Above is one of my teammates with a couple of friends.
Today was very encouraging. We came into Haditha from the south and walked up the market street that we call Boardwalk past workshops and retail outlets. People were very friendly and open, more so than I have felt ever before but they were not telling us only what we wanted to hear.
Just as we got out of the MRAP and started to walk up the street, I guy ran up to ask re rental arrears on a building he owned. He said that the Marines had occupied his building and but had yet to pay all the rent owed or fix the place up when they left. One of the Marines with us knew who to talk to and said he could help with the problem. The guy was happy that we listened to his problem and were working to fix it. These are the kinds of interactions that are surprising locals and winning respect.
We stopped at a storefront where a bunch of strong looking guys were standing. They were partners in a construction firm. They told us that business was good, but they could use some loans to grow their business and enable them to bid on bigger jobs. Unfortunately, the small loan program was too small. They said they needed around $50,000.00 to really get to be big players. They complained that many contractors do not do good jobs but continue to get contracts anyway. This concerned us because we depend on local contractors. The men assured us that things were better when Americans were doing the contracting, but we still do need to be careful.
Down the street was a rug and furniture shop. Sam Said bought a small rug showing the tower of Babel. You can see it on the picture. The owner told us that business was basically good, but that he still did not have total confidence in the Iraqi police. Shop owners still needed to keep the wherewithal to defend themselves, he said. I asked where the rugs came from. He said from Turkey or Iran. There are local rug factories, but they are not in operation. Our PRT hopes to get a couple up and running. There is obviously a market.
Up the street, the shops started to get better and more stocked with goods. I have wanted to go to an ordinary Iraqi restaurant for some time. Finally I had an opportunity. Marc Humphries, who is our liaison officer in Haditha, told me that he heard that a particular kabob restaurant was good so we stopped in. There were a few guys waiting for their food. They told us that they were workers at Haditha dam. If you look at my picture with them below, you see that my hairstyle and general appearance fits with the natives.
We got ten sets of kabobs and bread. That Iraqi flat bread is great.
Farther up the street we stopped in a grocery store. I had been there a few months ago and the owners remembered my visit. The shop had greatly improved in terms of goods on the shelves and general appearance. The owners insisted on giving us some Mountain Dew and told us about business. Business was generally good, but they had a big problem with the nearest bridge over the Euphrates. In order to regulate the weight of vehicles, city authorities had set up a bar. The grocery store owners said that their suppliers have small trucks that they pile high with goods. The height of the vehicle is not necessarily related to the weight, but their tall loads cannot get through on the bridge. I have seen how they load these trucks and I understand his position. I am sure they would not pass American road standards, but it is the standard in this part of the world. We are on the same side on this issue, BTW, since our MRAPs with their machine gun turrets, are also too tall to get through.
Our final stop on the market street was a dress shop. It looked like a nice quality shop anywhere in the world. The owner told me that most of his products come from Syria or Turkey. They had some nice things on display. I wanted to buy something for Chrissy & Mariza and I found some things I thought were nice. When we got to the price, he wanted to give it to me free because we were guests in his country and he was grateful for what we had done. Of course, I couldn’t let him do that and I paid the full price. Now that I think about it, maybe that was his clever negotiating ploy. He got me to pay full price and thank him for it.