Whatever she said
I’ve heard a lot of questions and views from other people, talking to me about being in Iraq.
Some wondered if I was looking forward to coming here, “Aren’t you excited?” she asked. “Wow, the idea of visiting a whole other country. It’s great.”
“What are the shopping malls like there?” someone else put out. Shopping malls? WTF?
“Do you have any Iraqi roommates? Are they nice?”
“Did you go clubbing while you were there?”
At the airport on the way home when I was on leave, the waitress at the Dallas airport Chili’s was wondering where all the guys in uniform were going.
“Some of us are going to Iraq, others are coming home.”
“Wow, we’re still over there?” she asked. “I thought the president said it was over like years ago.”
Wow is right. Look friends, it’s not college. It’s not Friday out on the town. It’s not fun. There are no roommates. There is no shopping. We don’t visit the sights — there are no sights. We’re locked inside our bases. No one goes out because mean people try to kill you out there. We’re just doing our time in purgatory, earning a ticket home.
If left to the Iraqis, everything thrives on cheap, imitation products. Imitated shoes, bootleg movies, bootleg satellite TV, cheap bicycles, cheap Internet hookups. There are no building codes, everything is out in the open — pipes, wires, whatever. Electricity shorts out. Things break. Everything is dirty. If you fix something up, it gets stripped as soon as the lights go out. So people don’t fix things up.
“Hey, you, is this all the episodes of ‘Lost’?”
“Sa, yes sa.”
“All of them, so if it doesn’t work, I can bring it back?”
“All them, sa. Yes sa.”
“If it doesn’t work, I can bring it back?”
“Bak? Yes sa.”
There is no grass. There is no pavement. Salt oozes out of the ground. The water smells like sewage. Dust fills the air. Hygiene is optional. It’s a part of the culture to lie if it “saves face.” It’s a part of the culture to get out of doing any kind of work. It’s a part of the culture to work only for one’s family and to hell with the rest of the country.
Trash is everywhere. Fires burn constantly, filling the sky with smoke. Toxic chemicals drip into pools that run into the water…all of it an environmentalist’s nightmare.
This isn’t a two-week vacation. This isn’t an exchange program, or a summer internship. This is life outside of American affluence.
Hope is preached by politicians with cash-lined pockets. In the streets, children gut sheep, then play in the green-black waters of nearby pools.
Men endure hours of searches to come on American camps and run booths, selling fake Rolexes, hacked XBoxes, pirated software and bootlegged movies.
And as we all say, “Hell, a few strip clubs and bars outside the gates and this place will be Korea.”