04 March, 2006

The root(s) of all evil

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 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 take to be Iraqi focaccia. You probably have had it at an Italian restaurant of course, thick bread with cheese and sometimes some vegetables, mostly tomatoes. I tend to avoid it unless I can have it my way, without tomatoes.

The Iraqi intelligence service must have a dossier on me since this particular piece of bread was covered with chopped broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes...

Covered is such and inadequate word… More like freaking slathered on in huge heaping shovel loads! You couldn’t put another particle on top without it revealing an inherent instability not unlike Enron’s financial situation before the collapse. 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 General Q___, chief of Iraqi Air Force operations strode in to join us along with his entourage. He was going to snack with us.

…I was doomed.

The colonel of course cuts me a huge slice of this thing. And with a sense of great pride at his staff kitchen’s accomplishment puts it on a plate and places it before me. Even before General Q___. At this point I am thinking I’ve got thirty rounds, I’d probably be able to get to the door and maybe make it to the HUMMV.

The General (obviously sensing my discomfiture) speaks 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. As I mentioned the General had arrived with a small entourage of hanger-on’ers and they were all talking at once. 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 commented to the General that since we were both folically challenged it was an indication of “our intelligence and knowledge on these matters and is what has caused us to be so hair negative. Perhaps it would be best if we were the only ones speaking right now.”

The interpreter passed on my comment to Q___ and several people laughed at the joke. Not a very good joke but the Iraqi’s are nothing if not polite. Q___ didn’t smile at all but spoke in his deep voice. All talking stopped.

“The General, he says… Yes, only the bald men may speak.”


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