombs. You are an American soldier, a citizen of the world.

Virginia, USA
May 5, 2010

Susan in Virginia writes:

Wonderful post. Thank you Ms Gunderman for your work and apparent passion for it. Keep up the great work! And keep sharing your stories and your heart with us

United States
May 5, 2010

O.C. in USA writes:

People need and want connection to others. What a beautiful little story.

Maryland, USA
May 5, 2010

Patrick in Maryland writes:

Great Story,Agricultural Officer Kathy Gunderman. I think it would be nice, if someone could go back too the farm later and take some photos of their progress.

Good to hear they accepted you and hopefully this will make a positive impact on their farming Community...:)


Virginia, USA
May 5, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

This is a good story, but I'm curious. The impression given is that they had never seen these seeds before and could not identify them and sort them themselves. That doesn't make sense to me, unless they had never farmed before. You didn't say that though. I'm thinking that maybe they were testing you. In that case, you passed with flying colors!

New Mexico, USA
May 5, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Kathy, if folks are introducing non-native varieties and encoraging harvest diversity, I bet there's a cash crop that will grow real well at that altitude and climate since New Mexico has a few similarities to Afghanisatan in that respect.

One is chile, and if you reply to this, I'm sure the Dipnote staff has my email and if you'll provide some place to send them, I'll send a package of seeds if you can find a farmer to plant them.

The other is pinon, a hardy drought resistsant tree, slow growing that produces the pinon nut when fully mature ( several decades).

Look at the hills in the picture, and ask the locals what happened to the trees. Most of them were cut down for firewood.

Grab some old photos of Kabul in the 1930-40'-50's and look at difference today.

It will give you an idea of what to ultimately shoot for as far as restoring the ecological balance and agricultural potential.

Keep up the good work,


May 5, 2010

Helen K.L. in Canada writes:

I think that is very nice of usa to take seeds to help the less fortunate countries.

Jeff L.
Idaho, USA
May 5, 2010

Jeff L. in Idaho writes:

What a great story of how the world needs to change and is changing towards women that have important roles in the world!

New York, USA
May 10, 2010

Ron in New York writes:

Is MONSANTO involved?

Patsy C.
United States
May 10, 2010

Patsy C. in USA writes:

There are ways to connect with people everywhere. It usually comes down to basics. Like I would value the friendship of someone who could identify seeds more than I would value the acquaintance of someone who could identify a clothing designer. Not denigrating clothing designers or their followers, just identifying with the concerns of most people who are interested in survival.

May 13, 2010

F.D. writes:

Ms. Gunderman

Thank you for taking the time to post this story. I hope your time as an advisor has been as rewarding as this story would seem to indicate. I served in Iraq as an advisor and I am currently working on a professional paper that deals specifically with agriculture advisors in Afghanistan. If possible could you please contact me at the email I entered in order to make this post? Thank you very much for your service and your time.

DipNote Bloggers writes:

@ F.D. -- Thank you for your comment. We have passed along your email address to Ms. Gunderman.


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