Sunday, June 10, 2007

Say that again

Going from house to hovel in Hawijah, the masked man was in the middle of everything.

J.D., as the troops called their Iraqi translator, was the guy who had to convey the sometimes angry pleadings of soldiers to the men they were questioning, and the flustered pleadings of the men whose homes were suddenly filled with guys toting rifles.

The outfit liked J.D. Thought he was great, in fact. But having used enough translators myself, he was driving me crazy. So often the answers he gave from Iraqis made clear he'd never understood the original question.

Ask them, the lieutenant told J.D., who the guys were fighting here the other night.

They have no problem with anybody, J.D. would report back.

Sometimes the Iraqis would talk on for a full minute or more and the interpreter would sum it up with "they don't know."

In the home of a Taxi driver who wasn't seeing much business lately, they wanted to pass on word of a work project in town paid for by Uncle Sam.

No, said J.D., I told you already that he drives the taxi.

No, tell him there are these new jobs.

What jobs?

J.D, you're killing me tonight.

Forgive J.D. and his brethren. In Kirkuk province, they need to speak English, Arabic and Kurdish. Many cover their faces because being identified as working for Americans could a death sentence.

One translator I talked to urged me to recognize their efforts. He'd been working with troops almost since the invasion. Just a month earlier, the bullet-proof window of a Humvee had saved him from a sniper.

"I stopped counting the (roadside bombs)," he said, "a long, long time ago."

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