Today the cleaning lady came over to see if there is anything I need. I usually have her bring some bread in from town for me and occasionally I have her clean the room and do laundry. They are already paid to do it but it is common for us to give a big tip. She has been very watchful for my old roommate and I; he has been very generous to her. But he moved away and today she greeted me with a handshake and a kiss on the neck! Probably because she couldn’t reach my cheek, but it rather caught me by surprise. However, I am getting to know that these people can be quite gracious and warm.
I will call her name Shamera. That is close to how her real name sounds. She lost her father and two brothers to Saddam. Just on different days they were taken and she never heard from them again. She wears a cross and when I asked about her cultural background she says “Christian.” My old roommate and I have preferred her out of all the cleaning ladies because she is the most honest. Sometimes the other ladies take things, mostly food, and for that I wouldn’t begrudge them, but we want to reward her character.
I mention her today because she reminds me how grateful these people are for the American presence here.
Along with their respect for power, these people now see how generous the American soldier is. The soldiers are constantly training these people, bringing them water, supplies, and directing and funding infrastructure projects to build and rebuild the schools and roads that Saddam neglected in his thirst for his own accommodation. Operation Crayon brings shoes, candy, books, and pens to students, also delivered by the soldiers. There is a great bonding between soldier and citizens that interact with them.
In addition, they are a VERY modest, God-fearing people. An Arabic pop-star did a video with her midriff exposed and was sentenced to death by the local zealous. She must travel carefully and with body guards to avoid the execution of her verdict, as it were. So you can see how serious an issue modesty is to them. On base and soldiers in general are required to wear shorts down to the knees and shirts at all times. Even the women must wear one-piece swimsuits at the pool. It is a military rule of modesty but it also shows respect for cultures like this one
All this has brought me to something of an epiphany. Essentially, what these people knew of America before meeting the soldiers was what they see in the Movies and hear in the News. As you can imagine, Hollywood shows them quite often a depraved culture that strips women and debases marriage, which are things this culture holds quite sacred. Combine that with news like, ok, I’m going to be blunt here, the reported sexual antics of a certain American President, and you can see why so many Arabic nations consider us the “Great Satan.” I mean, it’s a no-brainer.
I believe the respect Iraqis are gaining because of the strength, generosity, aid, and even the values that the American soldier extends to these people, will prevail eventually. It always has in the past. True, these things are perhaps more the case here in the North where the people did not receive the benefits Saddam reserved for his own clan and are more inclined to see us favorably as their liberators. But I know these things are not lost on the bulk of the Iraqis. And I can’t help but wonder, if it weren’t for Hollywood and popular media, would we even need to be here? Food for thought. Which reminds me, it’s lunchtime.