Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Cast of Characters

What kind of person would you expect to find working in Iraq?  Soulless military guys who say "hooah" and salute everything that moves?  Mysterious guys wearing aviator sunglasses who have no sense of humor?  A little guy with an unplaceable accent who's selling AK47's by the truckload?  An overcoiffed news reporter trying desperately to make a name for him/her self?  Well, no doubt those people are out there somewhere, but I sure haven't met them.  Let me give you an idea of the people I interact with on a daily basis.

First, there's the Army Lieutenant Colonel who is really your favorite absent-minded professor.  Except he wears a uniform.  He's very smart and very easily distracted by things like birds and rocks (he's got a PhD in geochemistry).  When we're walking anywhere, we're forever having to go back and corral the guy because he's wandered off to take a picture of a pigeon perched on some concertina wire, or pick up interesting pebbles out of the gravel parking lot.  And don't ask him to explain anything because you'll get a rambling 40-minute dissertation on something like radon instead ... and it doesn't matter what you asked about.  Yes, we're fond of the guy, even though he really belongs on a college campus in Missouri.

There's the young Air Force Captain who recently arrived in our shop.  Good-looking guy, slim and fit, extremely smart, a Type A personality in a Type A environment.  Very clipped and professional approach to everybody and everything.  We'll get him loosened up pretty soon.  We better!

We have two women in our area that sit side by side.  Grandmothers, both of them.  Both can talk a mile a minute and they do.  One of them is a teacher who, for some unknown reason, has wound up tracking funding for our projects.  Despite having no previous training, she figured out the process and fixed some things that were giving us big headaches.  A while back, our group was over at another base and a bunch of young soldiers were out playing volleyball.  This grandma perched herself on a stool and made it her business to take as many pictures of the guys as she could get away with.  Now all the women in our area are trying to get copies of her pictures.  Nothin' like a dirty ol' grandma! (And that's our absent-minded professor standing next to her).

You'd think that the guards at the gates would all be Army soldiers.  Not so.  We use a variety of people at the gatehouses.  Including Iraqis.  Yes, it's true.  They are all very businesslike and professional and most are friendly.  One of them, I swear, looks like a young version of Saddam Hussein.  It's very disconcerting to have a Saddam lookalike, armed with an automatic rifle, checking your security badge!  Another one is the poster child for the Unibrow appearance.  He looks like somebody took a big black magic marker straight across his forehead.  I admit, I don't have a clue what the rest of his face looks like, but he's a really nice guy.  With a hell of an eyebrow.  At another compound, many of the guards are young Ugandans.  They have a very fierce appearance, very solemn, brandishing AK47's or whatever they use.  But as soon as you say something as simple as "Good morning!" to them, their faces light up in huge smiles.

I've mentioned the Green Bean coffee shop many times in this blog.  It's an admirable chain that goes wherever the servicemen are out here.  We have one in our compound.  The manager is Indian, a very cheerful young guy.  I don't know how Green Bean trains its people, but it seems like, by your third visit, they know who you are and what you want to drink.  Amazing.

We have several people who are native Iraqi but now naturalized westerners.  One is an engineer most of the time and a translator part of the time.  Working with him is a hoot.  When we're dealing with some ministry officials, he'll do a wonderful job of interpreting back and forth, giving the nuances of what is being said.  And later, he'll dish the dirt, telling us what was really going on in that animated offline discussion between competing ministries.

We also have a number of local Iraqis working within our building.  They're all very good at what they do.  For example, if I have a computer problem, the Iraqi computer guys will be right there.  I mean right there.  No 20-minute wait, not even a 5-minute one.  One is a young guy with a heck of a physique and a penchant for tight jeans and tight polo shirts.  The young Iraqi women go into quite a tizzy when he's around ... in a very restrained way.  Speaking of the young Iraqi women, their outfits are a mixture of brash and modesty.  They'll wear something that meets the letter of the social norms - cover up thy skin - while at the same time demanding attention.  It's like they're shouting "look at me!  I'm all covered up!!"  Or is it, "I'm all covered up!  Look at me!!"  Whatever, the contradiction is an endless source of amusement.  

So that's a sampling of the people who inhabit my daily life.  A small sampling.  Maybe I'll do some more another time.  Life here is interesting, and these are the people that make it that way.

1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/04/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.