Lt. Col. Brian Payne, from left, Command Sgt. Major Ernest Bowen and Lt.Col. David Abrahams take tea during a meeting with officers of the Afghan National Civilian Order Police at Dand District Headquarters. Lt. Col. Payne is the battalion commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, now stationed in southern Kandahar. Photo by Cheryl Hatch

I’ve seen tea served in shuras where U.S. soldiers met with Afghan government officials in big rooms with fake flowers, giant posters of President Karzai and far more tables and chairs than people in attendance.
An Afghan man brought a kettle and a stack of glasses to serve chai to Afghan and American soldiers who had just searched his home as they took a break on the roadside near Molla Dust. After the tea, the American soldiers gave cigarettes to their Afghan counterparts and one Afghan soldier gave an American soldier a taste of his snuff.
I’ve been offered tea by Afghan National Army soldiers during a break in a two-day air assault mission, when we shed our heavy rucksacks and sat in the shade to rest. I played the name game and memorized all their names one after another: Daoud, Ras Mohammed, Mohammed Fouad, Ali Sheer, Asef, Sgt. Joey. And every time they saw me, the soldiers would quiz me. They didn’t expect or believe that I would remember. And I did, each and every time. And they remembered my name, too.
Fatima, a 70-year-0ld widow, served chai and bread to me and Spc. Malecia James as we sat on a mat on a dirt floor in a room off the main courtyard of their compound. While the soldiers searched the home, James asked Fatima questions about her family and their health and schooling needs. Five women and nine children gathered as we talked. When I left, I gave them my last packet of Wet Ones wipes and my bag of cough drops. James reached in her ruck and gave candy and pens. Their needs were so great, which made their generosity that much greater and their hospitality so dear.