Making Peas With a Rock

This week marks the halfway point of our time here in New Zealand. This blog is MORE than halfway done as we had so many posts before we actually left. We know this news is making you cry, and to that we say, "Walk it off." because we are uncaring, militant people.

Speaking of militant people, one thing we have yet to mention regarding our vineyard work is regarding our co-workers. There are several things we've done as yet that 'most Americans have never, and will never get to do'. We've tried vegemite. We've swum in the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean on the same day. We've hitchhiked across an entire island nation. And now, since many of you will never do this, we've worked with Iraqis.

Barnsey had been telling us during the whole of the first week about the vineyard work ethic of different ethnic groups. He had been saying he needed some "Thais", as they perform well. He also said he might get some Iraqis to help out.

We were a little concerned. On one hand, we're all the same inside, and everyone is going to be there on the field trying to scrape by an honest day's work. On the other hand, our country is in a completely unwinnable, unfair war with another country, and we were about to have to apologize. The fact that neither of us have ever voted for President Bush became a moot point, as we didn't know what to expect.

The first day (with other people working besides Chris, Barnsey, and the two of us) there was only one. His name is Khili, but he introduced himself as "Saddam". Ha! Wacky sense of humor these Iraqis have! He was a good worker, although Dizzle felt he could've kept his eyes to himself a little more. At one point, he asked Baby G where she was from, as she is of Indian decent and so her skin is darker than others. She replied, "I'm an American." He pressed on, "No, you are not. You are dark. You are Arab?" Again, she said (For those of you who don't know Baby G, this was already more conversation than she wanted. She was hot, tired, and in desperate need of a pedicure and 60-minute massage), "I'm an American." This went on until Dizzle showed up. He had been running errands with the boss and had missed this whole exchange. After Khili had sussed out that we were both Americans, he pulled Dizzle aside and asked if Baby G was "his". Dizz didn't know how to respond to that, but figured the dude meant, you know, dating, so he replied in the affirmative. Khili then went on to explain to Dizz that he was "looking for another woman, because the one he has is [we swear to God he said this word] 'broken'". Later in the evening, after we'd returned home and had a chance to reflect on meeting our first person from Iraq, we realized his being Iraqi was not a reason to dislike or distrust him, but the fact that he referred to a woman as "broken" sure as hell was. We still don't know what he meant, and never bothered to engage him enough again to find out.

The next day, Khili was there with a guy who spoke almost no English named, we are not kidding, Muhammad Ali. And he used to BOX! We found all this out about him after a spirited conversation during teatime where we learned from he and Khili that Americans are solely to blame for any problem in the air (including pollution and the ozone), land (erosion and global warming), and petrol. We had to agree, if only to avoid an argument. Arabic is a heated language as it is, and we were not about to interrupt anyone airing their grievances about a country that is, as we speak, murdering thousands of people in the country where these guys are from. It was an interesting predicament. We've left the States to see more of the world, they left Iraq out of necessity. No one was going to disagree that Saddam and Bush are bad men, but how could we apologize for an entire country? How do you say, "Yeah, we're screwing you and your kin. Sorry 'bout that."?

We began to start conversations with, "Do you still have family in Iraq, and is everyone okay?" This seemed to let them know that we are not Americans who are proud of the actions of our country, but rather Americans who are compassionate and are doing our best to broaden what is stereotypically a narrow viewpoint on the rest of the world. It seemed to work, although Muhammad Ali never really did seem anything other than pissed off. Perhaps it's a language barrier.

The third one we met (they were adding a new Iraqi every day!) is named Zydan. We immediately informed him (after asking if his family back home was okay, of course) that his named sounded like a bitchin' name for a comic book hero, or a Mortal Kombat character. This, in theory, should've broken the ice. It didn't. Perhaps because there isn't much ice in Iraq, we don't know. Regardless, Zydan is a very quiet man who used to be a teacher in Iraq. He taught primary school children Arabic and Geography before he left the regime and had to get work wherever he could. Baby G and Zydan worked together for an entire afternoon, and got along swimmingly. He told her all about back 'home', and that he writes as often as he can, but his mail reaches his family pre-opened. He said his English isn't good enough to get another teaching job, but that he feels he's getting a little old for farm-work. Zydan is a really nice guy, and was our first non-guilt-inducing experience with Iraqis of the whole week.

On our last day on the vineyard, we met the fourth and final member of their crew, Muhammad's son Ali. All of nineteen, Ali spoke with a Kiwi accent and informed us that he is also fluent in Arabic and Pakistani. He's looking forward to saving up money to move to "Aussie" for the sun. We told him he could seriously make a lot of money in peace and conflict resolution or diplomacy because people who speak both Arabic and English are tough to come by. His eyes lit up at the thought of money, but we're pretty sure he'll be on the beach in Australia in six months, meeting girls and surfing. Ah, to be a teenager again. :)

So that's our experience with our first Iraqis. We all think Saddam and Bush (and Condi, and Rummy, and Cheney, etc.) are bad people, and we are all aware of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer worldwide. And just like in the States, they were all different: one was rude, one was angry, one was a fun-loving kid, and one was just a normal, humble dude trying to make ends meet for his family. Hopefully, they see Americans similarly now, and are not convinced we're all fat, white cold people with a chip on our shoulders. Hopefully they can go back to their families and tell them that not all Americans are bad, just the ones on top.

We feel proud of ourselves for functioning alongside different kinds of people, and glad we had the experience. Working with Iraqis, because they're Iraqis, was one of the most rewarding experiences we've had here, and is not one we're likely to forget.

Well, we'll remember it for as long as we can, anyway. Until we're 'broken'.


Jenn said...

That was an awesome story. You give us US-ians a good name! We miss you guys here in DC, but I love reading about everything you're doing.

(I promise I'll be posting on my blog within the next couple of days--maybe tonight. If you ever wanted to know about planning a wedding in DC...)

Love you guys!

Paul said...

Ew, sorry that you had to endure that creepy guy, Nina. We still love ya in the states and can't wait for you to return.

As for the rest, I forgot how awkward those "my country bombed your country and executed your leader conversations are," Good show, regardless, though. =)