[November 25, 2022] Late in my life, I discovered that those tasks I took on meant something only if they were challenging, risky, rare, and supported by those around me. In early 2007, I was back in Fallujah, Iraq, to visit a special Sheik who would become the leader of The Great Iraqi Awakening. Waiting on the Sheik to meet our 3-person delegation, I was offered a cup of tea. It would be the best cup of tea I ever had.
We were fully armored. The years 2006 and 07 were some of the worst times for American casualties in the war. Much of the insurgency was Sunni, and they held the vast Anbar province. But Sheik Sattar, under his leadership, discovered it was better for his tribes to align with the U.S. than fight us. We were there to finalize the deal.
I don’t know the man’s name, you can see his photo in the thumbnail, but he made some damn great tea. I will confess that I never was, nor am I now, a tea drinker. It’s more of a British cultural habit. I love coffee. But there was something about that tea; hot and sweet. And there I was, drinking it in the hot desert of Iraq.
After the first cup, I asked for a second, a third, and a fourth. What the heck made his tea so good? The two-star Army General with me said it was the sugar that made me want to drink more and warned me to back off a bit or I would suffer for it. While I never had any after-effects, I sure would like another cup of his tea.
“Usually, if you stop for tea, someone will feel the desire to join you.” – Sunita Williams
Soon, several others, mostly Iraqi soldiers, joined me while I drank my fourth and last cup of tea. We talked as best we could, given my limited Arabic and their rudimentary English. It was a friendly conversation. I wanted these foot soldiers to know they could trust Americans (and that is no easy task given our confused foreign policies). I had my picture taken shortly after with a “technical” gun crew who had mounted a Soviet-made DShK heavy machine gun on the chasse of a Toyota pickup truck (I’ll publish that photo later).
Our mission was to seal the deal between the Sunni and American military leaders. It was a relatively easy task. To this day, I’m not sure why I was invited. Maybe they needed an Engineer and the Iraqis had considerable respect for engineers, and I had a reputation by that time in the war for “being a friend of the Baghdad Amanat.”
I still remember the taste of that cup of tea. (or, rather, the sugar) I would not drink it now if you offered it to me. I only took the drink as part of my job to “mingle” with the Iraqis. I did, but I did like their tea. It was the best cup of tea ever, and I thank Sunni Sheik al Sattar for his generosity.
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