Sunday, June 22, 2008

D-228: The Terp

The Terp

A “Terp” is an interpreter; for obvious reasons, a lot of interpreters are necessary for our mission to win the “Hearts and Minds” of the Iraqi people. I don’t know a whole lot about the selection or recruitment process of Terps; some are American Military, some are American Civilians, Foreign Born American Citizens, or Third Country Nationals, but most are Iraqi.

This morning at breakfast, after I was finished eating and was up at the coffee counter preparing my coffee to go, someone grabbed my arm from behind, startling me and causing me to spill 4000⁰F coffee on my hand. It was a Terp who I’d never seen before; she was clearly a local national, about 40 years old (but who the hell can tell, she might be 25), skinny, and had a wild look in her eyes that you would expect to see if a person either met their childhood hero for the first time, or identified a person that they would like to kill. My gut was telling me it was the latter, but before I had the chance to throw scalding coffee at her and run away, she started talking.

“HELLO!” she shouted in a single short, loud burst as if it were her last breath. In fact, this is how everything she would say sounded; I will resist the urge to punctuate each individual word with an exclamation mark. She spoke and mannered in such a way, that if I were in Norfolk I would have positively identified her as a crack smoker without a seed of doubt in my mind. However, I am not certain that they have crack in Iraq, and even so, it would be a pretty ballsy move for a Terp to bring illicit drugs on to the FOB, so I am going to guess that perhaps spending the last five years in a war torn city has played havoc on her nerves, but I am not a doctor, and I still have not ruled out using weaponized coffee to facilitate egress.

“Um, Hi”

“WHAT IS YOUR NAME?!!!!!!”

“The Augmentee…” I am stammering like a moron, because I am so confused. It’s not even 8:00AM and a Terp who I’ve never seen before is literally screaming in my ear. This is bizarre behavior, even for an Iraqi. Adding to my discomfort is that this Terp, like every other Iraqi, insists on standing about two centimeters away from my face when she is talking to me. The Iraqi failure to understand the American concept of personal space warrants a post all of its own, and was the topic of a conversation I had with my brother last week. Perhaps I will write about it in the future, if I feel it has enough substance, but for now let’s keep the focus on this skinny Iraqi crack-head who is standing well inside the borders of my personal territorial bubble and screaming at the top of her lungs.

“I, AM AMANDA!!!!!!” After each outburst, she gives one of those loud exhale laughs. She never blinks.

“Hi Amanda, it’s nice to meet you.” I am very uncomfortable.

“You are very HANDSOME!” At this point I am starting to pick up on the fact that she is making a very aggressive and clumsy pass at me, and hopefully not planning the details of my violent death; but I am not wholly convinced that it is not both.

“HAS ANYONE EVER TOLD YOU THAT?!!!!!!”

“Wait, what?”

“THAT YOU ARE VERY HANDSOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Oh, thanks… thank you. Um, yes, my wife tells me that.” I very awkwardly hold up my left hand and thumb at my wedding ring, accompanied by an even more awkward, embarrassed half laugh. Under any other circumstance, I would hate myself for behaving like such a retard, but I was so confused and uncomfortable, and even now, with the horror well behind me, I can’t think of a way I could have done any better.

“GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!, YOU MUST SAY HELLO TO ME WHEN YOU SEE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“um…ok.”

“PROMISE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The word promise could not have sounded more threatening. Kathy Bates in Misery flashed in my head.

“I promise.”

“GOOD, BYE BYE” A wave of relief passed through me as she turned away. I put the lid on my coffee and quickly retreated back to HQ.

I am now recalling a time in seventh grade, when I laughed so hard that snot blew out of my nose and landed in a single large, jiggly mass on the table, directly in front of the girl who I had a crush on for the entire year. I can remember the face she made, as if to say; “you are the single most disgusting person in the world, and I am never going to make out with you.” She never did make out with me.

I have not thought about that moment for years, but now, fifteen years later, I can remember every detail of it as if it happened yesterday, and remember that girls horrified face as if I was looking right at her. That is because it has just been ousted as the single most socially awkward and embarrassing moment of my life. Screaming Amanda, with her shrill voice, and the look behind her wild eyes that suggested that she was wondering how long it would take for me to bleed out, made me feel more frightened, ill-at-ease, and awkward than any junior high school crush could ever manage.

Quote of the Day: Army Major to me on my plan to "test" some electrical gear on a BFV.

“Well, that’s all well and good, but I’m the one who gets my fucking starfish punched if a Bradley gets fucked up!”

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