Wednesday, January 27, 2010 1:32 PM
So at about 5 o'clock this morning I'm on guard tower shift and I decide it's definitely time for a snack and bust out a clif bar. So, the perpetual mooches, the Iraqi Army guy crammed in there with me says "Food?! Give!" Yeah, sure buddy, why not. -I think I handed him the carrot cake flavor. I can sorta see him tear it open in the dark and he snaps his flashlight on to examine what must look to him like a combination of sawdust, raisins and something his dog -or son, either are likely- left on the lawn this morning. So I can sorta see his half-grimace as he stares at this thing that he just demanded to have and I take a big bite of mine and lean back against the concrete wall like it's the best thing in the world. Which of course it's not. It's a clif bar. I like 'em. Good trail food. But a juicy 3/4 lb burger -the likes of which I haven't seen, and won't see, for quite a while- it's not. Haji takes the smallest of nibbles and I'm pretty sure he tried to hide the fact that he didn't finish the rest of it. Maybe he'll stop asking me for stuff. I had no complaints with that guy. He was much better'n the guy who replaced him.
The next guy came in and immediately cranks up his cell phone to start spitting out the most noxious Arabic I've ever heard. I knew what it was but I tell him "Turn that shit off. Muzien." [Muzien is an all-encompassing 'bad,' 'crappy' and all other things negative. Zien means 'good,' cool' and all things positive. It's an old language and I don't think they ever got very creative with it. -Hence the "Give me..." I'm told "May I please have" does not exist in their language.] He says "No. [makes prayer hands] Alu Akbar [God is great]." He's playing the 'Call to Prayer' over his phone, as if you can't hear it blaring out of the town already. I let him have it. We're supposed to be winning hearts and minds here, right? I am NOT culturally sensitive. Plus, religion is just weird to me. I plugged in my iPod. We're not supposed to have 'em in the towers but this was an act of self preservation.
They all have the same routine. They come in, drop their vest, and fashion the vest, the busted cooler and a beat up ottoman into a bench and fall asleep on it. Sometimes they'll wake up and sit up when the sun comes up and sometimes they don't. Their vests don't do 'em much good anyway, they're not very good. Mine, on the other hand, -er- doesn't do me much good either: having no bullets to stop it only exists to give me back problems. When they fall asleep they crank their two-way radios up all the way so that when someone tries to get ahold of them loud, staticky Arabic blares out of it jarring me from whatever quasi-peaceful daydream I was having.
They all ask the same questions. "Madame?" "Girlfriend?" "Muzien. Me three wives." Good luck with that, dude. "Ooh, iPod!! Photos?! Video?!" "You have PSP?" "Muzien." Sorry, dude. Sorry I can't be here to entertain you on my six-hour shift that I showed up early for. Whereas, your three-hour shift turns into more of a two-hour shift when you show up a half-hour late and leave a half-hour early. They all complain when we turn the heat off. Sorry if you're not used to winter but I'm burnin' up. In the States if it's 140 degrees we call it 'Death Valley', not 'home'.
There are plenty of rules around here for us to follow but the IA have a different set of values and it's usually up to us to decide whether we want to do something about it or not. When it comes to smoking in the tower, I do something about it. I tried to explain to one guy before he lit his cigarette that it wasn't happening. He lit it anyway so I took it out of his hand and held it out the 'door'. He eventually got the idea with little complaining and when he came back in I told him "Shukran" [thank you].
The next guy that tried it a few days later I had actually been having a halfway intelligent conversation with when he tried to light up. I laid it out for him nicely but he told me, with much cursing and 'go back to America's, that he didn't care and lit it anyway. So I took it out of his mouth and set it on the sandbag outside. He got all furious of course and went to light another one so I stood over him and pointed right at his eyeball and told him "Look, !@#$%^&*!@#$, if you light that one too I'm just gonna do the same thing again." He curses some more ["F USA!"], gathers up his stuff and tells me he's going to his room where he can smoke and sleep. -No worries, man. He must've told his replacement not to show up, too. Their boss, who's a very respectable man, came up after 9 -when there should have been yet another replacement there- and tells me his soldier told him we said we didn't need IA in the tower any more. Well, not exactly... The first time I came here I was surprised at how childish a lot of these guys are. -Still surprised.
The worst guy is probably the guy with bad breath. Every time this guy talks into his radio the whole tower stinks with the passion of defeating everything Listerine ever stood for. Baghdad is, or was before we bombed the shit out of it, a moreover modern city. But that trendy thing called hygiene never really reached this part of the world.
In closing, my leg is not a ladder. If you don't know me, don't claw your way up me to get into a tower.
It could definitely be worse. I could be in a war zone.