I went to northern Iraq a few years ago. I helped teach English. I ran three flights of concrete stairs for exercise. I counted to sixty-seven. It was cold. Sometimes there was warm water. I’d take a shower when the water was warm. It steamed, so did my breath even when the water ran. I got dressed in the fog standing close to the gas heater. I tried not to burn my calves against the heater standing on one foot yanking my pants up.
They were always staring at me. I couldn’t stare back at the men. It wasn’t appropriate. The more you can’t stare the more you want to. There weren’t any stoplights because the electricity was often out. There were men standing in the middle of the circles directing traffic. I’d always stare at them. I’d forget that the windows weren’t tinted.
The men would walk down the street holding hands. Sometimes they’d sit, arms around each other’s shoulders, one touching the other’s earlobe. There was always tea with a lot of sugar on the bottom. They’d give you anything. They’d cook with a lot of oil. They’d keep their shoes clean. Everyone. I tried. Mine were always dirty.
She asked me, “Have you heard of them?” pointing at a CD case, “Which one do you think is the hottest? I like him.”
I sat down next to her, “I’m not sure, they’re all hot.”
“No, if you had to pick one.”
“That one”, I pointed.
“Really? Because he’s black? Do you think black boys are hot?”
“Yeh, a lot of them.”
“Listen to this”, she handed me one earphone pushing the other one into her own ear, “Aren’t they good?”
“Do you dance to the music?” I asked. She was twitching a bit.
“Not with people around. Do you dance?”
“Sometimes, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“That’s great. Really?”
“Well, but you can’t tell anyone. I really want to be a singer.”
“Like in a band?” I asked.
“No, I want to sing on my own. I want to see you dance. Dance for me.”
“Only if you dance for me”, I said.
“No. Well okay, but only with the lights off, and you go first.”
People ask me what I think of the situation over there. What should be done or not be done. Everyone has an opinion. I usually say something then stop half
way and say something else. I really don’t know what so say.
I believe sometimes it’s okay not to know what to say.
There was a rabbit that loved to have its tummy rubbed. I’d flip it onto its back and wedge it between my legs and tickle its belly. It would have been eaten but they saved it.
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