I’m back to blogging – it feels like having coffee with a long-lost friend…who’s never really all that long-lost if they’re a true friend…you just pick up where you left off.
My biggest challenge here so far in this country (aside from the month-long sinus infection and now a staph infection diagnosed today – are you kidding me?!) has been my gender. The simple fact that I have a V and not a P has proved to be quite a troubling issue…and it’s not even because I’m in a country where women are looked down upon and expected to rarely seen and never heard. It’s being a woman here on base among the majority of male soldiers and contractors. Let’s tackle this one challenge at a time.
First is the gossip. As a woman, I stick out. There aren’t that many of us here, and as such, we’re noticed for every single move we make. For example, I had made a friend with a contractor here on base – let’s call him Jack – and asked if he’d like to grab coffee one day at the chapel (because the chapel has two Keurig machines available for a nice cup of joe at all times). We sat out on the small chapel porch out front in the sun and “talked story” (Hawaiian term for shared stories, laughed and forgot about work) for a little bit. I had such a nice time, I kept asking if he’d join me for coffee and it became a daily routine. I asked the guys in my office if they’d like to join for 10am coffee, and sometimes some would. Either way, I knew at 10am I got a mini break while refueling on some caffeine. This past week, I ate lunch with a Croatian soldier, and afterwards he was warned by some other person on this base to be careful where I was concerned because I was Jack’s. Hold up there, I’m whose?? If I play ping pong with someone, if I play pool with someone, if I go running with someone, it’s noticed and talked about in gossip form.
Second are the wives and girlfriends back home. Because their boyfriends and husbands have a female coworker (that would be me), they’re suspicious of any and all interaction I have with them. If I post a funny comment on one of their Facebook (because they all post funny comments to each other’s Facebooks), they immediately get the third degree…”Who’s this AMY chick posting stuff on your page?! What’s she like? Why is she posting to your page?” There was one dramatic instance where one of the guys was having a bit of a struggle with his girlfriend and I suggested he stop writing passive aggressive things to her and for a whole week just write nothing but nice and loving emails and see how she responded. He said he didn’t have any ideas, so I wrote him an email with suggestions on loving things he could write to her. WELL, his girlfriend hacked his email account a few days later and what did she find but my email with all my suggestions. She spent the next two days yelling at him over phone calls about confiding in the AMY GIRL, and since then (about a week ago) he no longer talks to me anymore. I can eat with these guys, work out with them, and work with them for over twelve hours each and every day, but there’s a subtle and constant reminder – I’ll never really be one of the guys here.
Third is lack of women. I really have come to value female friendship over the course of my life…it’s one of those essential elements we as women need for a healthy life. You can try to argue with me that you are happier with men as friends, but I can argue right back with you because I used to be one of those girls, and I can tell you that life is richer and deeper and brighter with strong female friendships. I have one growing friendship with a female Croatian soldier named Vlasta – we work out together and eat meals together sometimes – but she can get pretty busy with missions at times, and sometimes I only see her once a week. In my hyper-awareness of gossip about my every action here, I set out to establish more female friendships. Last night as the work day was wrapping up around 9pm or so, I noticed the only two other girls in my office were leaving to go back to their rooms. I jumped out of my seat and went out the door with them. Once outside I said, “Hey girls, I know you hang out together sometimes, but would you ever be interested in going to grab a bite to eat together or just have some girl time like once a week or so?” Simple enough, right? Here’s me like the girl on the kindergarten playground outright asking the other girls if they will be her friend. One of the girls looked straight at me and without expression said, “No, not really.” SLAM…that was the feeling my heart felt as it was squarely rejected. I forced myself to bounce back and said as lightly as I could, “Oh ok, no problem, have a good night.” I turned and walked away and felt embarrassed and hurt – like the little schoolgirl who was just told she couldn’t be in the cool club. Ouch! I thought when we’re such a minority that us gals were supposed to stick together! What the HECK (I really would like to replace that word with something much worse) was that about? Doesn’t she know I’m cool and fun and funny and loyal and all that other great stuff that comes with a female friendship?? Ok so those two are out – the awkward part is I have to work next to them still. I will continue to be on the lookout for any new women who come to this base – they won’t even know what hit them – I won’t even ask them, I’ll just make them my friend! …poor things don’t know what’s about to hit them.
This has proven to be a difficult struggle for me. I’m a relational person stuck in a strange social test of an environment – like I’m in a glass cage for everyone to observe how I will respond to a life of no relationships or companionship. I think I’m failing the test. …or maybe I’m passing…this is the normal response of a healthy woman…getting to the point where I want to cry out, “WILL SOMEONE PLEASE BE MY FRIEND?!” I can be friends with plenty of men here, it’s just I have to not care, and accept the consequence that I’ll be talked about as if I’m sneaking behind dirty connex boxes having sex with all of them. I might have quite the tarnished reputation on this base by the time I leave – all for no effort at all! Grandpa, if you’re reading this, I apologize for my lewd imagery…I blame the Navy!
I love that there are life lessons to be gleaned from anywhere we go in life. In the throes of war in Afghanistan, I am learning that I am more of a relational person than I realized, and that not only do I like being in friendships and relationships with other people, but I need it, I crave engaging with others. I think we all do – well, maybe not some of my geeky coworkers who just go back to their rooms and play video games every night (and I’m not talking behind their backs – they openly admit they’d rather be alone) – but I concur with the many wise sages before this time that humans NEED community and relationships and other humans. Lesson learned, Afghanistan, now what’s next?! (This should be good!)