Monday, June 13, 2016

When I Was in Iraq: Part Thirteen - the Food, and the Men Who Made it...

In an earlier post I described the excellent food service I enjoyed at the airport in Baghdad before onward travel to my own base.

My own base had food service conducted by two Iraqi men who had been hired to live and work on our premises. My situation was that I was an Arabic linguist and a member of an Intelligence Agency--the NSA. They were certainly not supposed to know what we were. And so it was not proper for me to fraternize with these men and let them know about my abilities. So every day, as I sat down to three meals in our cafeteria, watching them working their asses off to keep food on our table, I did not so much as say "Ahlan" to them. And it pained me.

I learned, in the course of time, that our Iraqi workers were Chaldean Catholics, members of a Church with Liturgies identical to my Eastern Orthodox Faith, but they were in allegiance to the Catholic Church of Rome.

Our base was eating off the local economy. As a result, we ate lamb at virtually every meal. Let me clarify, it was not the fault of those two men. They were doing the best they could with the food brought in. We had lamb balls, lamb steak, lamb kebabs, etc. 

The night I left my base, I ate a meal at a cafeteria operated by Haliburton situated close to the airport. I was in heaven, eating pizza, burgers, etc, things I had not enjoyed for three months on my base.

Three months after I was there, a suicide bomber walked into that cafeteria and blew himself up--killing 22 people.

The night before I left my base, I broke cover and invited one of the Iraqi men to speak with me outside. I will preserve his anonymity, given that even now, his life is in turmoil where we were. Let's call him Giwargis (George).

He and I sat on the stairs outside the main house. I spoke to him in Arabic.

"You speak Arabic?" he said, quite surprised.

"I do," I said. 

I had bought an icon bought in Egypt earlier in my deployment. I had bought several, but I decided I needed to give one away.

I told him, I wanted him to have this icon. And I told him where I had gotten it.

He took it and kissed it, which is what we Eastern Christians do, Catholic or Orthodox.

I told him that I would be leaving the next day, but I wanted to thank him for the service he had done for me on that base.

In the course of our conversation, he told me that the distinction between Catholic and Orthodox in that area was non-existent. People freely went to each others' Churches and received Communion because they simply had greater things to worry about.

I post this tonight because my Orthodox Church is currently showing the world a scandalous and immature failure to hold a simple meeting.

I also post this in solidarity with the Muslim World, currently holding their solemn fast of Ramadan.

I have to say this out loud. Under Saddam Hussein, minority religions such as Christianity in Iraq were protected. They are also protected in Syria under Assad. They were also protected in Egypt under Mubarrak.

The so-called "Arab Spring" has been a disaster for Middle Eastern Christians. Many Fundamentalist Protestant Republicans don't believe that we Catholics and Orthodox are even Christians at all. And that's why Republican lawmakers care nothing about us. 

The so-called "Arab Spring" has also been a disaster for Muslims. Clearly the region was not ready for democratization. Thousands have died. Nothing has changed.

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