You may not be rich - the average annual income in Marjah is $800. But you likely have access to the indigenous culture and basic amenities and social structure that is present in any mid-sized town - one the size of, say, Berkeley, California or Albany, New York or Gary, Indiana. Perhaps you run a small clothing business, or work in a cafe, or teach in a school. The soil is rich in your area of Afghanistan, so there is a good chance you know some cotton farmers.
You probably are also very familiar with the annual blooming season of this crop:
A couple of weeks ago, you might have picked up what you thought was litter in the street, only to discover it was a leaflet intentionally dropped by NATO to warn you, and your friendly neighborhood Taliban gang, of imminent attack. If you aren't among the 1% of the population that made it out of town before yesterday, you are likely locked down in your house today, and are whispering prayers that begin with Sam'i Allahu liman hamidah (God hears those who call upon him).
And you are hoping God is listening.
Hundreds of US Marines, Afghan military forces, and other armed members of the International Security Assistance Forces have set up camp on the perimeter of your town, and are promising a showdown with the 2,000 Taliban members who have decided to put up a fight to prove who's boss in Afghanistan. People say it will be the biggest battle in the country since the US showed up to rout terrorism in your homeland eight years ago.
And you, my friend in Marjah, have a seat on the front line.
There are mines in your streets and the Taliban's improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are scattered everywhere. They say a new and bigger IED has been made. You have heard people call it the Omar, and they say it cannot be detected by US mine scans. You have no idea how much damage the Omar might do. Now or later.
You have heard the Taliban is ready to fight to the death to deny Afghan government control of this area.
Machine gun fire began two days ago - just after the sound of helicopters filled the air. Your children are afraid. Your old people are angry. You are confused.
The Taliban lives in your province because it is a center of financial resource for the organization. Ten-percent of the world's opium is produced here - helped along, in part, by irrigation systems built by the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. The drug trade is rife with corruption and fear, but it is lucrative. As long as the Taliban is allowed to make its profit - there is peace and a measure of prosperity.
Today, the reality that the Taliban has made some fierce enemies has come to your backyard. Those enemies have sworn to put an end to "business as usual." NATO's top dog in the area has said this:
"People need to be under no illusion -- this operation is going to succeed, we are going to bring Afghan government sovereignty to this area." - Mark SedwillAnd so, when you look outside, to check on the neighbor who has no wood to build a fire on this cold, windy, and overcast day, perhaps you are distracted by this:
And you go back to your prayers.