10.12.2007

Mob Scene

There are few situations as fragile, volatile, and nerve-wracking as being an enforcer of sorts at a food drop. Hordes of hungry people can get ugly fast.

At first, they lined up, the way they were supposed to, and everything went just fine. We'd help them carry the massive bags of flour out of the gate to where they had been waiting. These bags are ginormous. It was emasculating for me to be struggling with them, and watching frail old women pack them onto their shoulders and shuffle away. The fact that I also wear 75 pounds of gear might help offset this.

I felt good about the mission. We're bringing FOOD to HUNGRY people? But it makes so much SENSE! Wow, so I'm NOT here for nothing? Who'da thunkit.

Before, I didn't have any idea that these people were so hungry. We just never heard about it, not at the low level I operate on (which is absolutely minimal knowledge. On any given day, I will have absolutely no clue what the mission entails, partially because I'm oblivious and should be tested for ADD). The situation in some places here is so sensitive and difficult, it's just mindblowing. I mean FUCK, this is NOT the United States, let me put it that way. It's Everything Gone Wrong. It's the scenario you pray and plead and beg never manifests itself in your home.

Because you know there isn't enough food for everyone out there, and the crowd is growing.

The lines got longer and longer, and people stopped using them. They'd all seem to think that they could be exceptions and wouldn't have to wait like everyone else. They'd come up to you in droves and start talking to you and motioning with their hands, trying to reason with you despite the fact that you know only three phrases. Your shoulders already hurt, by the way.

This is the part where you look around and yell over the crowd for the interpreter, who is busy listening to everyone else's sob stories and trying to help.

"Dude! Come on man, get over here!"

He listens and then shouts over the mob to me, "She say, 'Please, I am poor, we need everything. My husband, he killed by insurgents'..." Et cetera. We were hearing the same story from everyone. I didn't like it, but you have to be firm with these people.

"Look at those lines! Every one of them is hungry and poor, just like you! And every one of them has lost someone! You're all in this together! The only way you're getting food is if you wait in line like everyone else!"

An Iraqi soldier drops his weapon and it discharges. People move away, and like the dumbass I am, I run toward it, thumb on my safety, til I realize what the deal is.

At one point, we had to close the gates and wait inside until they finally agreed to wait in lines and you know...follow basic order. Kindergarten stuff. Except in Kindergarten, you usually aren't starving.

Before long, they're getting unruly again. The same sob story from everyone. And it's not like they're making it up either. Stories like that are very plausible in this country. So how the hell do you balance being The Good Guy with Not Getting Swallowed In A Crowd Of Zombies? You can't win them all, can't be the sweetheart all the time. The crowd of women keep pushing forward, disregarding the simple rules we set out. My skinny ass storms to the front of their group.

"WE AREN'T FUCKING SAYING IT FOR OUR GODDAMN HEALTH!!! BACK THE FUCK UP, SIT THE FUCK DOWN!!! RIGHT NOW!!!!" I raise my hand and force my open palm down, motioning for them to sit. And then I scream at them with as much Feigned Manliness as I can muster.

I'd feel like a badass for setting them straight with my thunderous voice and whatnot, but the truth is that I was armed. That was really the only negotiating tool I had that mattered. But for the purposes of this harrowing story, I'll make myself out to be the man's man. So yes, my sheer masculine roars sent the crowd into timid obedience (and not the presence of .50 cal machine guns or anything).

I was constantly moving back and forth our lines. It felt like the beginning of the Boston Massacre. My interpreter kept getting swarmed by pleading, demanding people, and he's more of a bleeding heart sucker than I am, so he was solidly swamped.

"Tell them all the same thing: We WANT to help them, we care a LOT, but the only way we can do this is if they wait in line."

"They say same thing, all of them. 'I am poor, I am hungry, I have nothing, my brother or my father or my husband, he killed before one year...'"

I shook my head, what else could we do? "I know man. You're doing just fine. Just keep telling them to get in line."

And then the food ran out.

They wouldn't seem to believe us. We'd tell them, "Maku" (it means "nothing" or "no more" or something like that) and they'd just start pleading with us. Like we were going to hold our hands out and materialize bags of food for them. There wasn't shit we could do. Except get aggressive.

We busted our asses trying to disperse the crowds, making sure to stay close together, and get back to our trucks to get the hell out of there. It was probably the most intense mission I've done, mainly because the tension is always there, right in front of you. Not like one of those sudden situations, this one was obviously delicate and could go sour with frightening ease.

On the other hand, it WAS kinda cool to take charge and scream at people. Even though you speak completely different languages. It doesn't matter what you say. One dude started screaming something like, "I LISTEN TO COUNTRY MUSIC AND BUDWEISER IS THE BEST FUCKING BEER EVER BREWED! NOW GET BACK!!!"

The worst part was that we all knew that there was enough food to go around if they all helped each other out. You know, if the people who had gotten the bags and whatnot had gotten together with the people of their community and just had a massive pot luck, it could have been so much easier. But it's like they have no communal bonds.

I'm an insufferable idealist, but fuck... Look out for your brother. We're in this together.

5 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...
    This entry is really cool. If they ever figure out "community ties" they'll solve most of their problems. Their schools don't teach them that, though. Thanks for doing what you do: both in the Army and here in your blogs.
    Lynda
    wakingdaydreams said...
    Awww... There's a libral in you after all.

    Just kidding, you like that gun of yours too damn much :D Keep writing so we all know you're safe and sarcastic as always.

    Oh yah, I'm sending you some things, so if there's anything you really want you'd better let me know asap. Don't worry, I'm not sending socks and underwear like my mom ;)

    Mandy
    Anonymous said...
    Laughing, with sadness at the same time over this scene. Let me think, beanie babies or food, toys or electricity and water...I so wish we could send truckloads of what the people would probably really want, and in those same vehicles, fill them with our soldiers for the return trip home. You can take your stories on the road when you're done there. They're that good.
    anonymous said...
    Where is all our money going in Iraq, if not to give you more food for times like this?
    Anonymous said...
    Bear in mind that not sharing, and putting your own self first in that sort of situation sucks, but it is pretty much human nature, rather than something unique to Iraq. Desperation and selfishness are a dirty combination.

    For a more mundane and less life-threatening example, look at the really significant portion of people who get into road rage incidents in parking lots of shopping malls during the Christmas season because they're so focussed on getting the right gift for their kids (wife/girlfriend) that they're all too willing to cut someone else off at the knees to get it. Food bank lineups, soup kitchens, homeless shelters all get very tense very fast if there's even a hint that there won't be enough to go around.

    We *should* all be willing to share so that everyone has enough, but people usually don't live up to their own ideals.

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