Beyond The Pale

Terp Tales, Shit Happens Boss

I’m enjoying one of the great pleasures of deployment: eating filthy. I’m soaking wet with sweat, my face is smeared with grime, and my shirt looks like I got skidded over by a semi. The only clean part of my body is the palms of my hands, which I scrubbed down perfunctorily on the five foot trip from the gym to the chow hall. You can’t get away with this crap in garrison. Actually, you can’t get away with it at the larger bases here in country. But when you are one of twenty-some Americans within shooting distance, well, people make allowances.

Sometimes you just make allowances.

I’m watching the news, or trying to watch the news. But the satellite is confused, so I’m thinking about my record player, the one Andrea got me for my birthday, the one that I’ve never seen because it didn’t arrive at the house until I’d already left the country. I’m pretty sure if I took that horrible Green Day record, the one that sounded like it was probably just the rejected tracks from American Idiot, and drew zig zags all over it with my knife, smeared some peanut butter on it, and shot it a couple times, it would probably sound like the news does right not. I love military technology.

Hamza walks in.

–Hey Boss! Bundle drop today. You hear?

–Hey Hamza. No I didn’t hear about any bundle drop. You know when it’s supposed to happen?

Hamza walks over to the chow line and grabs tray, forks two big porc chops onto it, and comes over to sit across from me.

–About an hour. Maybe they will miss this time. Did you hear about the time they missed?

The Air Force must use us for training new pilots. They miss all the time. Last week they dropped a whole pallet of Dr. Pepper over the side of the ridge so that we couldn’t get any vehicles up to take it back to the base. I had a lot of fun throwing cans of pop down into the valley and watching them explode. They’ve also dropped pallets right on top of us while we wait to go gather them up. The first time that I was involved in a bundle drop here at Cobra, it ended up looking like some kind of rodeo. The bird started to fly over, we released a smoke grenade to let the pilot know where to drop the bundles, and as soon as he saw the smoke, instead of waiting until he was in position, he just dropped everything right on our heads. A few of the parachutes didn’t open, and the bundles commenced what we call “burning in.” Men scattered in all directions, hopping on four wheelers and GMVs, or just flat out sprinting for their lives. One guy didn’t get out of the impact area in time and almost got hit by one of the pallets. Parachute or not, if one of those things hits you, you splash.

Imagine this coming down on your head

–I guess I haven’t heard about them missing a drop, Hamza. What happened?

–Boss, one time, they drop the pallets right on the base.

–What do you mean by “on” Hamza.

–Look up.

I look up. The ceiling joist, a 4 inch I beam directly above my head, looks like it’s been bent into a pretzel shape and inexpertly straightened back out. I’ve seen it before but never really remarked on it. After all, this is Afghanistan, and poor workmanship is the modus operandi for this whole country, SOP for us military types. Now I really notice it for the first time, and it’s not just the beam that’s busted, the tiles that it supports are all cracked and shattered, some of them even missing. Obviously, the damage happened in place, not before installation.

–A bundle hit there. Hamza says. They were coming down all over the base. Boom, boom, boom. We were lucky no one got killed. I think they might have gotten one of the dogs!

Right then, the Omega Male walks in.

–Hey Jeremy, I say. What’s up?

–Hey David. He waves at me. He pauses and glares at Hamza. Kuni, I hear him mumble under his breath. Fag. Hamza doesn’t hear him. I know this because Jeremy keeps right on living. He walks to the line and grabs some food for himself, sits it on the table at the back of the chow hall and goes to the cooler to get two cokes and a Gatorade shake.

–What’s his problem? I ask Hamza.

–He is the pussy. Hamza says. You are not believing what we did to him last night. Jonny and I run screaming into his room and beat the fuck out of him in the dark. He cried.

Hamza starts laughing viciously and picks up one of his pork chops to eat with his hands, like a hot pocket. Deployed Army food is generally, um, bad, so if an item is supposed to be tough, it’ll be really tender (think soggy bread), and if it’s supposed to be tender, it’ll either be tough, or so tender that you wonder how many days it’s had to decay before making it to the line. I firmly believe that the lobster they insist on serving us from time to time was actually caught before I stopped eating through my navel. In this case, the pork has roughly the texture of twelve year old beef jerky, so Hamza holds it two handed, bites into it to get a grip, and then jerks his head off to the right as hard as he can, while pulling left with his hands. A bit of the meat tears off, and he commences the lengthy process of chewing.

–And then, he says around the food in his mouth, we wait until he went to the shitter this morning. He chose the stinkiest one, with the most shit in the bucket, and we lock him in. He is locked in the shitter from eight until eleven! Hamza swallows. I would kill someone who did that to me, but he doesn’t even have balls to ask who did it to him. But he knows it’s me.

Hamza smiles in what is, I think, supposed to be a mischievous way. He tears at another bite of the pork chop.

This is Hamza.

Suddenly it dawns on me what he’s eating.

–Hamza, I ask, you are a Muslim aren’t you?

–Of course. All Afghanis are Muslim.

That’s not completely true, but I’m not going to disabuse him of the notion.

–You know what you are eating, right?

–Yes, meat.

–Yeah, Hamza, but that meat is a pork chop.

–So?

–Pork is pig.

He swallows and looks at me calmly, stares at the pork chop in his hand, looks back at me, and takes another, larger bite of the pork.

–Shit happens boss.

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May 12, 2011 Posted by | Army, NOT SAFE FOR RLC/NWAG CROWD, Terp Tales, Travel | 3 Comments

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

Terp Tales, Carjacked

This isn’t really going to be much of a post compared to the length of what I usually write, but I can’t pass up on this one. Actually, if I’d thought of it sooner, I might have a whole other series of blog entries called “Terp Tales.” Maybe next rotation.

Anyway, I was standing on the top of a mountain talking to a terp today, and since he is an American citizen, I asked him where he lived when he was in the states and how long he’d been there. He said he’d lived there for 17 years, and that he lived in Oakland. This naturally led to conversations about when Andrea and I were living in California and the trail run that I ran in the Oakland area. From there, we went to jobs, specifically what we’d done before we decided to go work for the United States Government. He said that he sold electronics, which tells me that he was probably a dealer in stolen goods, but I could be wrong. He said that he also drove a Limousine on the side while he was getting his electronics company up and running.

“One time,” he said, “I had a guy get into my limo and put a gun to my head. He said ‘get out of the car, and leave your keys and wallet.” I have NO idea why you would want to steal a limo. Talk about standing out in the crowd.

The terp continued. He said, “It’s not big enough.”

“What’s not big enough?” the carjacker asked.

“Your gun. You can’t carjack people with a gun this small. Here, would you like to use mine?” The terp asked and pulled out his .44.

Apparently, the carjacker was either working with a replica Snatch style, or he didn’t realize that having the drop on someone is more important than what caliber weapon you used because he just yelled “He has a real gun!,” jumped out of the car, and ran away.

Terps are full of these stories, most of which probably aren’t true, but maybe next time around, I’ll collect them and pass them around to those of you who bump into this site.

January 10, 2010 Posted by | Army, Terp Tales, Travel | 3 Comments