THE COOLEST PLACE TO BE |
November 07, 2006
THE COOLEST PLACE TO BE
Name: SGT "Roy Batty"
Posting date: 11/7/06
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Yellow Springs, Ohio
Most of the time, the coolest place to be on post is the coffee shop that I call my other home. It's nestled in between two Hadji internet cafes, and since the internet places have wireless LANs, one can sit in the coffee shop, enjoy the Arabic television, surf the internet on your laptop, and best of all, smoke!
The place is full of the gray twisting tendrils of various exotic tobaccos and their respective memories: hookah shei-shei smoke -- that can only be Baghdad and missing Barbara like I would miss a critical part of my body; or Djarums -- full of the cloying scent of cloves and Vikki and the misplaced nostalgia of high school; or Gauloise, that always smells like burning horseshit and reminds me of Nicole and Paris and the restaurant on the Champs Elysee with the world's largest bowl of chocolate mousse.
The coffeshop is the place where the dustbowl anarchy of Iraq fades away, and my mind becomes engaged with something other than the drill instructor routines of deployed military life. This is the place where reality fades and is replaced with memories and thoughts and imagined realities; all coursing through the lightdazzled tubeways of the Internet, to arrive on my laptop, spat out onto my screen in little binary squiggles of black and white electrons.
When the cybercafes close amid the commo blackout, the hip place to be is the battalion Hadji store. I am half convinced that the commo blackouts are engineered by the secret army of Iraqi interpreters that live on the FOB, and who own and operate the various Hadji stores dotted around the base. They don't have internet connection, but they do have tables and backgammon and German MTV on a big screen TV, and their hookahs are much bigger and more impressive. The drinks are all the same as the coffee shop's, but it doesn't matter, since none of them are alcoholic, being banned by some distant Grinch of a general. So when the blackouts descend, everyone packs into the place and clusters around whatever female is holding court tonight, and tries to be as witty and solicitous as possible. This is pretty hard, not having alcohol to lubricate the process, so everyone puffs away on the flavored shei-shei smoke and consumes as much Jordanian soda pop as possible, as if attempting to get high on the sugar content and lack of oxygen. I like it better during the day, when the TV is tuned to CNN and the place is not quite packed to full capacity.
In the back is a large store that offers the usual pirated DVDs/Xbox/Playstation games, as well as leather shoulder holsters and various computer accessories. This is where I bought the Iraqi SIM card for my cellphone, and the silver metal CIA briefcase that I carry my Thinkpad around in. The place appears to be owned by an Iraqi with the codename A.J.; a short, muscular fireplug of a guy who speaks perfect English, with an American accent to boot, although he has never left Baghdad. All of the interpreters use code names, to avoid getting "three in the back of the frickin' head" if they ever decide to venture off post in anything other than an armed convoy.
A.J. is really cool, very energetic, and he teaches me a new phrase in Arabic every time I see him. Today it is "al-'amthall noor al-khalaam." Or "proverbs are the light of speech," which shows, if nothing else, how much Arabs like to use proverbs.