POSTCARDS FROM A SANDY PLACE #5 – As my evidence professor would say, hearsay can be verbal and non-verbal communication

Cultural differences are often fodder for confusion, puzzlement and unintended disrespect. Fortunately for me and my never ending quest for humor in an otherwise rather humorless place, they can be comic as well.

For example, in America the thumbs up sign usually means, ok, great, good to go. In fact, soldiers use it frequently as one of the many hand signals and gestures required to communicate without words in a silent, tactical situation, such as out on patrol or searching a building. Yet, in what I believe to be a completely futile attempt to make soldiers culturally sensitive, the Army has announced that the thumbs up gesture should not be used here. Why you ask? Well, in our sandy world, a thumbs up gesture does mean up, but up a part of your body not frequently discussed on TLRG’s politically correct website!

Unfortunately for me, thumbs up is a habitual gesture which, despite my best efforts, I have not quite been able to shed from by gesturial vocabulary. This morning, I went in to pick up my laundry and drop off my uniform to be pressed. The Iraqi gentleman was quite courteous and efficient as usual, took my top and pants and told me when it would be ready for pickup. Since it was quicker than I had anticipated, I was delighted and began raising my right thumb to show my appreciation. Midway through, with elbow poised at hip level, I remembered exactly what sentiment I would be expressing, hid my hand behind by back and ran out of the shop as soon as humanly possible. One can only hope that I get my uniform back in one piece.

Yesterday was the holy day of Ashura. In the sandy place, Muslims mourn the death of an ancient holy man by marching through the streets in white, beating themselves until they draw blood to express their piety and grief. For those of us not assigned to the more riskier Army jobs that take us outside our encampment, we are able watch these activity on CNN, which is constantly on in the chow hall. As I lined up for lunch at the sandwich counter, I overheard two soldiers discussing the activities outside. As Jimmy Buffet says, You just might wind up in my song; little did these budding leaders know that they just might wind up in my column. Following is the enlightened exchange I was privileged to eavesdrop into;

Man, did you see all those dudes beating themselves?

Yeah, I think they were hitting themselves with clubs or whips or something


I think it has to do with some holy holiday – I think its called Shaquira or Ashanti or something.

Dude, I am glad I’m not part of that religion, it would suck to have to self-flatulence yourself like that.

Don’t you mean flagellation?

Yeah man, that’s what I said!

Gentle readers, fortunately, I had not gotten my lunch yet, or peas could have shot out my nose I was laughing so hard.

The possibility for misunderstanding, perplexity, confusion, bewilderment, mix-ups and mystification extends beyond cultural differences. While I freely admit to taking liberal license with the truth in the sandy place, the following is completely verbatim, a quote from a hearing transcript. The investigating officer (Q) is questioning a medic (A) about how severe a wound was by getting him to classify it in (hopefully) understandable layperson terms.
Q. —-For example, how would you describe beheading?
A. Beheading?
Q. Right.
A. Chopping off of someone’s head.
Q. Right, well–let me put it this way. Is that considered a- -an obvious, nonsurvivable injury?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Okay, was there an obvious, nonsurvivable injury here, just by looking at it?
A. Just by first glance, no, sir, but when you combine the fact that he wasn’t breathing, had no pulse, pupils were fixed and dilated, and he had exposed brain matter, I would call that nonsurvivable, sir.

One can only hope that the investigating officer does not choose a second career as a doctor.

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