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Posted on Oct 22, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Letters From Iraq 8: Tractors and Laundry

By Russ Vaughn

Everyone,

We have been here for two months. Vigilance is vital to our survival and observation is a key to successful defense. A lot of our time is spent watching boring desert for hours. Other days we are watching something a tad more exciting like, busy roads, the big city next door, or a small village. Through binoculars you get to know the neighborhood very well. Hmm, like Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s, “REAR WINDOW” ……… Sorry I digress.

The Sheppard leading his flock while riding a donkey to young kids skipping and playing on the rubble piles of bombed out Iraqi Army barracks. We watch everything: Farmers picking large watermelons from their fields for the nightly meal or using a shovel to fend off an attack by wild dogs.

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There are several packs of wild dogs in our area. The only wild dog we care about is Tripod; he hangs with a tough pack on the desert side. He gets around pretty well on three legs. He is a survivor in a harsh environment and that has earned him a lot of respect with the Security Forces.

We also name certain people for their habits of features, like: Johnny six fingers, the donkey brothers, Lance Armstrong and Juan Valdez. We also name terrain features for various characteristics like: Donkey Village, the EOD tower, the skeleton building, or the binjo ditch.

Anyway we have a farmer that parks an old rickety rusted tractor facing down a steep slope. To the rear of the tractor is a deep pit. At first this made no sense. Why would some one do something that unsafe with all the kids around?

One day the farmer stalled the tractor at the base of the slope. The farmer got off of his old machine and walked to a neighboring mud home. He then disappeared from my field of view.

The next thing I see is a young boy of about 14 or 15 riding with the older man on a newer tractor. They drove over to the older tractor. Then they hooked up a chain between both vehicles. I watched as the older man talked with the teen. Though I could not hear the conversation, it was apparent by the man’s gestures he was explaining to the youth how to tow the stalled tractor. With nods, the boy made it clear he understood the procedure. After very short pull the old tractor fired up. The old man thanked the younger one with words, gestures, and a big smile. The old farmer promptly drove the old tractor up the slope and parked it facing down hill. He shut it off and walked into his house. Then it hit me, the old tractor’s starter didn’t work. Finally the precarious perch for the old tractor made sense.

The local women work very hard. Some of them still do laundry by hand. I watched one mother washing clothes in a near by field (there seems to be a hidden spigot or a spring in that area). Her young son was with her. I think he is about three years old based on his size and appearance. The boy was happily running around the desert with just a pair of sandals on. The naked child went up and down the fence line waving at us and laughing. We waved back laughing at the spectacle.

When his mom finished the laundry she called to him. He looked back at her and took off running farther away, laughing as he went. Her calls became louder and stricter. He just kept going. She started walking after him. He stopped, turned around and looked at her, then took off again. Finally, after another terse call, he ran back to her. She plucked him up under her right arm and picked up the basket of wet clothes under the left. It was just another moment in the life of an Iraqi family.

Once the laundry is complete the women hang the brightly colored clothes on lines in the dusty morning breeze to dry. After laundry most of the women go back into their homes. The rest of the women and some of the girls go out to tend the gardens and fields. Occasionally older girls herd the sheep into the pens after the young boys bring them back from the fields. Just before evening the ladies carry bedding to the roof and organize it for the family to sleep on. From sun up to sun down they never stop.

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