Bacon and sheep guts
Morning woke up like it always did. The new light showed stirring in the streets and alleys. We passed by a village and market while on our patrol. Iraq started off its day.
Okay, maybe not Iraq in total, but our little piece. Fires were started with available rubbish. Men congregated in groups waiting for busses, or just talking. The women in their shrouds went here and there.
Animals came out in small flocks, attended by small children. Men opened the gates to their shops and put out their wares on rusty hangers, draped from rusted awnings, kept off the muddy gullies and rivets cut through the grime by packs of pickup trucks.
Crushed cans, scraps of paper and bits of Styrofoam, plastic bottles and other filth were awash in mud to make a sort of pavement in the streets. The smoke painted the air gray and, in fact, all color seemed to bleed from the world as the dawn left, replaced by grays and browns and ruddy faces.
Up ahead was a boy, crouching over a slaughtered sheep, glaring at us over his shoulder like a lion over a fresh kill.
“See that?” my TC asked. “Killing sheep.” He was a Reserve soldier on his second year in Iraq. He had extended just to take his current job – commanding patrols that looked for IEDs. Said he felt he was making a difference. “And the money’s good too,” speaking about his tour, not sheep killing.
“Wow,” I answered back, not knowing what to say, really. It was my first witnessed sheep slaughter.
“They throw the guts across the street for the dogs to eat.” After hitting our turn-around point, we passed by the boy again, still carving out a meal. The opposite portion of the street was a pale yellow-green, strewn with bits and pieces of what I guess were entrails and organs.
“Nice,” again, not quite sure what to say.
“What? The guts? Yeeeeaaaaah,” the TC said.
“Mmmmmmm!” Yelled our gunner from up top. “Smells better than my Myrmited bacon!” He had been going on and on about the containers of food that would be waiting for us after we finished the sweep. Since the headquarters for the quick-reaction force I was riding with was so far from the dining facility, they trucked in “Myrmites” – the name for the big plastic tubs used to keep food warm/cold – to save the soldiers from having to travel too far to eat.
Apparently, our gunner liked pork.
“You keep that sheep sh*t over there, I’m a gonna have me some bacon!!” He screamed to the winds.
We got several looks from the locals as we passed. I wonder if any of them picked up on the pork reference, or if it would have offended anybody. Just another crazy American sticking his head into their lives in his own little way.
“What’s with the cars?” I asked, managing out four words over the roar of the humvee.
“Up ahead? Oh that’s the gas station,” my TC explained. “They’ll be waiting all day for gas. See ‘em in groups? They’ll just sit there all day. It’s a government gas station though, so it’s only 25 cents a gallon, but you got to wait a looooong time.”
I had seen packs of cars like that all over Iraq. Waiting for traffic or gas or whatever seemed to be a common thing – I had noticed it on lots of other go’rounds with other missions. Sure was a stark contrast from the go-go-go stateside lifestyle.
A lot of people ask me what it’s like in Iraq. Apart from the top few percent who wine and dine with visiting politicians, it’s the poor-man’s life for most.
In the south waged the great ideological struggle – the war on “terror”. Here, in the shadow of the epic global struggle against violent extremism, most just eked out another day among the trash, sheep, bombs and rocket fire.
An hour of electricity here and there, a tanker of gas on occasion, some lamb to go with the bread and rice. Mostly, time just was.