A week after the attacks of that day I found myself aboard an Air Force combat C-130 propeller cargo plane. I was on board with about thirty other military members representing what would be referred to as a headquarters element in military jargon. In laymen’s terms we were a small military team whose job is was to set up a forward operating base in the tiny country of Uzbekistan near the Afghanistan border.
The conditions that my teammates and I found in Uzbekistan were some of the worst you can imagine. We had no source of running water, electricity, or even buildings. The Uzbek idea of a bathroom is a hole dug in the ground with a piece of wood put around it. We went well over a week without showering. When we did manage to locate a shower, it consisted of just a pipe sticking out of a concrete wall with very cold orange colored water trickling out of it. I remember having to step over piles of human feces to get to the shower. The smell was absolutely foul.
I couldn’t believe the conditions that the people of Uzbekistan lived in. I wondered how any person could survive living their entire lives in the conditions that existed there. I figured that the people living there must have been miserable but I was amazed to what I found.
Even though the people of Uzbekistan live in conditions that compared to the average American would seem nearly pre-historic, they live with much pride. Some of them could afford only one set of clothes that they would wear every day. Only the wealthy Uzbeks could afford shoes and socks. But that didn’t seem to matter to them. They found happiness in a smile, not a material item. They found joy in laughter and jokes, not how much money they had.
Above all, the Uzbek people value each other. They displayed a more genuine loving concern for each other than I have ever seen portrayed in the best of Hollywood’s multi-million dollar productions. They even took in the sometimes rude and obnoxious American soldiers who could have easily been considered occupiers.
I remember one particular Uzbek named Russo clearly. Russo was in the Uzbek Army and spoke fluent Russian and broken English. He didn’t know much about America besides Britney Spears and Michael Jackson.
Russo taught me how to speak enough Russian to survive in Uzbekistan. Russo didn’t treat me like some outsider that had no business being in his country like many Americans do to foreigners. He treated me as an equal, like I was his brother. Russo taught me about Uzbek and Russian culture but taught me an even greater lesson of life. Russo taught me that there is much more to life than what kind of clothes a person wears and how much money they make.
He taught me that no matter what a person’s race, gender, or beliefs are we all share something that is eternal. We all have the potential to be something bigger than ourselves and to be something even if we have nothing and that we can laugh in the face of adversity. This I believe.
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