From club hopping to embassy hopping…partying next to ISIS…my crazy future

* reading time is 1 +  a GOOD laugh

The future is crazy. No plan or strategy could lead to a predictable future. The future makes unexpected wrong or right turns.

Thinking about the future is stressful. The uncertainty becomes a sleep killer. It is like a ghost haunting me at night. My brain possesses me. It torments me. I try to drink wine, take Melatonin pills, and put Lavender oil on my pillow to relax and fall asleep. I end up turning and tossing until it is 4:00am. It gets me even more frustrated when I have only three hours left before I need to wake up.

Looking back at my life, I see I am living a crazy future. I invested time and money (planned) to be a computer programmer, but ended up working as a linguist. I spent seven years to obtain B.S. (Bullshit) and M.S. (More Bullshit) in Computer Science, learning many things at a cost of $85k, but ended up using an inherited language – my second language – Arabic. It earned me more money than my investment in education.

With this crazy future, anything is possible. Silicon Valley could make Steve Jobs a Saint. Turkey, a secular nation will turn to be an Islamic nation. Iran, an Islamic nation, could turn to a secular nation. The U.S. dollar could collapse and Americans would migrate to Latin countries.

the inn coming

Here is a funny episode with my own crazy future:

During my twenties, I used to go clubbing with my friends in downtown Chicago. We were ‘regulars’ at Excalibur, Club 720, Deja Vu, and Pasha to name a few.

A little did I know, my thirties brought with them different type of ‘clubbing’. During Saddam’s time, I wasn’t even allowed to walk near the American Embassy wall. Less then twenty years later, I ended up working inside it.

I never planned or imagined that in my thirties I would be working within the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Located near the Dutch, Italian, and British Embassies, my friends and I started to attend their nightly entertainment events ‘clubbing’. Life was good. But crazy future came to us with another crazy turn.

ISIS launched an attack on the western side of Baghdad. They came within a few miles of Baghdad International Airport. I never imagined ISIS to be our neighbors.

They spoiled our nightly events with their Donkey theme parties. Our blessed American drones captured an ISIS member having sex with a donkey. There goes the neighborhood!!!

(I am not making this up – watch the video)

 

It is difficult to deal with uncertainty – I get it. But, I believe we need to  embrace it and not be afraid. Though not necessarily the kind of embrace that includes fucking a donkey.

Crazy things will happen to us, but good crazy things could happen too!

 

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I have LTS disorder from my Linguist’s life in Iraq…Are you infected?

* 5 mins reading

Before you read about my LTSD disorder, allow me a few minutes for a little background about the linguist in Iraq.

I have been working as a linguist for almost seven years. I worked four years with the U.S. Army and three years so far with U.S. Embassy. I think every book about the US involvement in Iraq should have a chapter about linguists. This blog could be a page in a book.

I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly side of the linguist’s life during those years. I met a lot of people who became linguists. I can easily guess there were maybe 8,000+ American linguists supporting the U.S. Mission.  During 2004-10, many people  quit their jobs in the U.S. and come to Iraq and worked as a linguist. I was one of them.

Money was the main reason for all of us (a few people claim other reasons). We were getting around $$$K a year. In addition to the salary, we had free housing, free food, and $80+K of free tax.

(click on below picture for more photos)

Gen. George Casey

 

Linguist came from a variety of Arab-American (Iraqis, Algerians, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians…). They came from different professional backgrounds. Some people were unemployed in America. Some had jobs like taxi drivers, factory workers, grocery store owners, cashiers, teachers, singers, truck drivers, doctors, lawyers, realtors, Dollar storeowners, and like myself, a computer consultant. I use to be a programmer chef for five years. I was cooking JavaBeans code from recipes given by the business analysts at Accenture. And now, I have become a mouth for many to use.

People came in all categories from a dropdown list of sexual preferences: male, female, gay, and including those who selected “I rather not say.”

Here are some examples of linguists’ backgrounds for high U.S. officials in Iraq: taxi driver, truck driver, and nightclub bouncer. One linguist, working for a U.S. Army four-star general, had been a taxi driver.  Another, serving a three-star, had been a truck driver.  And the guy attending all the high-level meetings with one of the U.S. Ambassadors, he was a bouncer in a nightclub!. Go figure!

Linguists came from a variety of age brackets. I have seen linguists as young as 18 years old to almost 80 years old. During those years, the contracting companies were so desperate to bring people and fulfill their contractual agreement that the only person left to be a linguist was my grandmother.

The linguist job had no requirements except English-Arabic speaking ability. Almost all these linguists had no linguistic degree, or no degree at all.  A few linguists had degrees from their country of origin. Basically, any Arabic origin person who was able to handle a five-minute dialogue punctuated with “yes” and “no” was accepted.

For almost all linguists, coming to Iraq was the first experience to be embedded inside the U.S. Army. A linguist was assigned to a military unit or civilian office under the supervision of a point-of-contact (POC). POCs used to lend us to different POCs to help out in translations.

It didn’t take long for POCs to start using the line “MY terp” (Terp is short for interpreter). POCs used to argue with each other about “My terp is better than yours”. Another personal example from the general I used to translate for:  he asked General Martin Dempsey, “You have a hot female linguist, would you like to trade?” – (he did have a hot female linguist). I looked around to at the General and said “Excuse me sir!”

POCs were always using the phrase: “MY terp!”. On another occasion, my POC called me “My terp”, I turned around and him, who was a U.S. Army Colonel – “Sir, you make it sound like I am your bitch!” He understood my point about the “MY terp”.  “My terp” became a derogatory term for linguists. This was one of the common experiences for all linguists in Iraq. It became one the main reasons for tensions in the work environment.

During my holiday visit to America, I started to compare the life quality of working abroad as a linguist contractor with my working life in America. As days passed by, I started to feel strangely happy about working as a linguist. The job was very easy. As I said to many, “I speak and make money”. It doesn’t get more simple than that.  No deadlines. No milestones. No sell numbers to hit. No 100 cc-ed emails. No clients kissing ass. No customers to please.  No take-home work. But mainly, NO BILLS to see.

However, the life quality of being a linguist contractor came at the expense of a different loss. Many linguists started to feel this loss. Humorously, I started to label this loss as Linguist Trauma Stress Disorder (LTSD). And, this order has two major symptoms: Ruined working habits and Ruined self-worth value.

 Ruined working habit:

During many years of working in Iraq, linguists formed a new working habit – a habit of speaking for a few hours while making money. They became addicted on this new habit. It ruined the normal working habit of “a” or “the” real life work routine in America – a habit of working 40+ hours a week, commute time, and adapting to bad weather. Many linguists got use to work only a few hours a day in Iraq. Going back to a normal working habit in America was extremely difficult.

Many who have already gone back to America are suffering from LTSD. Linguists remember those years where they made about $$,000-$$,000 a month, and now they are unemployed or work for much less money each month. Mentally, is very difficult to adapt back to.

I sometimes tell my linguist friends, “We have become like a prostitute.” It is very difficult for a prostitute to work in 7-11 convenience stores. She might be making $500 an hour, and now she has to work a whole week to earn that!?

Ruined self-worth value:

As I said earlier, many people had blue collar professions in America before coming to work as linguists in Iraq, such as flat-tire repair guys, factory workers, and cashiers to list a few. Many of these people worked in very important positions with the U.S. Army in Iraq. Many of them interacted with high ranking Iraqi government officials; such Iraqi officials were impossible to reach or talk to during Saddam’s regime.

I saw many of these people internalize their importance and self-worth. Many started to feel good about themselves. As one of my linguist friends told me: “Working with the U.S. Army, made me feel really human with integrity and self-worth.

I saw and heard many of my fellow linguists complaining and stressing from the thought of returning and working in their previous professions in America. They cannot see themselves as truck drivers, cashiers, or factory workers.

I feel for my linguists friends.

It became mentally damaging to our personality. This has made us mentally and physically damaged (being lazy). Some of us got jobs, or will get jobs, upon returning to the U.S., but it will never be the same.

And that is why I am still working as a linguist!

A rising threat bigger than al-Qaeda and ISIS is on the rise in America

* 1 min

The Lebanese ladies are on the rise. Opps!!! Sorry FOX-ies

My colleague and I were discussing American security issues over lunch. It came to our attention that the subject could be a matter of national security. We felt the American public should be aware of it. And, it must be addressed to our congress. It is our naïve assessment to estimate its threat to be bigger than al-Qaeda and ISIS combined.

Fortunately, al-Qaeda and ISIS don’t have a weapon as powerful as this (Barbarians treated their women even better than ISIS and al-Qaeda). In light of a recent development, our beloved American actor George Clooney’s heart has been kidnaped by a Lebanese girl. Let me remind our American public a Lebanese woman kidnapped another important American man. David Petraeus, the former Director of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), resigned because he was caught in a love triangle with a Lebanese woman and biographer. Neither of them were his wife. Poor him, he was hopping to run for the U.S. presidency.

For the sake of our American FOX-ies, we feel for you, we are asking our congress to stop issuing VISAs to Lebanese women!

Don’t worry!…We are on alert and watching to protect the next man from the Lebanese’s magic.

We will do our best to protect America’s precious national resources.

May God be with you during your hardship and struggle…

Change the TV Channel…Coffee shop of American Foreign Policy

* 2 min read

As I said in my earlier blog, politics has been an obsession I inherited from my father. Political discussions have always been a major dialogue between my father and I. I grew up witnessing the passion of my father discussing politics. The passion that was/still so clearly manifested by his mood, tone of voice, hand movements, but most of all, my mother screaming at him to change the TV channel from the kitchen, a scene that is replaying itself when my girlfriend screams at me to change the TV channel. With this passion, he has personalized politics as many people personalize the wins and losses of their favorite sport teams.

I saw my father discussing political events in almost every social gathering- at home or at coffee shops, between family members, friends, or even strangers like taxi drivers, or barbers. Starting a political discussion was like talking about weather in Chicago. I saw his love of politics everywhere, because directly or indirectly, he has been a victim of national or international policies. As if his life in Iraq was only an experiment of another government’s policies.

I was a student attending those schools of coffee shop politics. I graduated from those coffee shops. I can honestly say that their interpretation and speculation of political events, analysis, insights, intellectual arguments, and reactions to presidential speeches exceeds by far any discussion at Georgetown University or other establishments.

Witnessing people debating then, sooner or later, screaming at each other to prove their points has been fascinating. Screaming continues to be a normal healthy sign of Middle Eastern people. Observing a group of elderly Assyrian people and listening to their insight when talking to each other is a very interesting experience. You will witness two or three people leading the discussion and trying to convince their friends, someone is nodding while another is screaming from the other side saying, “What channel are you watching?” While someone else is answering: “He doesn’t even speak English”. Or, the non-participants scream at all of them to continue the card game. Or the opponent strikes with an ad hominem attack by saying: “Did you pay George’s his money?”

Since childhood, I took my major from those schools was on American Foreign Policy. It fascinates me. I would like to continue my father’s political passion. I would like to carry the love of political discussions he instilled in me. I do this because I want his shadow to remain alive in me. As my father discussed politics at the coffee shops, I am sharing my political insight through blogging.

Researches tell us that investing 10,000 hours brings mastery in any field. Well, this has not been 10,000 hours for me; this has been a journey of 37 years. People in the Middle East continue talking about politics. They cannot keep themselves from talking about it because of that itching uncertainty of the future. They do this in hope of a better future. The political opinion inside them has to come out. It has to leave their body. They know they cannot change the future, but it makes them feel better talking about it.

Can anyone hold this against them? No! …They live in a region that turns darker every passing day, a cancer of violence that plagued the region since…

I see many people outraged and baffled by superficial contradictions in American Foreign policy, the selective implementation of certain policies over others, and the repeated mistakes of the past. I feel the emotional burden to share some of the political insights to the American people whose life extend further than Baseball and Budweiser. I guarantee that an average Assyrian kid in the north of Iraq will know more about politics then those Georgetownies. I try to blog to give some comforts to those who seek clarity and understanding in a chaotic world. I just hope American Foreign Policy stops repeating the past mistakes.

Here is the joke, but is it a joke? Back during Saddam’s time, you could be executed for talking about the government if anyone heard you, now no matter how much you talk about the government, nobody hears you.

* Any comments? write below. I love to read them.

James Gandolfini is in Basrah…Arab Actors learn this!

* 1 min read

Thank you very much operation Goody Bag. It came to my attention that your bags were distributed at the U.S. Consulate General Basra, Iraq. Three lollypops and a thank you card saying “Saying Thanks to those who serve!” were giving in honor in of James Gandolfini. I love James, his memory will always live inside me.

james

It reminded me about the movie P.S. I love you. He is dead, but keeps sending messages of “Thank you” through his foundation and volunteers. Thank you to all of the team members in Operation Goody Bag.

As an Iraqi, I couldn’t stop thinking about all these Arab actors and actress who come on TV in the Arab media and criticize America and Americans. I wish they would do something similar. I hope they can learn just a little bit about the concept of “Giving” back to their Arab society, and being role models to revive the most fundamental fiber – “Giving”, a missing value in the Arab society, a society that has been concentrated on the concept of “Only Taking”.

Oh!…sorry!…I am wrong!

The only giving I hear happening from the millionaires in Qatar and Saudi, is the donation of money to the schools of Islamic fundamentalism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

38th birthday…flying over ISIS through its Turkish gateway…walking where Socrates walked…crosses on donkeys

* 6 min read (updated with YouTube video)

It has been nearly nine months in the prison like/restrictive environment. I have missed the outside world. I missed my family, friends, and mostly my loved ones. Skype was my refuge, and oh! … Yea! … Facebook comes in handy on days like these.

You see…I have a unique job in a unique place.

I work in a very restrictive environment; I work for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. I cannot leave its compound. Basically, I am inside a very small and isolated community. After nine months, it starts to feel like a prison.

This blog is my travel story through Turkey, Chicago, and Athens. I don’t like to share much about the sightseeing, but will address some highlights. I tried to check-in at almost every place I could for people to read my reviews on attractions and restaurants on TripAdvisor. But these travels and experiences are mostly about my feelings and impressions of things that are of much interest to me and sharing it.

As I said in previous blogs, my life has been episodes of a long “Pause”, and then followed by a “Play”. This blog is about my last play/travel. What I mean about “Pause” and “Play” mode is the nature of my job. I work for long months, and then I take about month+ of holiday.

(click on picture below for more images)

Crosses on donkeys

This time, I took six weeks of holiday. I took the entire month of August and two weeks of September. I wanted to make my 38th birthday very special so that I will remember for a long time. I understand, more than most, how difficult is to be stripped away from life’s pleasures. Being away from my family and loved ones, becomes difficult to handle. Being eight months in a closed environment makes one very agitated. Sometimes, I feel suffocated and out of breath. On July 31 is the night I was released to the outside world hungry for life’s pleasures.

My flight route exiting Iraq gave me a strange feeling. Only a few people could experience what I experienced, and yet, it is difficult to convey. I was just working a few hundred miles away from the major world crisis – ISIS. And now, I am flying over Mosul on the way to Turkey. While we were flying over Mosul, I was looking down thinking about the Malaysia Airlines that was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Is it possible that ISIS could shoot us down? It is a strange feeling flying over a major conflict zone and especially for people such as myself who work in Iraq.

I landed in Turkey on August 1, and remained for two days. In Istanbul, I reunited with my first cousin whom I haven’t seen for about 18 years. He is one of the victims of the ISIS terrorist group. He is a Christian who fled Iraq, to Syria, and now to Turkey seeking Life – a peaceful life. He has a tragic story just like many of those thousands who fled Iraq and Syria seen on CNN. His life story could be a Hollywood movie.

In Istanbul, we enjoyed our time by taking those red tour buses for sightseeing, shopping at a “fake products” market, eating delicious Turkish sweets, and spending a few hours touring Hagia Sophia, a sight that must be seen by every tourist if the opportunity presents itself. At the Hagia Sophia, I was reflecting on the similarities the sight symbolizes in the past and present. The Hagia Sophia church was converted to a mosque about 550 years ago during the Ottoman Empire and the expansion of Islam. It a representation of the present day bombing of the churches in Iraq and Syria during this rise of Islamic fundamentalists and the establishment of Islamic State. In a sense, an Islamic war that never stopped targeting Christians and churches in the Middle East with the aim of cleansing Christians and Christianity out from the Middle East.

I would like to point out to the reader that Turkey has become a major ISIS gate to Syria and Iraq. It is my personal recommendation for my fellow Americans to be aware of the risk involved in traveling to Turkey at this time. You never know who will be sitting next to you in the plane. I am very disappointed with the Turkish government for playing such a destructive role in Iraq and Syria.

Below YouTube video recorded by an Iraqi showing two ISIS members riding the Metro in Istanbul. (pay attention to the hidden T-shirt)

 

Then, I flew to Chicago to meet my family and spend some quality time with them. In the midst of my happiness of being home, I came to discover that my father started to suffer from short-term memory loss. I am worried that next time I come home on holiday; my father may not recognize me. I was reminded again and again that there is no victory without sacrifice. As I gain financial rewards, there is the expense of losing time from my family.

I am thankful for my father’s support to continue my holiday to Athens, because the day I was flying my father was undergoing minor cancer surgery.

During this time in Chicago, I finally made a big decision. I became an Apple Convert…Yea; I am a tree hugger now. After 18 years of a close relationship, I abandoned Microsoft for Apple. During the past years, I could not bring myself to justify buying an Apple computer – even though, I was able to afford it. This time, I just did it. I got myself a nice MacPro.

After the second week in Athens, I started to miss my life style at my job. Everywhere I went and everything I touched, I had to pay. Pay for water, Coke, ice cream…This “not paying for things” feeling, I get to miss it after a while. At my job, everything is relatively free. I pick up water, sliced watermelon; ice cream…everything I need is there for me to pick up. Only a few people in the world experience this feeling. I remember looking at a Cliff Bar by the register at one of the Walgreens and said to it: ”I will not pay to have you…I get you for free in Iraq

After Chicago, I flew to Greece for about a month. Greece is one of the countries I long wanted to see. According to TripAdvisor, Greece became my 22nd country visited under the age of 40. It is very close to my heart. I love Greece. I was two years old when my family visited Greece in 78. I visited the famous Omonia Square where my family had spent their time. Back in late 70s and early 80s, Omonia square was a major gathering place for all the Christian Assyrians who left Iraq for Greece on the way to North America, Europe and Australia.

travel map

A few major highlights of my tip to Athens were visiting Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Mount Lycabettus. Every time I sat having dinner overlooking the Acropolis and Temple of Olympian Zeus, my heart was filled with wonder about the people who walked between the ruins 2000s years ago, including Socrates. It was a beautiful feeling meditating on those ancient people.

After a few days in Athens, I flew to Mykonos. Upon arrival to this beautiful Island, I fell in love with the white houses and buildings, the beautiful nature, and most of all those small family churches that where on every street. It was a beautiful feeling being surrounded by churches, a sight you don’t get to see that often anymore.

In Mykonos, I celebrated my 38th birthday with my girlfriend. Having dinner by the Aegean Sea and drinking wine on Mykonos Island was an experience to be treasured for many years to come.

I went back to Athens for a few days again. From there, I took a tour to two islands: Hydra and Aegina. I love the experience of Island hopping. Every Island tells a unique story.

At Hydra, donkeys remain the only form of transportation. And, just like at Athens where people hang Crosses in their cars, owners of these donkeys hang Crosses on them. Those crosses acted as a reminder of being in a Christian country and by the Cross sign Constantine, a roman emperor, carried his victory over paganism – a sign that remains the hope of victory over ISIS for many Christians. And at Aegina, I visited Agios Nektarios Monastery – an architecture influenced by that of the Hagia Sophia. People come to hear the sound of beating heart of dead saint Nectarios from around the world and touch his tomb believing in miracles. I highly recommend taking a boat and touring these beautiful Islands.

trip advisoryAs my holiday came to end, Turkey and Greece marked number 21st and 22nd on my list of visited countries under the age of 40. I received an email from TripAdvisor congratulating me on being rated top 4% in Chicago on their social recommendation side.

* Any comments? write below. I love to hear them. :-)

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