Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Citizenship Ceremony

Two of my interpreters are now American citizens. I’ve never been to a citizenship ceremony, so I had to go.

Fatima, side-kicking interpreter, had to pass a test before she took the oath. The test shouldn’t be a challenge to any high school graduate, but I doubt most Americans can find Iraq on a map. She had some trouble understanding the Judicial branch, so I directed her to the world famous “How a Bill Becomes a Law” video, presented by YouTube. She didn’t get it. Anyway, she passed the test.

There were over 250 soldiers there to swear the citizenship oath. A big part of the oath is about ‘picking up arms’ to defend America. That part was kind of ‘Well…duh.” Non-American citizens who join the Army have their citizenship procedure accelerated; it only takes them a year.

After the oath and the ever motivational Lee Greenwood “Proud to be an American” video, each new American received a certificate. That part felt like a high school graduation, everyone had their name read off. I felt sorry for the MC, she had to pronounce names like “Juris Ghorstrofayabrokoffdais” and “Nak Clikclikbazoontiki.” God Bless America!

The ceremony was in the Al Faw palace. Saddam built the palace to celebrate his victory over Iran. The Iranians built a suicide bombing training course to celebrate their victory over Saddam. The palace looks impressive, check out the Mother of all Chandeliers:

But here’s the fun part. The chandeliers are all made of plastic. Dead serious. I spelunked around some of Saddam’s palaces we’d bombed, and more than one chandelier fell from the ceiling. Each of those little crystals is made of plastic, not crystal like you’d think.

The marble is all imported from Italy, and hideously expensive. Saddam dropped the big dinar on the marble but he couldn’t spend the cash for glass chandeliers? Cheap bastard! He also drove Rolls Royce cars with 8 track players and pleather seat covers.

It felt great to see so many people who want to be Americans, and will put their lives in danger to get their citizenship. Fatima had to give up her home country passport, and she can’t go back because they’d throw her in jail, possibly cut her head off. They’re crazy like that.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Man Kissing

The American military has a long history of sharing our culture with the countries we’ve…occupied. The Japanese picked up baseball. The Germans stopped invading countries for no good reason…wait, forget that one. So, you’d figure the Iraqis would learn something from us, and vice versa.

On the surface, the Iraqis don’t have much to offer. Women dressing in black sheets, mosques wailing to the RPG gods five times a day and a language that sounds like gargling. There is one social custom that the United States Army has begrudgingly accepted; the Man Kiss.

Iraqi men who barely know each other will kiss each other on the cheek during greetings. It is a little unusual to see, as men never kiss each other in America. First time I saw this, I was a bit surprised. Do I call the cops? Is it contagious?

Once two Iraqi men get to know each other well enough, the Man Kiss is expected. My boss sees enough important people around the area that he’s reached That Point with a number of Iraqis. They come up, shake hands, and lean in just enough to freak out my boss.

An American Soldier’s reaction to the Man Kiss is horror. The Army isn’t the most receptive organization to anything resembling homosexual conduct (but the current rule is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Care). Now we’re surrounded by men who kiss each other and hold hands. Is their a power point presentation to explain this?

Ever had someone you weren’t too thrilled with try and kiss you? You can bob and weave, arm bar, fake a seizure, etc to avoid the unwelcome attention. Do this with an Iraqi and you’re incredibly rude. What do we do?

My boss has begrudgingly accepted the Man Kiss. I got a picture of his first Man Kiss, I’m saving it for a special occasion, like when he isn’t my boss anymore. Or right now.

What have the Iraqis learned from us? I tried to introduce them to the magic of bacon bits, but those are against their religion. Bacon bits aren’t technically food, shouldn’t be a problem.

They will show up for meetings on time. First tour, you tell an Iraqi to show up at 6, and he hears “Show up whenever you feel like.” It drove us nuts, we could never get a meeting going because the Iraqis wouldn’t show up. Now, they understand that Americans don’t do Iraqi time. Why? We have the money. They want to do business with us, they show up on time dadgummit.

What will the Army do with the Man Kiss once our Iraq misadventure ends? Pretend it never happened. Ask any Iraq vet if he was Man Kissed. The answer is no.

And now for fun: A wind chime made out of spent shell casings.

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