Iraq Commentary: Economy and Social Currency
Closed the office early today at the Gate. As it turns out, my interpreter, Fox, loves pizza. So my Master Sergeant (MSG) and I took him for pizza at the "food court" here.
On a side note: yes, we do have a "Pizza Hut" here on base. However, the cheese is different, everything that should be "fresh" on a pizza came from cans, and it just doesn't taste the same. But pizza is pizza (or "pizz-er" as my friend Bob would joke about some east-coast dialects), and tasting good in this place is all relative anyway.
We ordered the pizza and got it a few minutes later from the pick-up window and then walked back to the living area, the "pod." Sitting on the deck that was built by the guys in my unit who I antagonistically call the putt-putt bridge club, a very interesting 90 minute conversation ensued.
Two main observations I made: economy in iraq, specifically the exchange rate, Dollar to Denar; and the social currency of extra-marital (ahem) activity.
Exchange rate: Fox related that sometime in the last decade and a half the Iraqi Denar exchange rate against the dollar was approximately 1:4, that there were aspects of a Saddam-style regime that stabilized and enriched the economy relative to the rest of the world. Today, that exchange rate is 2,000:1 (Denar to Dollar). Stop for a minute and imagine that! I am looking for more articles and commentary on what extent of influence Coalition Forces presence in this country will "positively" affect that situation. What frustration must be felt by the educated and formerly "living comfortably" portion of the population in this country!
Social Currency: There were plenty of just reflective comments among the three of us about relationship and marriage. Fox's social values caught my attention on one important note, though. He said that when considering a woman as a life partner, he would under no circumstances continue with her if he became aware that she was not a virgin. He even went on to say that he would go so far as to purposefully test her, asking that she consider having sex with him -- the consequences being to reject her if she said 'yes.' Wow. Both the MSG and myself questioned him on this.... challenging the social logic of this constraint (or lack thereof). For example, how exactly does a woman become not-a-virgin, anyway? She would of course have to have sex with a man who would himself then no longer be a virgin. Fox added that it is not uncommon for young Iraqi men to go to "the bad houses" to feed their sexual appetite, and that this activity is more or less condoned but not discussed. There was no resolution on the inherent conflict of this topic. No hositility, mostly detached acceptance of social differences. But Fox asserted finally that this was in fact a representative opinion held throughout the Iraqi social structure. The challenger in me says yeh, um, I wonder what the women think of that?!