THE ROOT(S) OF ALL EVIL |
March 30, 2007
For the last few days I have been traveling around Iraq visiting several Iraqi headquarters and their Ministry of Defense. My job has been to get some profiles on the various personalities and processes the Iraqi Air Force has to work with. My impressions, along with those of other advisors, are being consolidated as a report on Iraqi military fitness.
That is not important. What is important is that I have faced the root (or roots, there are three) of all that is evil. Broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes...
While visiting one of the offices in the Ministry of Defense, I was invited to have a light meal with the deputy for the operations division. A nice Colonel named Amir politely ushered me into the office and offered me tea. Arabic tea is one of the bright spots in my day, as it is quite good and makes for a starting point for a conversation. As we sipped our tea we exchanged some pleasantries (via an interpreter -- the Colonel's English required occasional support, typical in my dealings, and not a criticism by any means) and discussed what we would be talking about.
Then the orderly (Colonels get orderlies) brought in a plate of food...
On this plate was what I took to be Iraqi focaccia. You have probably had focaccia at an Italian restaurant, of course -- thick bread with cheese and sometimes vegetables, mostly tomatoes. I tend to avoid it unless I can have it my way, without tomatoes. This particular piece of bread was covered with chopped broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. Covered is such an inadequate word...It was heaped on. You couldn't have added another particle on top. I was simply aghast!
We were taught, in our Arabic sensitivity classes (me sensitive, HA!), that when offered food we must be absolutely thrilled at the presentation, and consume it with relish, and comment on the exquisite taste and generosity of our host.
It was at this point that General Q, chief of Iraqi Air Force operations, strode in, along with his entourage. He was going to snack with us.
I was doomed.
The Colonel cut me a huge slice of this thing. And with a sense of great pride at his staff kitchen's accomplishment, put it on a plate and placed it before me -- even before serving General Q. At this point I was thinking "I've got thirty rounds, I'd probably be able to get to the door and maybe make it to the Humvee..."
The General (obviously sensing my discomfiture) spoke in a deep basso voice via the interpreter: "Ah, this is my favorite. Please go ahead and eat, Major."
The things I do for my country...
After my nightmarish meal our conversation turned to business. The members of the General's entourage were all talking at once, and it was difficult for me to hear the interpreter. In an attempt to lighten the mood (and get my mind off the churning in my stomach) I joked to the General that we were both folically challenged, and clearly our intelligence and knowledge on the matters at hand is what had caused us to be so hair-negative. "Perhaps it would be best if we were the only ones speaking right now."
The interpreter passed my comment on to Q, and several people laughed at the joke. It was not a very good joke, but the Iraqis are nothing if not polite. Q didn't smile at all, but spoke in his deep voice. Suddenly all other talking stopped.
"The General," my interpreter explained, "he says, 'Yes, only the bald men may speak.'"