Saturday, July 02, 2005

Iraqi Charades

First I’ll set the scene. It was me and about five Iraqi soldier and officers sitting on a wooden bench outside the detention facility just as the sun was setting. Usually I have an interpreter with me wherever I go, but not this time. We were pointing at things around us and saying what the English word was and what the Arabic word was. Bird; Bil Bil, Puppy; Jerue, Door; Bob, open the door; Eftah Il Bob, close the door; Sed Il Bob. I’ve known these guys for a while and I’m pretty comfortable with them. They’ve taught me a lot about the Arabic culture and language. We’ve shared many meals together and stories about our homes and families. A few of them have even tried to kiss me on the cheek, which is normal in their culture but still a tad bit weird for me. So there we were trying to learn to communicate in each others language without the help of an interpreter. The words flowed pretty well until we got to the word pistol. Most Iraqis can write Arabic words using our alphabet to spell the words phonetically. Most of them can even sound out English words but have no idea what they are. It seems odd to me that they could actually read a book in English by sounding out all the words, even though it would take forever, but still have no idea what they just read. Anyway, we got to pistol and they told me three different words. War War (rhymes with Jar Jar), Masadas, and Fart (which I found out later is actually Fard). I was trying to figure out which was which, like did you use one word for one kind of pistol and another word for a different kind of pistol? At this point it broke into a game of charades. They kept saying Fart and the word Al Bedewa like that would clear it up for me. I still didn’t know what they were trying to make Fart mean but now it seemed Al Bedewa was important too. Now we have to figure out Al Bedewa to get Fart. Then they would explain it in Arabic and talk among themselves I guess to try to figure out how to tell me what they meant. It seemed the discussion produced the bright idea for the officers to tell the enlisted guys different things to act out so I could figure out the difference. One guy was walking around hunched over repeating a hand motion showing he had what I thought was a lump or tumor on his back. All I could come up with was Quasi Moto but that didn’t help. I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to show me but he kept saying Fart, Fart. So all I see is this guy walking around with a deformed back farting over and over again. He was actually saying Fard but I couldn’t tell the difference so I thought he was using some English slang. So I did what every American does when someone talks about farts. I laughed. The more he did it the more I laughed which made them laugh. They looked at me sort of strange so I used charades to show what the word Fart meant to me. This got them rolling. It seems the only culture that thinks human gas is funnier than Americans is Iraqis. The whoopee cushion my son sent me and the little electronic "pull my finger pen" my friends sent are testimony to this fact. So now they know what Fart is but I still have no idea what Fard is. The Major that was there tells one of his soldiers something and the soldier leaves. A minute later he comes back with some paper and a pencil, charades just turned into Win Lose or Draw. The Major draws a picture of a camel. Now the charades made sense, but I still didn’t know what Fard, Pistol and Camel had in common. Was it some special type of pistol you only shot camels with? So I act out the motion of shooting the camel and this makes them laugh more. He keeps drawing and makes a rope coming from the camels mouth and tied around the neck of a little stick figure dangling off the ground. Now I’m really lost. Now they are hanging people from camels? The Major sees that this illustration isn’t doing anything so he moves on to the word Masadas. For this he draws a man with a turban and a Dish Dash (the long man dresses some people wear). So now I think you must use a Fard to shoot camels and a Masadas to shoot men. What does it matter what weapon you use, the outcome is the same. So I think maybe it’s like the Eskimos and snow. We just say snow but they have a bunch of different words for snow depending on the way the flakes form together. It seemed sort of fitting that the Iraqis had different words for a pistol depending on what it killed. After all, they’ve been killing each other for 2000 years. It still seemed odd, and they were still walking up to each other and saying their new found English word Fart using animated motions and all. This scene sort of dissolved into hysteria and Fart jokes and not much learning. After a while one of the interpreters showed up and cleared the whole matter up. A War War is an old word used for a revolver, Masadas is a new more modern word used by more sophisticated people (Hence the Dish Dash), and Fard is the word the Bedewans (Al Bedewa) use out in the desert for pistol (Hence the camel). It turns out the guy they were lynching from the camel was in fact just taking the camel for a walk. This was probably the most fun I’ve had just hanging out talking with the guys here. When you have an interpreter you tend to use them as a crutch, and the rythym of the conversation is lost. You say something and then it’s translated. They say something and then it’s translated. You spend the majority of the time waiting for the translation. This way, even though we didn’t get much communicating done, it was more like we were bonding instead of trading ideas through an idea broker. I had a good time that night, in fact I stayed about an hour after my shift just laughing and learning Arabic words. These will be some of the times I’ll take back with me.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

you had us rolling

12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to here you having a fun time lately. You might try and explain the difference between a 6-shooter and a gat. They would have the same problem I bet. I don't suppose there's going to be a 4th of July celebration there. Are fireworks illegal there, or just WMD's? Anyway, we all love reading the funny stories and we need to read the serious ones. I know your last two blogs were darker than normal but don't ever hold anything back. You have the right to vent for your own sanity and the responsibility to return to your family the man that they know. The Cowboy's Fan

2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We love reading your blogs. You just never know what you're gonna get! M. Pads Coach

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey buddy, first off, I really miss you. I do get a chance to read your blog but rarely do I respond. I think it is great that, inspite of being away from home, your sense of humor is intact and your sense of God has increased. Go ahead and vent all you want, you deserve to every once in awhile. I am looking foreward to our next hike and will leave a space open specifically for you in our planning. Any interest in Whitney again? Take care. Raiders fan.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Call Me Grandma said...

That was fun even for me and I wasn't even there. It sounds like you are going to have alot of stories to tell your son. God Bless you and stay safe.

12:47 PM  
Blogger membrain said...

That was a fun post. I was having almost as fun as you were trying to figure out the diference between the words. Thanks for serving even though your job is SNAFU. Stay as safe as you can.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous towin14u said...

This entry was great. It reminded me of my experience serving in Turkey and trying to translate a simple instruction to a Turkish maid. Well stay safe and Godspeed,

A retired USAF member

3:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the pictures, I love the pictures of you with the children, you're right that little girl is a cutie. The "Iraqui Charades" was truly hilarious and so much fun to read. You really paint a good picture when you write. Thanks so much for putting the time into staying connected with all of us back home, I found out today what you have planned when you get back, How exciting for you and your wife, I can't wait for your return! scm

2:49 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

I just discovered your blog, I think from reading the OperationTruth.org site. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. You are a great story teller. I hope you and your colleagues stay safe and come home soon.

Thank you for sharing your experience and for somehow maintaining an incredible sense of humor under the circumstances. Leslie

8:55 PM  

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