Monday, May 23, 2005

"I am study English"

Wearing a faded blue cotton button down shirt, rumpled brown linen pants, and sandals with a split toe made him look vaguely Japanese. He smiled as I boarded the bus, red-faced and sweaty from the combination of the desert heat and the body armor. His smile increased, revealing crooked, yellowing teeth in a dark creased face, and he said, "welcome, welcome" in a surprisingly soft voice. He looked at me expectantly.

"Hello" I said, "Marhaba, ani mulazem Adam, tasharafna"(Hello, my name is LT Adam, nice to meet you.) He beamed, but left me wondering if he had understood my tortured attempt at Arabic. I tried again in English,"How long have you worked for the bus company?"

"4 months" he said, and lifting a thick, calloused finger into the air, he punctuated his thoughts. "Before, I work in Turkey, for five year, Saudi Arabia for seven year, Iraq, for seven year, and Kuwait, again for five year."

Stopping, he turned and reached into a crumpled plastic bag kept at the foot of his leather drivers seat. Sitting up, he pulled out a stack of folded papers, each neatly lettered in English with painstaking precision. He shuffles thru the stack of papers. "I am study English" he announced, and he looked thru the paperwork again. "I have one son," and with this, he looked anxiously up, inspecting my face to see if his English was acceptable.

I smiled, and he glanced back down at his tightly clutched papers. I could see that the papers were frayed around the corners from use, and that they were a sort of Turkish-English phrase book that he had compiled in his careful handwriting.

Finally, he found the phrase he had been looking for. "I want to go to America, two years." He looked up and with determination in his eyes, he exclaimed, "I want to live there." He looked almost embarassed for a moment at the ferocity in his voice, and he quickly looked down, muttering over his phrase book.

As he did so, I could not help but reflect that I had no doubt, that he would somehow manage to fulfill his dream of living in America.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Going to War First Class

I never thought that I would go to war first class on a Northwest Airlines Jet. After leaving Fort Stewart, I arrived at Hunter Army Airfield, outside Savannah, and proceeded to "manifest" by swiping my military ID (registering me for the flight) and weighing in. With my rucksack (the smaller of two) I came in at 282 lbs. It was dark and the sky was a deep midnight blue when we walked out onto the tarmac past military jets and boarded the chartered flight to Kuwait.

I was one of about 40 soldiers that got to sit up in First Class, and I curled up with "Dr. No" by Ian Fleming for the takeoff. Ten minutes into the flight, while reflecting that "Dr. No" was one seriously disturbed individual, I fell asleep and did not wake up for 8 hours, until the wheels touching down in Amsterdam for our layover. We deplaned at Amsterdam International and sat for half an hour in an enclosed terminal. Many of the soldiers enjoyed the novelty of being able to smoke indoors, and we were quietly guarded by Dutch police with submachine guns. The Dutch were quite polite, and they offered us pastries that we wolfed down.

We touched down in Kuwait at 3:30 am local time, and boarded buses, where we were instructed to keep the curtains closed to prevent people from seeing us on the bus. I attempted to speak my pidgeon arabic to the driver, but it turned out that he is a Seikh from India, whose brother drives a Taxi in NYC. It turns out, that most of the workers and laborers here are either from India or Pakistan. We received bottles of water, and it was quite sobering when two soldiers on each bus recieved live ammunition. This was to defend the bus in the event that we were attacked on the trip from the airport to our present location.

By 8:30 in the morning, it was already 90 degrees. By 12:00 it was 120 degrees. Imagine putting your face into a lit oven, turning a powerful hairdryer on your face, and throwing sand in your eyes. If you can picture such a thing, this is what it is like in Kuwait. The sun rises at 4:30 am, and turns into a big ball of fire in the sky. When the wind blows, there is no relief from the heat, because the wind blowing turns the sky into a sandstorm. Why anyone would want to live in such a place is beyond me.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Saying Goodbye

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