Junior, one of our interpreters, is a man I consider a trusted friend. One of the rare joys of my job here is learning about Iraqi society and culture from Junior and his brother Fox, one of our other interpreters. Something that is even more fun is introducing American culture to them.
Working as an interpreter is an incredibly dangerous and difficult job, and very few are cut out for it. Interpreters are a key piece of our eventual success here, and all of the various insurgent groups are aware of this. Interpreters are threatened continually, kidnapped often, and murdered occasionally. Our interpreters live on the camps with us, leaving only occasionally at random intervals for extended breaks. They are at their most vulnerable at these times, when they can be identified and followed. For this reason many cover their faces with masks or bandanas when working to avoid being identified as interpreters, and attempt to blend in with the day laborer crowds when they come and go. A stressful undercover existence made tolerable only by the compensation, which in terms of the Iraqi economy is very good, almost $1000 per month. Considering that the 2004 median income in Iraq was $144 per YEAR, this is a princely sum. They answer the question “is it worth it?” every time they come back to work. To them, apparently, it is.
Today, after we finished up at the gate, I headed off to a nightly coordination meeting, and SGT C and Junior went to a softball game our unit’s team was playing in. SGT C went as a player, Junior as a bemused spectator, trying to figure this very foreign game out. During the course of the game, which we were losing badly already, one of our MP’s had to respond to a call. Junior was pressed into service as catcher, ironic because he had never put on a glove in his life. He learned the basics of catching and throwing rapidly, and thoroughly enjoyed the game. Unfortunately, despite Junior’s strong performance behind the plate, we still lost. Base running remains a mystery to him. He asked me after the game “why, after they hit the ball and run, do they just stop running for no reason? How do they know where to stop?” Those lessons will have to be covered before the next game.
Later, after dinner, Junior was introduced to another great American game,
Afterwards, he thanked us for a great day, and told me “Today I felt like I was with family.” So maybe what we really need here is 25 million softball gloves. You never know.