Beyond The Pale

Terp Tales, Meet Hamza

Operation Enduring Freedom XVI. A different year, a different place. The enemy, he never changes though. Neither do the interpreters. They are still about as quirky as Windows Vista and as arrogant as America herself. Kings, fighting amongst themselves for supremacy in their microcosmic hierarchy of who gets to fleece the Americans more.

There’s an obese mouth breather sitting by the fire in my compound, drinking tea he made from water I boiled for my coffee.

–Who are you?

–I’m sorry sah?

He’s clearly a terp. That sense of entitlement. That almost but not quite English.

–You’re the new terp?

–Yes sah.

–What’s your name?

–I’m sorry sah?

–What. Is. Your. Name? I squat down by the fire and dump two half liter bottles of water into the cast iron kettle and sit it back over the coals.

–Ah. I am Jeremy sah.

–Stop calling me that.

–I’m sorry sah?

–Stop calling me sir. My name is David.

–Ah. Ok.

–Ok. Don’t drink my water. He looks abashed. He knows he should have refilled the kettle when he dried it.

–Ok sah. Sorry sah.

–David.

–Sorry sah. It’s like a scene from a low budget film.

I need a terp who speaks English. Jeremy clearly isn’t going to do the trick. Sherrif, AKA. Steve-Dave, and Jonny Amir Karit were cuddling in the terp hut last night, but at this time of morning, who know’s what you’re going to walk in on. I check my watch. Thursday. Don’t knock. Don’t open the door. Stand outside and yell, just in case.

–TAJI MAN! I yell with my head against the door.

The door cracks opened and a sphere of hair, broken by a slit of crusty, swolen black eyes pokes through the crack. Last night’s hash hasn’t worn off yet. It’s like someone painted Keith Green brown and sent him forward in time to write bing bong songs in Afghanland.

–What’s up David?

–I need a terp to listen to something for me. You free Jonny?

–Sure, why not?

He closes the door, and sounds abstracted directly from a Laurel and Hardy skit begin to pipe through the chimney, the mouth of which pukes smoke beside the door, right into my face. From the swearing, I think that Jonny must be walking on everyone in the room, looking for his boots. “Sure, why not?” is Jonny’s catch expression, which he thinks means “of course” or “right away,” and we put up with it for the most part, those of us who know him, but it’s always funny when a new guy to the team asks him to do something and he says “sure, why not?” Just as my mom never really asked me to take out the garbage when I was a kid. We never really ask Jonny to interpret for us. We tell him politely, but when he drops that line on new guys, they tend to stop being polite.

I walk back into the courtyard and direct my attention toward the fire. There’s steam pouring from the mouth of the kettle, so I unhook the metal cup I attached to my belt when I woke up and pour in two packets of powdered “Via Starbucks” instant espresso, top them with the almost boiling water, and set about stirring with my pocket knife. Jonny is taking forever, and I’m starting to think about having Jeremy help me—or maybe going over and stopping up that chimney—when I hear a motorcycle roll up next to the side door of the compound and die. Machine gun fire doesn’t ensue, so I can guess that the partner forces have decided that whoever was driving it wasn’t a threat, which at this time of day, in this location, means it’s got to be the one and only…

–Hamza! I yell.

–Hey Boss, what the fuck is going on up in this place? He responds amiably with his bizarre accent that I’m not even going to try to spell.

–Where you been dude? I haven’t seen you in weeks. I open the compound gate, and he thrusts his wiry body through the gap to give me a hug and offer me a cigarette, which I take with relish and only realize is a Pine when I cough my lungs into a bloody heap on the ground a moment later.

–I went to work for the other team in Sarab. But I’m quitting because there’s no action there at all. I am not a terp for talking. I am a terp for killing Taliban.

–No action at all? I ask him. I’ve heard that the Sons of Uruzgan, as they call themselves have been doing fairly good work.

–I fucked all the elders’ daughters. And now I’m bored. I want to work for you guys and fight again. Check out my new boots boss.

I see that he’s wearing Jonny’s boots, and he’s written his name on the heel with sharpie marker.

I shake my head and chuckle, pour him a cup of coffee, and we set to work.

April 17, 2011 Posted by | Army, NOT SAFE FOR RLC/NWAG CROWD, Terp Tales, Travel | 2 Comments