Cultural awareness is a 30-day class that teaches soldiers to become more familiar with Middle Eastern culture and complicated Arabic languages. On the first day, the teacher went over the Arabic alphabet. Greetings, culture, and helpful words and phrases. At first, I focused on trying to gather as much as I could, but about three hours in. I was just trying to stay awake. It was almost impossible to stay awake when you’re in a dark room.
On the second day, we went over the Arabic number system, days of the week, signs, and warnings, and concluded with cultural phrases. After just four hours, I have concluded that this may be worse than going to the dentist or shopping. I already knew the words used primarily for traffic control points, such as “awgaf,” meaning stop, and “Lazem in-fet-shek,” we must search you. After a while in class, I was only concerned with combat essential vocabulary.
Moving on to the third day. We went over directions, telling time, and learning locations. By this time, they frustrated me with the fact that we hadn’t spent more time on survival words. Rather than spending time on things, I knew we wouldn’t be using them. Things changed a little though when the NCOIC brought in a lady who had a wide range of experiences and a full understanding of Iraqi culture. It woke the men up and stimulated some good questions.
The lady shared a story about her uncle being taken away by Saddam’s people and then being brutally executed by the Baath party. At that point, we could have heard a pin drop. I could tell by the crackle in her voice that she was becoming emotional. She shared with us why it was important not to look at Iraqi women and also how to conduct searches on women. After two monotonous days, it was refreshing to hear her speak.
I was happy when Friday rolled around. On the last day, we concluded by reviewing everything we learned during the grueling 30 hours spread over four days. Learning more about Islam and Muslims was good, but I still have a hard time grasping all of the principles in their faith. I guess when they look at our culture, they would be perplexed also, so all is fair.
I learned some good stuff that I will bring with me to Iraq on this next deployment. Next week, we will slow down a little and focus on hip pocket training and packing to leave. I plan on spending time with my family and friends. The Army is good about facilitating that before deployments. I conclude with: Maa-e-ssalma and Allah ysalmak (Thank you and may God bless you).