Sunday, October 08, 2006

So Wrong

The Kuwaiti base on which I am temporarily stationed is rife with consumer distractions--a Taco Bell, a Pizza Hut, a Subway, and of course the requisite Post Exchange. Though all are technically run by AAFES--The Army/Air Force Exchange Service--all the employees who staff these institutions are predictably Middle Eastern.

They come from diverse backgrounds--Kuwaiti, Indian, Yemeni, Pakistani, Filipino, Kazakh--but I'm willing to bet that more than just a few are Muslim. Walking through the dining facility today, I observed a pair of young men who appeared, judging by their name tags, to be Pakistani. In keeping with their positions as food service workers, their faces were clean-shaven, and they wore the dour expressions typical of kitchen workers.

However, it wasn't until I got farther down the line that I saw the dark humor in this scene: They were serving up, among other things, fat slices of honey-cured ham. Though I soon decided that nothing in the main line appealed to me, the image somehow stuck with me. As I moved on into the short order line for a cheeseburger, I turned to my battle buddy, Private Jones.

"You see that?" I pointed over to the main line. "Muslim kitchen workers serving up pork. Anything else about that seem wrong to you?"

Jones said nothing, only looked at me and glanced dubiously over at the main line.

"You know," I said, "I have to wonder what goes through these guys' heads.

"I mean, they're working on an American base, surrounded by men and women of a different cultural ideal from theirs. They sell us condoms and pictures of scantily-clad women--US, foreign soldiers tramping around on Arab land. We walk around like we own the place, oblivious to how offensive some of our customs may be to the locals, and then on top of all that, we accept from them heaping spoonfuls of meat from an animal that they don't even consider fit for human consumption.

"I mean, am I the only one who wonders about this?"

Jones laughs and shakes his head.

"Nah, dog, that shit be real shady."

At least someone else seems to notice it.

"Yeah," I say. "Shady."

A few minutes pass. The line moves up, and as I come up to get myself a burger, I hear Jones say,

"Yo, you know you can order bacon for that shit, right?"

I laugh. "Dude, that shit's fucked up."

Jones grins. "Do it, man. For real."

"I'm not ordering bacon on my fucking cheeseburger. Will you drop it?"

He does, thankfully. We both stifle laughter as we move through the line. I end up spooning bacon bits onto my lunch at the salad bar. I look over at Jones again as we move to a table, and we laugh again.

"So wrong," I say.


Blogger essa said...

I always wondered who manned the PX's, and such there... I wonder what sort of background check or whatever (if that's even possible) they must have to go through. They work on base, for the US military (among others), and I hear a lot how difficult it is to tell who the enemy is... that is what's strange to me.
Glad to hear from you. Take care.

7:59 PM  
Anonymous mik said...

Years ago, when I was in college, I became close friends with a middle eastern Muslim man. I asked about his drinking wine and not wearing a beard. He told me that when in the land of the enemy it is permissable, even preferable, to follow their customs so as to "blend in" and he would not be held accountable for his actions in that context. There was a name for this belief but I forget it.

Something to think about.

Thank you for sharing. Come home safely.

8:45 PM  
Blogger toadman said...

"So Wrong" is right. Wow. Is there any wonder what they think of us? Sheesh.

3:30 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

Way back before the first Gulf War, my father was stationed in Saudi Arabia for a year (he left Mom and I at home, deciding that outspoken and uppity women, particularly a 10 year old who thought she should be able to do whatever boys did, would be better off in the US). He said things like alcohol and ham and whatnot were permitted only on base, and that was by special dispensation by the Saudis--they'd let the Americans have that stuff, but only if they kept it on their territory. Some kind of concession to hospitality, I guess.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Cheryl Friend said...

I imagine that it is like the Amish here in Ohio. No electricity or phone is allowed in the home, but some use them in their business. We buy antiques from a friend that uses a generator to supply dc current to keep the lights going in his store.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Jorbin said...

If there customs are anything like jewish customs (and it's very likely that they are) then they are allowed to break religious law in order to survive. I know that on days of fasting, it is acceptable to eat or drink to take medicine, so they most likely view the need to work as fitting this need to survive. That or there is always the possible that they are the equivilant of easter and christamas christians and only follow a few religious laws. You should talk to them (assuming they speak decent english unless your arabic has improved by leaps and bounds) and find out why they are willing to break there customs.

8:48 AM  
Blogger marc said...

My concern with this is that maybe the workers didn't choose their positions. They may have signed a contract to work in a general area, and then their specific jobs end up in contradiction to their values. Maybe they don't mind, maybe they do. But no matter what, it likely their employers don't care whether or not they mind, and that is more of a problem than anything else. Lack of respect on this issue might mean that there are other problems as well (pay, insurance, time off to be with families, etc.)

Nice observations, Milo, thanks for the post.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Softball Slut said...

I guess if it bothered them that much they wouldnt work there, or demand another position. Maybe they dont care, or maybe they dont care enough to lose their job.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anne said...

I don't know. Does the "if they didn't like it, they'd quit," argument still apply if quitting means their family goes hungry? After all, we're talking about local nationals in a country at war.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi milo:
I like what you are writing...and want you to know how much you are admired and that your way with words and thoughts and your heart has touched us deeply. Your vision is mighty and what you are doing is powerful. Thank you.

7:41 AM  

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