Ian Caplan had spent the last two hours walking round the inside of the complex. Each room was very much the same as the previous ones that he had looked at. All of the floors were marble, this he presumed, was to keep the occupants as cool as possible. The walls were something like sandstone. He had to laugh,
“Listen to me,” he thought, “I’m sounding as if I know something about being an Architect.”
All of the rooms that he went into were the same, terra cotta floors and white walls. “Practical, but boring,” he thought.
In each of the rooms enormous paintings and hand made rugs hung on the walls. The biggest differences were the furniture and its function. Some were dining rooms, some were lounges.
As he walked, he would see who he presumed would be, some sort of staff.
He spoke to them and was surprised to find that they all spoke quite good, English. He asked each of them the same questions. What their names were? And also asked about their duties. He also asked what they thought about their country’s leaders. The answers surprised him.
Some thought that the government was wonderful. Others, that they could do a better job of it themselves. While others said,
“The first thing the government does when it comes into power is to award itself a pay rise, then, put their friends and relations into positions of power.”
The most surprising thing of all is that, it occurred to Caplan that the people seemed to think the same way as he did. Maybe, they’re not so bad after all?
One of the members of staff who called himself, Mo, (it seemed that he called himself Mo at all times when he was working, but, it had to be Mohammed during the times for prayer), dressed in a long white shift, which Caplan presumed, was the normal style of dress along with a turban, with his hands clasped in front of him, walked over to Caplan.
“ Major Salim sends his deepest regrets but, is afraid that he cannot get back to see you until tomorrow.”
Ian was slightly crest fallen, he would have liked to have got to know a little more about what was to happen to him.
“Ah, thank you Mo. I suppose I’ll be eating on my own tonight then?.”
Mo thought for a moment, and chewed his bottom lip before suggesting,
“Well, if you don’t mind me giving you an option. You would be more than welcome to spend the evening with myself and some of my friends in our private eating rooms.”
Once again, Ian was taken aback.
“That is really very generous of you,” he said, smiling, “If it isn’t too inconvenient for you, I would very much like to join you.”
Mo grinned widely, his brilliant white teeth reflecting like mirrors. That is, apart from the one that was missing from the middle of the upper set.
“If I may, I will call to take you down at six thirty,”
“Six thirty it is, “ echoed Caplan.
At exactly six thirty, Mo called at Caplan’s room to collect him.
He was pleased to see that the soldier had, not only, shaved and showered but had dressed in the traditional Iraqi male clothing, which consisted basically of a long white gown. He looked down and saw that Caplan was bare footed,
“I see that our wardrobe of clothing didn’t extend to footwear,” he said with a smile. Caplan looked slightly embarrassed,
“Not at all,” he said, “There were plenty of sandals, but none in my size.”
They began their walk to the dining room.
“Why are there so many clothes in the wardrobe? “ Ian asked.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t give you an answer to that question,” was the reply.
The Iraqi could see the questioning look on Ian’s face. Once again, the ‘gap-toothed’ grin appeared,
“Believe me,” said Mo, “As far as I know, there isn’t a hidden reason as to why there are so many clothes. You must understand that I am only in charge of the staff here. I am not in a privileged enough position to say why Major Salim does certain things. What I do know is that things are much better now for us, than they used to be.”
They arrived in the dining room. Ian was surprised to see that there was about twenty staff there.
“I didn’t realise that there would be so many people here,” observed the SAS man. “You must remember that for many of the people here, you are the first westerner that they have seen,” answered Mo.
Ian frowned, “Why are they smiling?” he asked.
“Because you have done us the honour of dressing traditionally for us.”
Now it was Caplans turn to smile,
“Well, it was either this or, a tattered uniform, and the last thing that I wanted was to cause any insult.”
Mo showed Ian to his seat. In actual fact, the seat was a space on the floor, where a cushion had been placed for the soldiers use.
The table was one of the longest that Caplan had seen, it being big enough to cater for all of those present.
He looked at the food that had laid out on the surface. There were plates of grilled meat, that he presumed was lamb, fish, chicken, rice, bread and enough vegetables to sink a ship, as well as dates and flat bread.
He turned to mo, who was seated next to him,
“What’s that?” he asked, indicating a bowl of moon shaped dough.
“Ahh, that is sanbusak. It’s a traditional Iraqi dish. Inside, the dough is filled with either, meat or cheese.”
“Right,” replied Caplan, “So, it’s a bit like our eggs and bacon.”
“No,” laughed Mo, “It’s not a bit like your eggs and bacon.”
Ian blushed, hoping that, that was going to be the last mistake that he made tonight.
At the end of the meal, Mo produced a bottle of whiskey,
“I noticed that you had opened the bottle in the lounge area, so I thought that you might like some to finish your meal off.”
Before Ian could reply, a glass was placed in front of him, and a large measure of Bushmills was emptied into it. He looked round him,
“You have all been very pleasant to me, and I would like to offer my thanks by toasting you”.
The room immediately went as quiet as a grave. Mo spoke to everyone in his native tongue, soon the smiles reappeared.
“Have I said something wrong?” asked a nervous Caplan.
“You must understand,” offered Mo, “That for many years, in this country, to toast someone was an actual happening, not as you intended it, as an honour.”
Caplan clasped his hands over his face and shook his head. Soon he could hear one, then another, then all of those present began to laugh at his embarrassment. He peered over his fingertips.
They were laughing with him, not at him. He laughed all the more when the person seated opposite him, picked up a date and playfully, tossed it at him.