Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nawa residents celebrate Afghan new year

by Staff Sgt. Luis Agostini

NAWA DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan (March 21, 2010) – Residents celebrated the Afghan New Year at Nawa's market square March 21, under a blanket of security provided by the Afghan national security forces and Marines from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Complete with drama, poetry, feats of strength and demonstrations from Afghanistan's Olympic Tae Kwon Do team, Afghans celebrated the traditional Islamic New Year, known as Nowruz, which coincides with the annual spring equinox. Islamic culture celebrates this day as the day the Islamic prophet, Mohammad, began the migration, or Hijra, from Saudi Arabia to Medina.

"It's traditional, like Christmas," said 'James,' an Afghan Pashto interpreter with the Marines of 1/3. "There's drama, dancing, poetry; we go to each other's homes and celebrate."

Nawa's district administrator, Haji Mohammed Khan, spoke to the crowd of nearly 1,000, addressing the district's economic and security improvements. Lt. Col. Matt Baker, commanding officer of 1/3, and Sgt. Maj. Dwight D. Jones, sergeant major of 1/3, attended the event as honored guests, complete in Afghan garb and headdressings.

Just one year ago, a few weeks shy of the Marines' arrival in this farming community, thoughts of music and celebration were simply unimaginable.

Sadar Mohammad, a 31-year-old Afghan national police officer, spent last Nowruz fending off the Taliban from the Nawa district center. Over the last 365 days, Mohammad, a lifelong Nawa resident, has helped bolster Nawa as one of Helmand province's success stories.

"I saw a lot of changes – the arrival of peace, and people's interest in government rising," said Sadar Mohammad.

A stronger job market and economy followed the arrival of peace, and remained instrumental in maintaining security, Sadar Mohammad said.

"Before, people were jobless. If they work, they will not fight," he said.

Nawa has been touted as a model of success in Helmand province for others to follow. Many foreign dignitaries and senior government and military officials have walked through the bazaar to witness firsthand the transformation. Sadar Mohommad still sees the need for improvement, particularly in Nawa's infrastructure.

"Now with the arrival of peace, comes the need to improve the canals, roads and hospitals," Sadar Mohammad said.

The fledgling Afghan national security forces, comprised of the Afghan national army, Afghan national police and Afghan border police, have made great strides in their professional development and training over the past year, thanks in large part to the embedded training teams and training academies provided by the Marines and other members of International Security Forces Afghanistan.

"Before, we were blind. We had no social skills, and did not know how to deal with problems. Now, I'm not blind. I can see what is right and what is wrong," said Sadar Mohammad.

Even older Afghans like 55-year-old Lal Mohammad, an Afghan farmer, embrace the new year with optimism.

"Before, there was nothing. Nawa was not peaceful. The Taliban were in control," said Lal Mohammad, a former poppy farmer who now cultivates wheat, corn and watermelons.

Making a difficult living under Taliban rule, Lal Mohammad now enjoys a prosperous income and ability to support his family.

"Now I am a king, compared to that time," Lal Mohammad said.

Lal Mohammad has seen enough to know that the Marines are still needed in Nawa, and the Afghan forces have a ways to go before Nawa, and other areas of the country, are completely turned over to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

"The Marines must work with the ANP and the ANA. The ANA and the ANP should be strong. I'm waiting for that," said Lal Mohammad. "They [Afghan forces] are working nicely, for now. If the situation stays like this, in the future it will be good."

For now, Lal Mohammad will enjoy the return of the festivities, and prays for it to remain an annual event.

"Now we are happy to celebrate together, and I pray to God that every year will be like this," said Lal Mohammad.

PHOTO: A young Afghan boy uses a homemade Afghan flag to shield his eyes from the sun March 21, during a celebration of Islamic New Year near the Nawa District center.


May you walk with the LORD always, and when you cannot take another step, may He carry you the rest of the way until you can walk along side Him again.

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