We went to the compound of the leading Sheik near city of Hit on the Euphrates to meet with the sheik & the town mayor. You can see me above on the way in. This landscape may look a little on the bleak side to you, but to me it is a green paradise. On the ride in, I could see the Euphrates. It is like a green ribbon laid across an eternity of brown sand.
The Sheik is a young man of around 30. He unexpectedly inherited the leadership of the Albu Nimr tribe, which has around 200,000 members living along the Euphrates. It is sort of his first post. State colleagues will know what I mean. His uncle was a wise old man. He needs some medical treatment in the U.S. and my task is to make sure he has no visa troubles. The Nimr are good guys. They are fighting Al Qaeda and the criminal gangs of insurgents.
We were treated to coffee and tea. The coffee was extremely strong and thick. They give you a little cup with almost none in it, but that is enough. If you do not want a refill, you have to shake the cup. You do not want a refill. Tea tastes like sweet tea and is not bad. They have a funny custom. People sit around the room on built in couches. When somebody else comes in, he goes around and meets everybody. It seems unorganized, but evidently personal acknowledgement is very important. Not everybody comes in at the same time. At first only a few are there. Then more come in until there is a big crowd. Everybody is friendly and polite.
We conducted or tried to conduct some business, talking about contracts & projects and then it was time for lunch.
The meal is a big deal in local culture. They bring in all the food on big platters and everybody eats with their hands. The pita style bread is very good. We also had chicken, lamb, rice, vegetables and some kind of boney fish from the river. The food was very good. The same thing goes for the food as for the general meeting. At first, I was just us and a few local guys. Then more and more of them wandered in. They would come by, suggest a piece of food, make some small talk and move along. When we left, a bunch of people descended on the table. I guess they have to wait and get the scraps.
We had to eat and run because the helicopters were coming. I will never learn to love helicopter travel. As you approach, you are fried by the hot air from the exhaust. It is noisy and slippery. That said, this was a not a bad helicopter. I am not sure what kind it was. Somebody told me it was a Chinook.
We do most of our traveling by helicopter. Regulations require full kit for the ride. I do not like it. Those jackets weigh a lot. I figure in the event of an actual crash, it would be more dangerous to be crashing with 50lbs of metal strapped to you. If you crashed in water … I am sitting next to the colonel. You notice they do not give me a weapon. The colonel is a great guy and we are getting along very well. The Marines seem to understand the local tribes. The tribes are very martial. One of the complaints the Sheik made was that there were not enough places in the military for all their young men who wanted to join up. Desert people are like that. They are admirable in that respect. They may be less inclined toward the prosaic arts required for peaceful prosperity. I can anticipate some frustration in doing business here. Some of these guys do not appear to own a watch. I have 360 days to do my job and I keep on thinking Kipling.
“And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased, And the epitaph drear: “A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.”