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One final thought on corruption before I get off this topic for the time being. Afghans love to gripe about corruption. The moment they realize that an American is interested in talking politics instead of just asking where the Taliban are or where to build a new school, Afghans settle themselves into a comfortable squat (that doesn’t make sense to me either) and start laying out the reasons their politicians are terrible at their jobs. General inefficiency was one of the top conversations, but the winner was corruption.

To be fair, if you ask most Americans what they think of their politicians, they’re likely to tell you the same thing.

It was that thought that inspired me, one cold winter day, to tell the Afghan man I was talking to that Afghans weren’t the only ones in that boat. We were down in Spera in Khost, a district that didn’t exactly have a stellar reputation when it came to strong government leaders. As we hopped from foot to foot to keep warm, the man had complained about his government with the usual descriptions of excessive favoritism, nepotism, and extortion.

I replied by telling him about a recent case involving a corrupt judge in Pennsylvania that had affected my family directly. The judge had been conducting some shady business for years and had only just got caught. As I spoke, the Afghan man’s eyes got wide and his jaw fell open. That was not the image he had of American. He slowly started to chuckle.

“So you see,” I said, “America has corruption too. We’re just better at hiding it.”

At this, he threw back his head and laughed.

“Well,” he said as he calmed down, “it seems like Afghanistan is better than America because at least our politicians are honest about their corruption.”