During my daily dealings with the Iraqi Army, we spend quality time watching TV. TV, especially satellite TV, is something of a miracle for the Iraqis, as Saddam forbade all satellite dishes. Before 2003, Iraqis could only watch government TV channels.
Back in 2002, an Iraqi took his broken TV to a repair man. The repair man wanted 200 dollars to fix it. That’s way too much. Iraqi went to a second repairman. 150 dollars, no way! But the third repairman wanted five dollars. Five dollars? Why so little. The repairman said he’d put a picture of Saddam on the screen, it would be the same as fixing the TV…That story is much funnier in Arabic.
We always watch Arabic music channels. Arabic music is monotonous. Every single song sounds exactly the same, and they’re always disgustingly sweet poetic love songs, like diabetic Backstreet Boys. Here’s the first thing that pops out about the singers, they’re not that good looking. In America, only rock stars can be ugly. Troglodyte Pop singers on American Idle? Hell no! Some of these Arab music stars would make babies cry.
So, every song just warbles along while the singer stares at his love interest, but they never actually touch. Some songs feature dancing. Groups of men and women will dance in circles, but never together. Every so often the women whip out knives, maybe that’s why the men won’t dance with them. Arab morality is at play here. In traditional Arab society, men and women of different families never mingle before marriage. Isn’t that ironic? All these songs about love, but no one meets their spouse until the day they’re married. I’ve never been married, but by all accounts the romance stops after the honeymoon.
The root of all this irony is virginity. Arab women are supposed to be virgins when married. When I admit to my Iraqi partners that American brides are typically not virgins, they’re stunned into silence. So, in Arab society women and men are never supposed to mingle, which definitely stops them from having sex. Those giant black table clothes the women wear? Keeps men from seeing their curvy bits.
Historically, an Iraqi couple gets married and promptly retires to a private location for consummation purposes. The man will put a white sheet on the bed to, um…collect proof that his bride was a virgin when they got married. He will proudly display this sheet outside of his house to let everyone know that his wife was a virgin, and the wife’s parents take great pride in this proof. I’m not making this up! Positively barbaric, and I guarantee it still happens today in more rural areas.
Where was I…music! So, I’ve tried to show some of our interpreters proper Western music videos through the magic of YouTube. It went something like this:
Me: This is a very famous band called Disturbed, watch this video called “Inside the Fire.”
Ali (terp): That girl…she’s dead? What is this song about?
Me: Suicide and selling your soul to the devil to be with the one you loved.
Ali: They’re just screaming at each other.
Me: That’s the melody.
Ali: That girl is practically naked!
Me: You’re damned right.
Ali: What’re they saying?
Me: I’m not really sure…Where are you going?