In Iraq for 365

About my experiences in Iraq... the frustrations, the missions and this country... and the journey home

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Iraqis love tea

The Iraqis love tea, but they won’t serve tea in just any cup. If it’s not in a crystal clear cylinder-shaped glass the size of a shot glass, you know the tea maker is a rookie. The tea is about the temperature of your average pot of coffee, although I have drunk a few cups so steaming hot that it could take the hair off of a buffalo.
The more Iraqis like you, the more sugar they’ll put at the bottom of the glass. I typically receive two and a half teaspoons. Once, I asked for no sugar and the man said, “no, you must take the sugar.” They take it as an insult if you say no to their bread, tea or mystery meat. Needless to say, I’ve randomly disappeared when the mystery meat arrives at the table.
In Iraq, tea is really just a vehicle for conversation. They talk about their families, how much they love Americans and how great their country used to be before Saddam Hussein took over. I frequently drink tea with a colonel from the former Iraqi army, who fought in the Iraq-Iran War but not against the Americans, which he always reminds me of. He’s also Kurdish, an ethnic group that has been through a lot of turmoil.
The Iraq population is about 15 percent Kurdish. Most of them are Muslims, and they were considered second and sometimes third-class citizens by the Arabic population despite their similarities in religion and language. Saddam killed thousands of them in the 1980s and there are still hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people unaccounted for from his tyranny. The colonel believes they are all buried in the desert somewhere.
Now as the leader of a Kurdish fighting force, the good colonel works side by side Arabs, Turkmen and Americans. He always tells me how tough his Kurdish soldiers are, then he sips his tea. He starts every sentence with “Yes” or “This is the fact.”
But when he talks of the many battles he’s survived and the brutality his people have lived through, he sets the tea down and you can see the pain on his rugged face and in his tough, brown eyes.
He tells me the Kurds were forced to move or be executed. Most of them moved to the mountainous areas of Iraq, which are near the Mosul area. They established villages, but were forced to move again by Saddam’s people. They were cut off by the Iraqi society, forced to drink bacteria-infested water from the Tigris River and had to find food in the not-so fertile land. Sixty percent of the newborns were dead after their first year of life, and the men could not find work because they were Kurdish.
The colonel wraps his story up with, “but we survived, because the Kurdish are strong, resilient people.” That’s when he smiles, finishes his cup of tea and asks if I’d like another cup. Then he talks about how the Kurdish and Arabs are working together, and how he’s sure that Iraq will be a great country once again.
After about four cups of tea, the conversation is typically over and I’ve usually had enough. He insists I have another cup, so I oblige. Thirty minutes later, as I lay in my bunk trying to fall asleep with my eyes wide open from the caffeine, I tell myself that tomorrow I won’t drink so much tea.
Who am I kidding? I’m starting to like this Iraqi custom of drinking tea. Maybe I’ll buy a tea set before I return to Milwaukee.

17 Comments:

At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You never mentioned in any of your future posts. Did you end up getting that tea set?

I just finished reading through your blog, and I'm sorry there's not more. I really like your writing style. You had a way of really giving me an idea as to what really went on there, despite the American and I'm sure European media. I'm glad you kept writing through those slow times when you only has 2 then 4 readers. I'm looking forward to reading more about your reacclimation process and the things you'll encounter in, as Bob Dylan put it, this country called the midwest. I wish I got Milwaukee radio stations here in the Gurnee area, because I'd love to hear you on that radio program you mentioned, if you still do it.

Again, fantastic job. You'd make a fantastic journalist for the media, and they could use some good news for a change.

More importantly, thank you for giving 8 years and risking your life for your country. No matter what some foolish people may say, the majority of Americans truely are grateful for what you've done.

Thank you and may the "Man" bless you,

Jake Winter

 
At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I am an Army Reservist who was attached to the 101st for some time in 2003 in the city of Mosul. I am going to ask something of you that is of great importance to myself and other American soldiers who worked with the Iraqi's while we were in Mosul. We had an interpreter by the name of Fareed Akrawi. We called him Fred. He is a father of 4 children and also a Christian. I have never been to his home but we were very close. Is it possible that you could find out how he is and that there are Americans who are thinking about him. I will tell you that and I live in New Jersey and I am leaving my email address for you so we can coorespond. it is jpanko@optonline.net. If Fred does not remember me I understand because he has probably met many others sinse we left Iraq at the end of 2003. I have a few digital pictures of Fred and myself taken at one of the prisons where we mostly worked. Please respond in any way to this email. Good luck and be safe.

 
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At 11:22 AM, Blogger Valery said...

Do they use teapot for making tea in Iraq?

 
At 2:09 PM, Blogger Cathy said...

My son was in Iraq Feb 08 to Feb 09. He really wants an Iraqi tea set as well. If you have any info on how to obtain one I would love it. Thanks, Cathy

 
At 10:57 PM, Blogger YgR said...

My father deported from Iraq at 1951, at the age of 8 - going up to Israel.
He still drink that kind of Tea even now.
;-)

 
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At 12:35 PM, Blogger deathspade69 said...

i'm in the army national guard, spent a year in Iraq, from March 04 to March 05. i spent a lot of time with the locals and drinking tea with them. i have been trying to find out since then how to make the tea like they do and can't seem to find it. if you can help me and email it to me, i would be very thankful... deathspade69@yahoo.com

Thanks,
SPC Weaver

 
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