Saturday, May 29, 2010

An Open Letter to the People of Erbil

Dear People of Erbil,

Although we haven't officially met, my name is Celeste and I am a Border Collie. That's me on the left. Yes, it´s not a terribly flattering photo because it's been kind of hot lately, and I get a bit dopey when the temperature soars. Normally, I'm quite fetching, but you'll just have to take my word for it.

I was adopted exactly one month ago today by the Human-Bitch who usually writes on this blog and her Mate. They both have rather stupid names, but they feed me regularly, scratch my belly, let me sleep in their bed, and don't get cross when I routinely redecorate the upstairs with rolls of toilet paper, so I try not to be too judgmental. Not e
veryone can have a name like Celeste (which means 'heavenly').

It is a beautiful name, isn't it?

Now, her Mate takes me out for two walks every single day, which brings me to the point of this letter. Most of you people don´t seem to like me. Let me be categorical about this: I am a very nice dog. Yes, it's true that I was trained by a bunch of burly South Africans as an MDD/EDD (Mine Detection Dog/Explosive
Detection Dog) - this is Iraq, after all - but I never got to see any action since the security situation here is improving. Improving so much that most of us MDD/EDDs are being sent to the US or South Africa, or to some nifty farm for older, unwanted dogs. That's where I was supposed to go until the Human-Bitch and her Mate took me home with them. Everyone says that I should be very grateful to them. Whatever. Aren't I pretty?

Now, some of you may have heard that I failed bomb-sniffing school, but that's just a rumour started by that bitch of a German Shepherd two kennels down from mine. German Shepherds think they're sooooo superior. In fact, Border Collies are considered THE Most intelligent dog in the whole wide world (including Iraq), with German Shepherds coming in at #3. Three!!! Why I don't have a certificate from my bomb-sniffing school escapes logic. It must be a clerical error of some kind.

Anyhoo, I enjoy my walks around town. I try not to get frustrated by the fact that there aren't many sidew
alks and what sidewalks there are are usually blocked by parked cars or generators. I certainly enjoy meeting all the chickens which run loose in the neighbourhood although I don't think the feeling is mutual. I don't know why that is. Same with the cats. Go figure.

But it's you humans that's got me really rattled - and as a trained MDD/EDD (
certificate forthcoming, I'm sure), I don't get rattled easily. I've overheard my Human-Bitch and her Mate talk about this: maybe it's because of Islam. The prophet is said to have muttered some rather nasty things about us, like if it weren't for the fact that we are all God's creatures, we should be killed (especially the black ones!), and that angels never enter a house where a dog lives. In the end, he made a concession that dogs that are used for hunting or protection can be 'tolerated'. Well, isn't that me - even if I am mostly black?

Another theory - because the neighbourhood where I now live has a large Christian rather than Muslim community - is that maybe here in Iraq, people associate dogs with war and violence. Soldiers are often seen with menacing guard dogs (like that bitch of a German Shepherd two kennels down from mine), and this area has seen its fair share of war. The few cars which are given permission to drive onto airport property must get the green light from bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs. *Sigh* ... that should have been my job. I love the cheery optimism so often seen in travellers. I'd be awesome greeting passengers and sniffing the undercarriages of cars for explosives!

But I digress.

I'm told that there's a lot of rabies here, so maybe that's a factor. I was very well cared for when I was with the South Africans - in fact, I probably got better medical attention than a lot of you people here. And besides, I'm on a leash. A pretty red leash. Do you really think the Human-Bitch and her Mate would be taking a rabid dog for a walk? I think not. Do you see foam spewing out of my mouth? I think not.

Whatever the reason, all I know is that when her Mate takes me for a walk, people act weird around me. There are some nice ones who whistle at me and pet me. And a few kids who scream DOG!DOG!DOG!DOG!DOG!DOG!DOG!DOG!DOG! but I don't think they mean any harm (although their shrill little voices make my ears hurt a bit). And then there was that one lady who pointed me out to her little boy and called me a donkey but I really think she meant doggie. That was okay. It's just that the majority aren't very nice. They - and I mean the adults - literally shout and jump out of the way as if I'm going to bite them, infect them, or pollute them by my presence. Some children actually scream and run away. Many many times mothers will grab at their youngsters on the sidewalk and pull them into doorways, shielding them from me with their bodies. What am I? - the bubonic plague with paws and a tail?

As a result, we've had to modify my walkies: we go to areas now where there aren't many people, but that makes me sad because I'm a very sociable dog. I just want you, People of Erbil, to know that dogs (me especially) are kind, and that if we're on leashes, we're probably not going to make you sick, and that if I stick my nose a little too close to you, it's only because I really like to be scratched there. Or maybe I just smell a bomb under your baggie pants and vest.


este the Dog

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name ...

As a Purveyor of the English Tongue, I know that I must be mindful of showing intolerance - by which I really mean side-splitting humour at the expense of others' imperfections - at the language faux-pas non-native speakers make from time to time. In a word, it's culturally insensitive (two words), if not smacking of cultural hegemony (four words) which I'm not supposed to evoke (it's in my job description). But for anyone who has passed through passport patrol at any airport or border crossing, you know that such spelling and grammatical peccadilloes are rife - especially in restaurants - and especiallier (that should so be a word) on menus.

Now, to be fair (to me), I have shown remarkable restraint over my past 5 years overseas by not mocking the misuse of English running amok in non-English countries. Indeed, I have been a Paragon of Politeness.

*Sigh* - no more.

A few weeks back, Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I were feted at the Marina, a rather swanky Lebanese restaurant in Erbil, complete with ambient lighting, a sound stage for the requisite warbling Arabic female chanteuse, and oddly, a stuffed seagull mounted on a pedestal at the front door. And although the food was great and the company congenial, let me share with you a few items from the menu:

* cheese rools (presumably rolls)
* tongs (presumably either of the kitchen utensil variety, or an organ extracted from the mouth, probably with tongs no less. Having said that, tongue leaves a better taste in my mouth).
* fish fee lea (presumably fillet - kudos though for transcribing it from the French. Fish fee let doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi.)
* klmary (presumably calamari ... ahhhh, those foreign words are so elusive, n'est ce-pas?)
* pizza cocktail (presumably ... nope. I have no clue)
* BBQ sheep bools (presumably balls, but admittedly bools sounds more gastronomically refined and less, well, testicular)

... and my personal favourites, all of which were listed on the Seafood page:
* sparrow (presumably a close relative of Chicken of the Sea)
* frogs (presumably a close relative of the Great Atlantic Sea Frog)
* BBQ bird (presumably a close relative of the stuffed seagull at the front door and the aforesaid sparrow).

... all of this can be washed down with a nutritious glass of Cantlops Juic and topped off with a nice narghile. How about Gum flavour? I fear that the latter is not a typo.

Bools and tongs notwithstanding, the highlight of the evening was the pure delight - nay rapture - which lit Mr. This Cat's face up like the proverbial Christmas tree when he saw Guinness on the menu. After all, it had been many many weeks since he last had a perfect pint of stout (it is chockful of antioxidants). But always the Doubting Thomas and so susceptible to disappointment is he that he drilled the waiter mercilessly. Are you sure? Yes sir, Guinness. Really? Guinness? Yes sir, Guinness. I'll have a Guinness.

Yes, yes ... I am a shit for doing this because, after all, the food was good and clearly, I was able to decipher everything on the menu (apart from the pizza cocktail). But after all these years of being good, something ugly buried deep within me - something which I had struggled to keep far far away from the light of day this blog surfaced like a beachball. Or a beachbool.

As an addendum, let me say this of the Marina: Iraq is a landlocked country. Any hopes I had of watching the yachts gently bob in the ochre wash of the setting sun were quashed immediately upon remembering that I am in Iraq and Iraq is a landlocked country. Perhaps the time has come to change its name. Like the Sandbox. Much better.

Oh ... and the Guinness (so chockful of antioxidants) which Mr. This Cat ordered? Well of course there was no Guinness. Why on earth would Guinness be served at a Lebanese restaurant in northern Iraq? Yes, the waiter promptly brought Mr. This Cat a refreshing but slightly less healthy 7Up (but with no shamrock design in the head because 7Up has no head) and without any reference to the 'substitution' he so deftly made with no thought of consulting the customer. Perhaps he thought that Mr. This Cat would not notice. Well, at least the can was green.