The air is cool and moist from the rains. The streets are so muddy that after just a short walk, soldiers are made two inches taller from cake on their boots.
Tonight’s patrol was simple. Patrols usually start that way. The platoon Cobra 1-6 was to drive around Baquba, stop here and there, and ask people how things are going. Did you vote? What did you think of the elections? What do you want to tell us? Is anything bothering you?
Cobra 1-6 rolled out from FOB Gabe at about 1830 Friday evening. We drove down muddy roads, sometimes using lights, sometimes not, but dogs seemed to chase us down nearly every street, lights or not. Most of the dogs are smart enough to stay away from the front of the Humvees, but a young barker ran out in front of the vehicle and the driver jinked hard to miss it. The vehicle commander snapped, “What the @#$% are you doing man!”
“I’m trying to miss that puppy man! I don’t run over no puppies!”
“Well he’s a stupid &*()^% ^%$#@!”
“I don’t hit no puppies!”
“Well don’t be killin’ us man!”
Minutes later, another puppy with a screeching bark started chasing us. The puppy apparently did not realize that the soldiers had a .50 caliber machine gun, M-16s, and enough hand grenades to wear out their throwing arms. The driver laughed, “Listen to that dumb puppy! His bark ain’t even changed and shit and he thinks he can run down a big ol’ Humveeee. Ha ha. Dumb little puppy, haha.”
By and by, we stopped in neighborhoods and spoke mostly to shop owners, since they were the ones with lighted shops and easy places to meet. The shop owners were friendly and eager to talk, and they went down the list of what they think is wrong with Iraq. The current list is nearly always the same:
Security. Most of the Iraqis seem to hate the insurgents, but the insurgents are too real.
Electricity: The power keeps going out.
Fuel: Gasoline, propane and others are difficult to buy.
Jobs: People need jobs?
I’ve started to call this cluster of complaints SEFJ. Maybe it's oversimplification to think that if we can lick the SEFJ issues in Iraq, we can move on with life to kinder topics, like aquaculture.
Tonight, in Baquba, while US officers studiously listened to Iraqis restating mostly the same issues, I wandered away into other shops on the road, and finally came to a shop where about ten men in their twenties were clustered out front watching us. If this had been a different part of Baquba, I would have been wondering who would shoot first. But there was something different about these guys. They dressed immaculately in cheap clothes, and all had perfect hair. And they were standing in front of a men’s beauty salon (it definitely was not a barber shop). They all wore smiles, and with handshakes invited me into the shop.
I glanced back at a couple American soldiers with automatic weapons to make sure they had my back, and walked into the shop. A young Iraqi hairstylist, with perfect hair, was dyeing the nearly perfect hair of a man in the chair. Meanwhile, other men with perfect hair were watching American music videos with that singer, I think her name is Sheryl Crow, and one said, “You like? You like this woman?”
“Very beautiful!” I said, “Yes, I like this woman.”
They seemed let down.
After some minutes, I walked back out to the street where one of the American soldiers had seen about eight suspicious men watching us. The men had disappeared along with some of the people on the street. About five kids crowded around asking me to take their photos. (Iraqi kids, polite as they are, are serious posers.) The presence of the kids was a good indicator that no local people would attack us. Unlike in some countries where adults herd and work kids like farm animals, the Iraqis treat their kids well.
We finished with the complaint-patrol, left the gay corner behind, and drove down the muddy road on the way back to base, when the driver with the dog-thing started talking about dogs again, “I wonder what it would be like to take one of these puppies back to America and shit. I mean, he would be eatin’ out th’ garbage and shit, and if ya give ’im dog food from a can he wouldn’ know what to do with it an’ shit. I probably couldn’ teach him to eat dog food cause he’d just keep goin’ for th’ trash. Know whatah’ mean?”
A soldier answered from the dark, “Yeh, and I could take some of these damn ducks that walks roun’ in all this mud and ain’t gotta pond. Can you ’magine what these ducks would do in a real pond? They’d lose they little duck minds.”
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