Saturday, July 15, 2006

So long, Iraq

This will very likely be the last entry for this deployment.

Five of the twenty people in my unit are already back in the States. Two had to leave early because of family problems, the other three are our advance party who are supposed to help our de-mobilization in Fort Bliss. The rest of us have been hanging out in Camp
Ali Al-Saleem, Kuwait for the last few days waiting for a flight home. Say: Ali Al-Saleem. Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?

Life down here has been sluggish and boring, but not as hot as when I was here in August. Thompson, Poland, Robicheau and I discovered a USO building where it was possible to play Halo 2 all day if you didn't mind waiting or crouching around a small screen. We didn't.

I think Ali Al-Saleem has to take the cake for the most laid back US base in the Middle East. Not even Anaconda (called "Shamaconda") comes close. Everyone here is in transit to or from R&R or to or from a deployment. The officers return salutes half-heartedly and some people slouch around in civilian clothes. Why not? Who cares? Myself I went without shaving yesterday and it was liberating.

Hopefully the freedom bird will come in tonight and I will soon be able to enjoy more freedoms in the good ol' U.S.A. Hooah.

Monday, July 03, 2006

All hail Sheik Spencer


For those of you who are not Middle East scholars like I am, “salaam” is the Arabic word for “peace.” When accompanied by a hand-over-heart gesture, it can mean “hello” or “goodbye.”

Over the course of this deployment, I’ve picked up on several Arabic words and phrases, some useful, some…well….not. “Shway-Shway” means step-by-step. “Shukran” means “thank you.” “Jundi” means “soldier.” “Mongoli” is an insult the jundis throw around that is similar to the American word “fag.”

In the last four months I have really been serious about learning to read, write and speak Arabic. Sgt. Marshall Thompson had been trying to learn the language since before we reached Iraq and trying to convince me to join him, but I figured the attempt would be futile. Then one day, in April, I think, I found a “Beginners Arabic Script” guide while searching through a box of books donated to troops. On that particular day I was far ahead on my stories and figured “what the heck.” (“Heck,” by the way, has no Arabic translation.)

I took the book home and started copying pages of each character. I showed my work to an Iraqi interpreter who went by Gus. Gus was impressed and agreed to give me free tutorials. I only visited Gus a few times before he became too busy to give lessons, but before I left Tallil, he gave me a first grade level Arabic work book he got from the Iraqi Ministry of Education.

Since returning to LSA Anaconda, I have continued my education in Arabic. I signed up for online Rosetta Stone Language courses, available free through the Army. The going has been slow, but I’ve picked up on words for “car,” “boy,” and “airplane.” I signed up for Idaho State University’s new Arabic program though I have all my foreign language credits out of the way with Spanish. I’ve even been looking into foreign study courses in Egypt or Morocco.

Okay, so I’m not exactly a scholar yet. I’m not even sure I have a firm grasp on the letter “H,” which has six different forms depending on what letters come before it and where in the word in appears. I’ve got a long way to go, but as the Iraqis would say, “Shway-Shway.”

Picture: This is me pretending to be a civilian reporter for an Iraqi Army training exercise in Al -Kisik. I accidentally saluted a sergeant major dressed like this. He looked at me like I was smoking crack.