Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Surreal Exchanges In Kuwait

I was on the way back from the US, caught in the quagmire of layovers and bus rides, plane hops and more bus rides. There is an airport/base in Kuwait called Ali Al Salem, where our travel group waited a few hours to catch a flight up to Baghdad. There was an outdoor break area, a holding tent, an abundance of stinky port-o-johns, a shortage of cold water, and WAY too much heat and sun. I had returned to the break area a couple times, seeing a small selection of the same six or seven Egyptian soldiers each time. On about the third visit, one of them held up a camera and asked in broken English, “Picture? I take – you picture?”

I must interrupt to say that the Army Intelligence program has ruined me. I trust no one. I hate to sound all “secret squirrel” (common lingo among the geek-ridden military intelligence community), but seriously – I’m paranoid.

So I gruffly responded, “Why?” When the guy looked at me with confusion on his face, apparently not understanding my English, I asked him in Arabic. Then he looked even more confused – Why is this chick speaking to me in Arabic?— responded in Arabic when he finally understood, resulting in confused looks from me – the upshot of his response being something to the effect of ‘you look good, and I don’t have any pictures of female American soldiers.’ I gave in and agreed, but stipulated that my name (on the front of my uniform) could not be in the picture. Now the roles reverse. He’s asking me ‘Why?’ in Arabic, and I’m telling him ‘Um, because I said so…What are you going to do with it anyway, sell it on the internet? …. You probably just want it to sell to kidnappers….’ Stuff like that. I still firmly believe that he did not understand a word I said. But he suddenly had no interest in taking my picture as soon as I said he could not include my name.

That was Part One. Part Two:

Apparently a couple of American contractors working at Ali Al Salem had caught most of the conversation and were quite entertained. I’ll call them Tweedle Dee and Dum. Dee was sitting closest to where I had put my foot up on the bench he was using, while Dum was standing, a little farther away. I caught Dee staring at my foot on the bench, when Bubba walked up. Bubba was about 6’3” and very wide, thick and gruff-looking. He still had a pretty-boy athlete kind of look to him, sun-bleached brown-blonde hair, messy in a purposeful sort of way, nicely shaped jaw line – asynchronous with his gruff demeanor. Dee started his commentary to Bubba before even looking at him, still staring at my foot, “I don’t know, Bubba [not really his name; I just don’t remember it], she’s got small feet. I’d still put money against it, though.” Chaotic banter ensued – I began to realize that they were discussing some ongoing bet regarding how large of a bare foot Bubba could fit in his mouth! I felt like I was in some frat house party scene in a movie. Dee started telling me how much Bubba would appreciate it if I would please take my boot and sock off so that he could try, with Bubba echoing his request, even going so far as to attempt to bribe me with a 1.5 liter of “ice cold” water. I guess he figured I was sick of the less-than-hot water provided us while in transit – and perhaps that I was a cheap sell. More commentary and persuasion… “fetish” mentioned a few times… video camera materialized in Dum’s hand, out of nowhere!... questions about whether my toenails were painted or not (yes) and what color (red)… and Bubba disappeared, presumably to fetch the ever-coveted ‘ice cold’ water. The second he was out of sight, I turned to Dee and said, dripping with sarcasm and gesturing, “And to think he was really this close to convincing me to do it!” Then I said to both of them, “I know your friend isn’t going to like this, but I’ve got to go, guys. See ya,” and I walked away. It was all creepy, surreal and triumphant – walking away, realizing that those sick overpaid former military bubbas probably had tapes FULL of such foot-age. Dozens of women travel through their location every day. It just kills me that they are making at least $80K annually – tax free – to entertain themselves by harassing service members in transit. Crazy. Surreal. Just crazy. So I watched my shadow getting longer and waited to board the C-130, bound for Baghdad.


At 6/21/2005 10:36 AM, Blogger Mary Godwin said...

Tommi, this is good writing and an amazing story. The measure of "novelty" consigned to you on the basis of your gender must often feel like a steady wind against which you must brace yourself - a challenge not easily factored for it's impact on the daily process of managing already difficult circumstances. I was taken in by part one of your story, but I wanted to hear how you handled the camera that showed up in part two, particularly when it was Americans that moved to take a picture ... did you register similar "secret squirrel" reflexes? Anyway ... great post. Thanks for the eyes-on-your-world you make possible here. -mg

At 6/21/2005 11:32 AM, Blogger Sentinel 47 said...

Fun question about the 'secret squirrel' reflexes when the Americans produced the camera... I guess I instinctively did NOT trust them -- which, for those of you who have known me long, you know is quite against my trust-first-recover-later nature. I have a difficult time seeing anything but opportunizing on "easy money" and lazy living when I see American contractors anyway. My response was probably driven as much out of bitterness against them (how could they spend so much energy and laughter on FOOT videos when people are DYING??) as it was out of protection of myself and my desires.

More on training Iraqis, crazy people and audio blogging later.


At 6/22/2005 11:33 AM, Blogger alice@blogalice.com said...

i would have introduced them to the back end of the boot.


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