Monday, October 11, 2004

Cast of Characters, part I: The Translators

(This is the first in a series of posts in which I'll highlight some of the groups of people that make up the scene here in my little corner of Iraq. Since nothing would get done without them it is appropriate for me to start off with our Arabic interpreters.)


There are two types of Arabic interpreters employed here in Iraq. First we have the relatively rare US citizen who is a contractor through a company like Titan. Don't get me wrong here, those guys are great, but I really would like to tell a little about the other group of interpreters, the native Iraqis who work with us day in and day out.

These men (and they are invariably men) undergo the same crappy conditions that we do. They go out on the same patrols, the same dangerous raids, and the same endless, boring overwatch missions. They and their families are targeted for harassment and assassination by the 8th-century goons that we're fighting. The pay for them is good (for Iraq), but not that good. Not good enough to risk life and limb. Not good enough to have almost no free time and never see one's family. Nope, the pay isn't why they do it. To a man, when I've talked with them on why they do what they do, the translators say that they want to serve their country. Not serve the insane despotism of Saddam, or the supposedly incipient Islamic-weirdo state that is glimmering in the eyes of Muqtada and Zarqawi. The translators want to serve their country and what it can be, and what it should be. They want to see services restored, children going to school, and people going to work. To that end, they put up with conditions that would make most people quit and go home.

Most of these guys learned English in school, which meant they went to school, and therefore represent the educated class. They have a lot of resentment toward those countrymen who exhibit immature and irrational behavior that sets back the cause of reconstruction. The translators realize that Iraq will never be the United States. All they want is Kuwait- or Jordan-style government and economy, which is an attainable (and worthy) goal.

I've seen these guys pick up weapons and return fire in fights when they could have just laid low. I've seen them deal with their fellow interpreters not showing up for work and finding out later that the absence was due to assassination. I've seen them do a lot, and they go above and beyond for their country.

So, here's to you Ziggy, Bob, George, Ricky, Tom, Jerry, Sal, and all the others. Thanks.