Friday, May 18, 2007

Patience

Rache and I were both laughing as we threw the ball to Chester outside and watched his little ears pin against his head when he sprinted to get it. It was springtime; I could feel the grass on my feet and smell our neighbors firing up their barbecues after winter hibernation. All of the sudden, the temperature plummeted, several Apache helicopters flew overhead and I really had to pee. Shivering underneath a thin nylon blanket, I cursed both my bladder and my roommate for being uncooperative. It was about 3:30am and I really had to use the bathroom, but the though of throwing on my flip-flops and trudging 300m through the mud to use it was keeping me in bed. My dream of home was rudely interrupted and two thoughts crossed my mind: Why does Nap need to set the air conditioner to 30 below zero, and What the hell am I doing here? This is actually a fairly typical night for me at this point in the deployment. I haven’t answered the first question yet, and oddly enough Nap (my current roommate) hasn’t really given a good answer either. The second question, though, gets answered not long after I finish my breakfast each day.

Since I work on the Iraqi side of Taji, I have about a 5-10 minute drive to duty. The drive is fairly depressing, since just about all of Taji looks like an enormous junkyard. There are tanks, artillery pieces, trucks, and unidentifiable pieces of scrap metal everywhere. Most, if not all, of this scrap is remnants of the old Iraqi Army under Sadaam. The tanks all some sort of unique graffiti on them, courtesy of US Soldiers. Phrases like “Hi, Mom!”, or “I Love you Mary” can be seen on any number of the rust-heaps that pervade the landscape. My favorite one, though, is the one that says in all capital letters “Suck my balls you unfaithful whore”. Seriously – I laugh every time I drive by it. I guess that’s just my 5th grade sense of humor coming through. I pass through two checkpoints but the soldiers aren’t concerned since I am leaving the coalition base and going to the Iraqi side. Coming home is a different story – my vehicle gets searched both times. I still haven’t answered the 2nd question I ask myself everyday, but I’m getting to it.

Once I pass through the second checkpoint I am at the Taji National Depot, which is where I will be working for the next year or so. My job is to advise the Iraqi Army on their logistical infrastructure so that they can build their Army and sustain it for extended periods of time. Specifically, I am in charge of the operations and engineering cells, which coordinate the procurement, contracting, and distribution of all logistics for the Iraqi’s. To be honest, right now it seems really overwhelming. They are establishing a 12 Division Army, and the entire infrastructure that goes with it, from scratch. Granted, we are the third rotation of advisors, and our predecessors brought the system to a level where we can at least see what the major problems are. For example, the maintenance program; there is none. But at least they have vehicles now so we can see that this is a problem!

So far, working with the Iraqi’s has been a really unique experience. My limited Arabic has progressed more in the past 4 days then it did in 4 months at Ft. Riley. The same can be said for my understanding of their culture. Iraqi’s are eternally polite, and I say that without exaggeration. Honor is probably one of the most important things to them, so they would never try to make someone feel ashamed. They are always saying hello mister, or thank you captain. In fact they usually say both of those things, even if they don’t apply at all (like when we say “goodbye”, they will say “thank you mister, hello”)! Many of the Iraqi’s here speak very limited English, and if there is no interpreter around conversations involve a lot of hand gestures and strained usage of limited vocabularies. Introductions are greetings are very important to them, though. I will usually spend at least a few minutes every time I meet a new Iraqi Soldier (Jundi) saying hello, how are you, what is your name, where are you from, etc. Luckily, I can say all of things in Arabic pretty well. However, on a base with hundreds of Iraqi’s, I have a lot of greetings to do. It’s important for us to do this for a few reasons. Often in America, we’ll say a quick hello and just exchange names before getting down to business, especially when we are busy or in a hurry. In Iraq, however, skipping a formal introduction is considered a pretty big slight. The problem is that they are so polite, they will never let on that they are insulted. They will still smile and talk business as normal, but you will have done nothing to foster their enthusiasm or trust.

So in short, the answer to that questions I ask myself every morning is that I am here to help people create something they’ve never had before. I know that sounds cheesier than a bag of Cheeto's, but every day I get a little bit of reinforcement toward that feeling. Yesterday, as I was driving around the fence line of the FOB, I saw a group of Iraqi’s walking on the side of the road. Being the good samaritan, we stooped and let them hop into our truck. The kid who got in the backseat of the truck spoke almost no English, but he gave it a heck of an effort. I did manage to get most of his story, though. He grew up and lives in Sadr City, which you might recognize from the news. His brother’s been killed by fighting, and he recently just got over a gunshot wound to his arm. Obviously, he’s been through a lot; but if you could have seen the pride and enthusiasm in his face when he was showing me his card that said he just graduated from Iraqi basic training and listen to him talk on and on about it . .. .it would give anyone a good feeling that there is a lot of hope in this country.

I should mention that I purposely not talking much about other things that occur daily around here. The media does a great job of reporting just about every negative thing going on in this country and right now I am trying to see the positive. There was some damage to the airfield here the other day, but it wasn’t catastrophic and operations continue as normal. I posted new pictures and more are on the way. Hopefully I can post more now that I have another computer, so until I post again, Fi-man Allah! (Good-bye in Arabic, translated roughly May God take care of you).

3 comments:

The Appalachianist said...

Hooha, Sir, it's all yours now!

Kat said...

Thanks for the little snapshot of life "over there". I always find it interesting to understand other cultures and language and many of the milblogs give a pretty good picture.

Stay safe, drink water.

Iraqi Drama Queen said...

it's Fi'mallah my yanki firend ;) it translates to with allah's protection - be safe.

al sallam alekum will rub very well, it means you respect islam (works well with the hard core muslims) and you can say it when you mean hi and bye and most other situations.