I suppose before things get REALLY crazy with the elections, I should take a minute or two to note a few things I have seen over the past few weeks since my last post…
First of all, going mad in the Army is easy. There are enough people in the Army to drive you crazy that you don’t even need some sort of debilitating disorder or something to get checked in. And people in power need to be occupied, because if they get bored, watch out… dumb things are about to happen. We should know this message from back in garrison, where when they get bored we get to shake icicles from trees or we get to take a pair of scissors and make sure the grass is edged properly. Train as you fight, I suppose, only out here when they get bored they start looking for paperwork to fill out, since paperwork is the lifeblood of the upper enlisted and a majority of officers. Without paperwork, they would probably shrivel up or decompose into piles of goo on the floor beneath their desks and swivel chairs, and that gets messy… good thing they would still have the junior enlisted to mop it up… so instead they play historical pretend games. This time, it appears to be “Let’s pretend we are in a little town called Salem… sometime in the 1600’s…” Which is actually an improvement from a month ago, when it was the pretend game of the Spaniards versus the Jews during a little time period I like to call the Inquisition. They let me out of the stocks, but now I get to wear a pointy hat and a carrot on my nose and point out that I don’t weigh the same as a duck (Monty Python reference, for those who have more of a life than I as to not watch a significant number of movies).
In order to escape the madness, I attempt to find sanity in my travels among the Iraqi people. I think that might be my first problem, but that is something I will have to cope with. Largely, I cope with it by laughing at them.
First of all, the Iraqis have found the concept of unions when it comes to labor work. They have taken to rebuilding things that might have been bombed out in the past few years, or fixing roads that have had potholes since the Iranian Air Force was in the area, and I have watched these developments with something of interest, having something of a construction background and particularly from a project management standpoint (ah… college… how I miss thee…). As I have observed, it has become clear that all of the signs of the labor union are present, and that the people must therefore be progressing.
First, they work about five minutes for every ten minute break, depending on who is watching. If someone notices that an American patrol is in the area, they all of a sudden hop up from wherever they have been napping in the tall grass and start doing whatever it is they are theoretically getting paid to do. However, they usually aren’t very observant, and while you would think you can’t sneak up on someone in an uparmored truck, these people can take “lunch breaks” with the best of them.
Second observation is that by and large, they have adopted the NYC road workers union principles of supervision. It is much more effective for one man to do the labor while everyone else stands around and watches him (some leaning on shovels of their own), because it is essential that the work be properly supervised. I have never seen a group of less than five Iraqis working on a reconstruction project, but at the same time I have never seen more than two actually working at any given time.
Third, though this isn’t so much union, it is nice to get a reminder of home when I see these fine Iraqis working along the sides of the road in… you guessed it… orange jumpsuits. I come from Jersey, where there are a large number of prisons with “get out and work” programs, so it is nice to drive along the side of the local roads and see a team of guys in orange jumpsuits tooling around the side of the road, sometimes even picking up garbage, though usually they don’t have trash bags, so if their hands are full they just pick the trash up from the side of the road and throw it further back into the field. But I have seen the prison folks do the same now and again, so really, it’s just refreshing.
But it isn’t just the similarities to union work that are fun around here. There is also the Arab way of making everything… pretty. I probably mentioned in my Afghan travels that they really like flowers over there. At least here they don’t put them in the ends of their AK-47 rifles, like they were doing over there, but I did see the prettiest bike I have ever seen a few days ago. The boy (yes, that’s right…) had neon-colored spokes with neon clicky-beads on them, flowers painted on his little mud-flaps, and tall poles attached to the pegs with flowers on top. He also had flowers mounted on the handlebars and a loud and fairly obnoxious light and siren mounted on the front. Did I mention he was wearing pink sandals? Yeah. I had my gunner take a picture. I was enthralled.
Something I did not allow pictures of was my torture endured at the hands of about a three-year old girl who decided I was the best thing since mud and straw roofing. Keeping in mind my consistent opinion of children, which is that they smell funny, it was very entertaining for my partner. This delightful little girl decided that her favorite way to show me that she liked me was to kiss the palm of my hand (a shame… no cows to feed this time), and then she decided that wasn’t good enough and would tap me on the face, violently, then kiss my cheek. And heaven forfend I pay attention to the conversation of where the bad men were, because she would grab my chin and force me to look at her. My interpreter, in his infinite wisdom, became concerned that I would get leishmeniasis or something else fun (Germany! Hooray!), so he instructed her to stop touching my face. Instead, he said without asking me, she could play with my hair. So she started petting my head as I tried to converse with her father, starting at about the eyebrow and giving me something of a facelift as she tried to smooth back my entire outer epidermal system via the roots of my hair. Oh, did I forget to mention the really fun part of it? I had watched this same child, about twenty minutes before, examining the interior contents of her sinus cavity as presented upon her finger, which she would then put on her dress before going back to recheck and make sure that she had cleared all the dust and dirt from her brain, given how far back she was digging. Needless to say, my hair had an odd sheen to it by the time I finally was able to put my crazy hat back on and attempt to get out of there with all of my belongings (”Mista give me pen give me ring give me hat give me glasses give me give me give me!”), though somewhat less my dignity.
But it’s about to be another fun week of men going out at two in the morning and, upon questioning, stating that it is the best time for harvesting tomatos, and trying to figure out just how there is such a big market for ski masks in a country without significant amounts of snowfall, and if the bad men are always coming from another town, where is this other town?
One of the locals told me today that I wasn’t allowed to go back to the States at the end of the tour, that I was like his sister and I was not allowed to go. My partner insisted that such comments still did not permit escalated use of force in our rules of engagement… I’ll have to look it up…