Sunday, March 4, 2012

On My Head

I love getting presents (who doesn't?), so when an unexpected package arrived on my desk just the other day, I got pretty excited.  I got even more excited when I saw that it had come all the way from Afghanistan...and that the customs label said it contained (drumroll please): a helmet.  (Sorry it's fuzzy...but if you squint just right you can read the tag for yourself.)

You see, my longtime friend Kim (we went to grade and high school together) married this great guy, Dan, who is currently deployed over in Afghanistan. (Dan has his own cool blog, AfghanDanistan, which is well worth checking out.)  And--somehow--he got this silly notion that I have a thing for helmets.  (Where in the world would he get that crazy idea?)  Turns out Dan was in the Friday market in Mazar-e Sharif (where all the merchants are--amazingly--his "best friends" now), and a certain item for sale had him thinking of me.

Needless to say, I didn't waste much time tearing that box wide open and trying on my new piece of headgear.  It was a little snug, as Dan's note said it might me.  (He looked, but couldn't find a larger one.)  I couldn't help but wonder, "Is this the sort of kick-butt helmet that Genghis Kahn or Attila the Hun would have worn?"  Feeling a little more manly with such a thing on my head, I marched upstairs to the offices of the two nuns who work for the parishes.  They grinned widely and--like me--marveled at the handiwork of this exotic piece.  When I mentioned taking a picture with it on and getting it up on my blog, one of the sisters prudently asked, "Do you know its significance?  Does it have some sort of religious meaning?"

With fearful images of riots in the streets over an unintended inter-religous insult, I did what any self-respecting 30-something would do: I tried to Google it.  I typed in various searches, without much luck at first...until...I saw a photo of another headpiece rather similar to the one now in my possession.  So I clicked the link and learned that it is a headdress typical to Turkmenistan...and then made the mental note to look at a map and verify just where that it.  I then read that it's something worn at weddings and on other festive brides and other young women!  (That just might explain why it runs a little small!)  I guess these caps are worn by Turkmen women as a sign of status and their family's wealth.  But it seems that all that silver isn't just to show off your financial status; it's believed to ward off evil spirits, too. won't see any pictures of me here wearing this headdress--but that's because of cross-dressing (rather than cross-cultural) concerns!

Thanks again, Dan, for thinking of me and sending such a beautiful gift!  My hat collection is all the better for it.  And it's going to be a truly awesome prop when I'm teaching marriage prep classes...

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