Saturday, September 08, 2007

Cultural observations from an American idiot

Another web-pilfered photo- preparation of Samoon bread- Umran's guys do great Samoon bread. Yummmmm!

I'm reading as much as I can. I talk with the local nationals as much as possible. And every once a while, I also observe behaviors. So I'm learning, from my military, psychologist, business consultant, Mormon Americentric viewpoint, about the local cultures.

One occurred earlier this week. Our subcontractor for food service, Umran, invited the leadership of the program here (the contractor's management and myself) to the back of the Academy grounds for a special Iraqi meal that he prepared. He doesn't have to feed us, there is another caterer (Uday, my favorite Indian), who takes care of the 'Western kitchen'. As I sat there enjoying the meal (between phone calls and other 'busy' work), I and the others thought to ourselves "what is the special occasion?"

My personal opinion? Here's what I think happened, as consistent with other things I've seen and heard as I try to understand those around me.

We have one cycle of training left to go, so the contractor's program manager is wanting to set the tone to avoid having any of his contractors or subcontractors start getting 'short-timer's disease' and have the quality of work decrease. He specifically called Umran in, because he had had a problem with him during the last cycle when Umran closed some dining facilities because he listened to the National Police rather than Uday, who represents BLP to him. This caused some logistics problems on a day when we were managing an exfil- the shurta were going out on their mid-course leave. So, back to the near present. Binks says "we'll have none of that monkey business out of you this last cycle, or......."

For such a small guy, Binks can sometimes intimidate people! I think it is the locking folding knife he likes to play with.

And then that same evening, we have a special dinner from Umran.

I could be wrong, but I read Umran's body language that evening, and it appeared to me he was trying to indicate in his way, "I'm sorry, it won't happen again, and you can count on me. I appreciate having this contract. No hard feelings?"

I told one of the guys it reminded me of a dog rolling over and showing his belly in a submissive posture, if you'll forgive my awful comparison to animals showing dominance and submission.

There is an indirectness sometimes in communications here which I find fascinating in some situations, and maddening in others. I have found myself working much more through intermediaries than talking with people directly when I have issues I'd like to address.

Just some thoughts, perhaps interesting to me only. Which is why I've never bothered to put a counter on this blog page. ;-)

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