As someone whose foreign language efforts usually resemble beluga whale mating calls, I have zero right to criticize non-English primary speakers attempts at my native language. I rationalize this by saying that my love for the English language is just too pure and too right to be tainted by something else, but really, who knows. I guess that synapse hadn’t connected yet before I escaped the womb in a Caesarian jailbreak. I even dated a French chick for a few months and never made any serious progression to learn her language. If a woman can’t make you do something despite all her harassments to the contrary, it probably isn’t meant to happen.
Still, one cannot avoid the very obvious truth that English sounds funny when it comes out of mouths untrained to its’ complexities. That’s not being culturally insensitive, that’s just straight comedic fact. Language – any language – inevitably develops into a multitude of dialects, nuances, and cultural references that can be nigh impossible to understand, let alone replicate. Such is the case for the Gravediggers’ ever-present and always amusing interpreter, Biggie Smalls. A good-natured grandfather who has a weakness for ignoring his diabetes in the name of Pepsi Cola and cannot stand punk teenagers, Biggie causes as much of a ruckus around Anu al-Verona as we do; his diversity due to his heritage in the Heart of Africa and midnight black skin, when blended with his ability to make newfound friends everywhere he goes and the rolling chuckle that follows nearly every statement he makes, has proven to be an instrumental asset in the counterinsurgency fight. Everyone knows Biggie, and Biggie knows everyone.
Here is a short collection of some of Biggie’s finer moments with my platoon. Keep in my mind, that some of my soldiers think he suffers from PTSD, due to surviving multiple IED strikes in the three years he has worked for Coalition Forces. Also, after some prodding, he reluctantly revealed that he lost three young children during Desert Storm, and that he visits their graves every time he goes home. He has seen far more war over the course of his life than one man ever should. Not all warriors in Anu al-Verona carry rifles when they leave the wire.
-- Biggie: “I do not understand why you Americans insist on missions in night. Night is for sleep!” Me: “You’re right. You should take it up with CPT Whiteback.” Biggie, completely straight-faced: “That is a good idea, LT. I will summon him as soon as we return from mission and explain the situation.”
-- Biggie: “I am worry that my family would be hurt if people knew I work with Americans. That is why I do not tell them.” Me: “Wait? So you’re saying no one in your family knows you work here? Not even your wives?” Biggie: “Women cannot keep from the talk. They be too proud of me and do the chatter when I am away. Then they will die!”
-- PFC Boomhauer: “How do you feel about rules of engagement, Biggie?” Biggie: “I say kill them all! That way, I do not have to leave Stryker.”
-- Biggie: (after walking into a maze of wire at night, that my soldiers had to help him get out of): “Why is that still there! I say to have it to be taken away.”
-- SGT Chico: “I only have one wife, Biggie. That’s more than enough for me. Not to mention, she’d kill me if I married another woman.” Biggie, shaking his head in confusion: “But why? If they do not want to share, you must hit them around to show who is king. I had to do that with smaller wife when she stop listening to me.” SGT Chico: “Yeah, well, my wife would just hit me right back.”
-- Me, sitting in a Sheik’s house, anxious to return to my Strykers and feeling slightly guilty that not all of my soldiers are partaking in the impromptu feast laid out before us: “Let’s go, Biggie.” Biggie: “But … but why, LT? There is more food and chai to come. It is Arab culture!” Me: “I need to check on my guys, man. Let’s roll.” Biggie, clearly perturbed and shoving food into his mouth as I thank the Sheik, and begin to head out the front door: “But … but … LT, it is Arab culture! We must stay for more food!”
-- Biggie, who I stumble upon in the breakfast line, staring at a piece of sausage. “This is pork, yes?” Me: “Yeah, it is. Sorry man, I know you’re not allowed to eat pork.” Biggie: “Gah! I do not understand why Allah does not allow us to eat the pork when it smell so good.”
-- First Sergeant, catching Biggie carrying a new mattress to his room in the combat outpost: “No, Biggie, we don’t have enough mattresses for everyone. Not even all the soldiers are going to get one.” Biggie: “But you have one for Biggie, yes?”
-- First Sergeant, catching Biggie with a dinner plate that would feed a block in Anu al-Verona: “Come on Biggie, you gonna tell me you gonna eat all that?” Biggie, who puts his plate down and flexes: “Of course! I have two wives, I must be strong for them!”
-- Me, seeing Biggie grab a Pepsi during a meeting: “Biggie, put that down. Grab something without sugar.” Biggie, laughing: “You are good leader of me, LT! I will have orange drink.” Me: “Biggie, how long have you known you have diabetes?” Biggie: “Oh, I don’t know. Ten years?”
-- Biggie, after unleashing a tongue-lashing on a Shi’a fourteen-year old kid who failed to produce his ID in a timely fashion: “Stupid mother fucker.” Me: “Man, Biggie, what did you tell that kid? He looks like we ran over his house.” Biggie: “I tell him next time he looks at Americans with the angry we will come and drop him off alone in Sunni neighborhood. We will not have problem again with him.”
-- Biggie, who has become addicted to Macgyver re-runs: “It is excellent show. He always use his mind, you know? Very good hero.”
-- Biggie, on the Saddam era: “It was not so bad. There were discos.”
-- Biggie, on his actions during the initial American offensive in 2003: “I see smoke from American tanks and American heli-choppers and American bombs and I go inside. I stay in house for three weeks and make two new babies with my wives.”
-- Biggie, on his actions in 2004, when members of the Mahdi Army showed up at his business and requisitioned all of his assets, financial or otherwise: “There were 30 men with AK. They tell me we shoot you and kill or you give everything. I say, ‘okay, have it all, bye bye! I go home now.’”
-- Biggie: “I tell all the other LTs and all the other terps- no one works like Gravediggers! We work, work, work. We no talk – we just do.” Me: “Word, Biggie. Word.”
-- Biggie, with a sense of absolute wonder in his voice that only someone from a third-world nation can attain: “Ahh-merr-ikaaa … America. It must be very beautiful place, yes?”
It is Biggie, it really is. I just wish we could understand that the way that you do.