Sunday, August 14, 2005

Baseball, Apple pie, and Texas hold’em

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, Texas hold’em. After watching a couple of hands, he wisely decided to remain a spectator. Can’t say that I blame him, I don’t quite get the game either. But he hung out, told jokes, and listened to some good old American trash talking around the card table. For a few hours, this corner of Baghdad was transformed into a backyard deck in southwestern Minnesota, and Junior got a glimpse of who we are.

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.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dad, this is my favorite post so far. It sounded like a story you would have told us from home. We miss you!


Anonymous said...

That's absolutely beautiful and really shows the bonds that are formed. I love the whole family line from the interpreter...almost brings a tear to my eye! From both sides, there could still be a great deal of animosity despite the fact you work together. So, the idea that you treated him like family is very touching!Should be interesting to see what my experiences will hold over there...

Some Soldier's Mom said...

I guess interpretting goes both ways, huh? I once had to explain a game to a bunch of Scottish guys -- I assume Junior's tutoring went about the same LOL

It's the nuances of the game that are most difficult -- well, why was he out if he hit it all the way to the wall? Balk? What's a balk? Foul tip?

I can't wait for the days that Fox and Junior and their families can experience a BBQ, horseshoes, volleyball -- and that deck in any town, USA!

Anonymous said...

Another great piece of writing. I read it to Randy so we could both enjoy your story. Where did you learn to write so well, or is it a gift? Thanks for sharing. We keep you in our prayers.


Ron said...

How great it is that on some days, you can capture a few hours of rest and play among those far more difficult and dangerous - and that you can share them with Iraqis who can learn to see you as a friend, and not just another faceless soldier from a far-away and foreign land.

I hope you find more such days soon...