Saturday, January 08, 2011

Observations In Southeast Asia

Other than flying the missions I mentioned in Part 7 (link above), I really didn't get out much. We were in our camp in the middle of Saudi Arabia somewhere with nothing but desert all around us as far as they eye could see. It was a desolate place with not even as much vegetation as there was in the desert near Fort Bliss nor even in the Mojave Desert at the National Training Center near Barstow, California.

Still, there was a lot of life. Not much of is was very pleasant.

There were the dung beetles. Those guys were like ants in their work ethic. The would find a spherical piece of dung and push it across the desert to their hole. There was no stopping them (except, maybe, to squash them under foot).

The flies were relentless. Because of the dearth of moisture, they would fly around the nose, mouth and eyes seeking water and salt to consume. I joked that they were "Union" flies because they would only come out after the sun rose and they disappeared at sundown.

There were a number of different kinds of spiders, too. Although I don't remember having spider fights like depicted in the movie "Jarhead," I do remember once someone captured a spider and cut it in half. Before it died it turned and the "head" part attacked its own back end like it was another spider. It was aggressive to the end.

We heard stories about cobras and other kinds of snakes. I don't remember ever seeing one and was glad for it.

Now, my observations of the cultural aspects of the area aren't meant to be judgmental. They are merely my thoughts on the differences there compared to the U.S.

One of the few times I was able to leave the camp I was asked to accompany the supply sergeant to a nearby town to get some batteries. We drove to the town in one of our modified Chevy Blazers (called a CUCV). Much of the way was through the desert on a dirt road, much like the tank trails in the northern part of Fort Bliss. The rest was along a 2-lane highway. I was very surprised at poor condition of many of the more rural roads in Saudi Arabia. I remember thinking that a country with that much money coming in could certainly afford to have paved shoulders and filled-in potholes.

It was interesting to watch the truck drivers as sunset approached. Every truck pulled off the road and took a tea break before evening pray time. They would spread out blankets, join up in groups, stoke up fires for their tea pots and talk.

For us who didn't observe this Muslim custom, that was really the best time to drive around because no one was on the road.

The town we went to was rather plain. We were told that because most Saudis spend most of their time indoors, they don't spend much effort making the outsides of their homes beautiful, favoring spending most of their efforts on the insides. That made sense to me considering the climate.

The store we went to was one of those the front of the store was rather small, dominated by the counter where you told the shopkeeper what you wanted and he went into the back room to get it. No self-service in this place. It was a nice setup, though, as it encouraged conversation and interaction between those running the store and their customers. Of course, that would be more enjoyable without the language barrier.

I remember going outside to have a smoke and watching the traffic go by. At one point, a very small Toyota pickup truck drove by. That wasn't unusual in itself, though. Was was very different than what you might see in America was the one woman, dressed up in her burka, sitting in the bed of the truck while four men were crammed into the small cab. While that made sense to me as a student of the culture of the land, it still struck me as funny because there's no way those four guys could have been comfortable stuffed into the cab they way they were. I don't think it was really safe, either. It's hard enough trying to drive our Ford Ranger with me, my wife and my 14-year-old son in the cab. That Toyota was much smaller and there were four adult men in there. I wonder how the guy steered.

All of us got to take four days off at a camp set up somewhere near the coast in the eastern part of the country. It was nice to be able to relax and take it easy. There was a PX, vendors hawking everything from Saudi clothes to bootleg cassettes, and food that didn't come out of a pouch or a can. Oh, and hot showers. That was probably the best part of the experience.

As 1990 turned into 1991 things started to come to a head. Saddam refused to pull his army out of Kuwait and Desert Storm was about to kick off.

This is part 9 in a series. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19