Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mojo's World

The day before Muqtada al-Sadr lifted the Mahdi Army's freeze of attacks on Coalition Forces, things were obnoxiously normal in Anu al-Verona. Kids playing in the dirt, women shopping in the market, old men casting geriatric judgements from front porches, teenagers leering for the sake of leering - you know, the works. It all seems so distant now. Multiple 24-hour plus missions tend to have that effect on the memory.

As usual, Mojo was found near the combat outpost, on the front steps of the governance center. As the mayor’s son, he has the unofficial responsibility of hawking as much crap obtained by less than legal means as possible our way. Phone cards, cell phones, movies, iPods, and various forms of porn far more creative than necessary are always readily available through him – and that’s what he’s willing to try and sell in front of the LT. I’ve been informed there are even less refined aspects of the Mojo inventory. This isn’t exactly your friendly suburban neighborhood lemonade stand.

“LT,” he said, greeting me with a sly grin and green eyes that are far too dubious for one so young. “Maybe you want the phone cards today?”

I paused next to him, meeting the extended fist bump, and took off my Kevlar helmet. “I’m good on phone cards,” I told him, relishing the simple pleasure of running my hands through my cragged spikes of hair still drenched in sweat. “You got any Boom-Booms?” I asked, referencing the local brand of energy drink. The theories of what exactly makes up a Boom-Boom are many, but it certainly can keep a man awake hours beyond what the body is capable of. If it means anything, I haven’t failed a piss test yet.

“Why don’t you ever go to school?” It was the voice of SFC Big Country. My platoon sergeant has the rare gift of asking questions in the form of an order, no matter whom it is posed to. I’ve seen many young soldiers turn into deers caught in headlights because of this, and Mojo was no different.

“Because … well, because they would steal me or kill me if I went,” he responded eventually, kicking pebbles as he spoke. The green eyes swung back up at us from the concrete. “Mother fuckers. So I stay here, where the Americans are. And my father says getting my English better is better than school.”

SFC Big Country and I looked at each other, and exchanged conciliatory nods. “A fair point,” he said. “Although you probably should know soldier-English is a little different than regular English, Mojo. You can’t say ‘fuck’ every other word in America like we do here.”

A group of my Alpha section soldiers walked up at this time, bringing a bright smile to Mojo’s face. He momentarily shed the front of mischievous skeptic when SPC Haitian Sensation picked him up and twirled him around, and began to giggle - freely and easily and joyfully, just like any other child deserves to in this world.

“How old are you today?” SPC Haitian Sensation asked him, putting him back down on the ground, next to the broom closet that serves as Mojo’s shop.

“I’m still fifteen,” came the reply. It’s not as outrageous of a lie as it appeared, even though Mojo doesn’t look a day over a malnutritioned nine; the brutal reality is that most Anu al-Verona citizens do not know their exact age. Birth certificates aren’t exactly a traditional commodity over here. Most aren’t even sure what year it was when we invaded, even though that was only five years ago. Time is a lot more malleable in the third world.

We waited for the rest of the platoon, and started moving towards the combat outpost again. Mojo bartered quickly with a few of my soldiers, something I decided I was better off turning two blind eyes to. I had a patrol debrief to get to, anyways. I was halfway up the stairs when I heard a voice behind me.

“Hey LT!” It was Mojo, scurrying after me. He handed me a Boom-Boom, and winked. “On the house,” he says, repeating a phrase SSG Bulldog taught him. As he ran back over to his Gravedigger clientele, I shook my head in bemusement.

That kid is going to either end up very rich or very dead, I thought to myself. Local kingpin or bust. I cracked open my Boom-Boom, and decided that it will probably be the former. He has certainly had enough examples of the latter over the course of this war to study. Just another sort of education that can’t be learned in school.

Mojo is still at his lemonade stand as I type this. He hasn't gone home with the sunset for a few days, though. Call it a hunch, but it may be a couple more days until he does.


Grandpa said...

If I were unaware of the current situation with JAM, I would think it was just another quite day in the lives of “The gravediggers”. It is a nice piece of writing, as usual. Your Irish ancestors had a prayer with you in mind.

I hope and pray that none may kill me,
Nor I kill any, with woundings grim
But if ever any should think to kill me
I pray thee, God, let me kill him

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you can always tell when a natural disaster is coming. The native species go into hiding. You don't really know how they know, but you know to start looking out for yourself, if you want to survive whaterver natural disaster is coming.

Good to hear from you. Sorry this is happening. Wish you were back home safe already. Big stuff coming up. Play it real safe, will ya?

Hardtack said...

Hate to see a kid grow up in that environment (and he is one of many), with death and destruction all around. He is aged before his time.

Stay frosty Lt. Mojo is probably one of the best set of eyes you got. But stay frosty, and bring the gravediggers home.

Anonymous said...

Good to hear from you, Lt., as you've certainly been in this family's thoughts and prayers this weekend. Thank you for another fine story. Mojo will be in our prayers too.

Macy said...

And just yesterday I was listening to the younger sister of one of my girlfriends whining about going to school...

OldGrouchy said...

LT G, watch a full 360 and trust your instincts to get you and the Gravediggers back safely. Mojo might be a good guy or he might be trying to earn his $20. Your call is always a tough one and that's why you get paid the big bucks and have that high exalted rank. Heck it must be time to tip back another Guinness in your honor.

Also, please say a prayer for the soul of Staff Sgt. Maupin who's being returned home.

Anonymous said...

LT G, Here's insane Iraqi oxymoron:
From today's Reuters wire service."We are now making phone calls to headquarters," a low-level Mehdi Army commander in Baghdad's Sadr City, Abu Haidar told Reuters. "We don't know what to do. If we carry guns the government will oppose us, but if we put them down, the Americans will come, surround our homes and capture us." Excuse me, are we all confused?
May you get through this Iraqi selfdestruct that tries to take you down with them, and come home. But sadly, it sucks to be a Mojo.

Long-time RN said...

Keeping a close eye on the overseas news through international media outlets. Safe travels to you and the Gravediggers. Mojo is one tough survivor in an environment we see and try to understand through writing such as yours. Thank you.
Cathy B

Bag Blog said...

I always look forward to reading your blog and hearing about the different characters in Anu al-Verona. I think my daughter has a crush on Biggie. When she reads about Mojo, that may change.

Anonymous said...

BTW: You may have already seen this but . . .

Achmed the dead terrorist;

Either you haven't seen it, and it's funny, or you've had it so long you think I'm funny. Either way, enjoy.

Saw your 'Doone today. Rerun? That dark stuff is situationally appropriate. I remember being a JO (PAO) during 'Nam. AFRTS and MACV censored anything that wasn't 'positive'. Negative (no mater what the 'truthiness' content) was not an option.

We couldn't report any of the really heroic stuff because it DID involve loss of life and limb. In the end, we gave up, did what we were told, and cynically adopted the motto, "We make war fun". I never entered journalism again.

I've respected and enjoyed your candid and self depreciating viewpoint. BTW: Mojo will be, as a survivor in these chaotic times, equally dangerous as friend or foe. Although he is a child, he is also a survivor in one of the grimmest places on the planet.

While you gotta respect that, it also means that others, previously around him, likely did not survive. Kids were some of the most lethal adversaries because western morality and concepts ruled out a child as a potential combatant. This morality does not apply universally. Point is, well, you decide what the point is. As always, prayers for you and you unit to return home safely.

young grasshopper said...

In my heart of hearts I always knew that all great writers should use the word "fuck" as often as possible. LOL

You have a new fan in me, LT G.
I hope to hear from you again soon.

God Bless you and your men.

Grandpa said...

Sunshine is diggity

Average American said...

Another great post Lt. I gotta tell you though, Boom-Boom was something ENTIRELY different in Vietnam!

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/01/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

mutt said...

Well, were on edge over this latest bit of Green Zone nit wittery.
Dont need to tell you that for the locals who are worth a damn, nationalism trumps paychecks, as it does everywhere.
Im hopin we get you all back home soon.
I got your blog linked on my local vets org. website...
recommend your blog highly to one & all.
Here, the War takes seat on the back of the bus.....not if I can help it.

terrylfarmerjr said...

much love to you and your crew. home safe heroes in my prayers. we love you.

PFC Cobb, Timothy said...

Hey LT, I stumbled on your blog, it's interesting reading about you and the 'gravediggers'. I'm actually heading over to Iraq in a month, so it's interesting reading stuff about your experiences over there. I'm deploying for a year to Camp Anaconda.

If you have any tips or anything you might like to share sir, this is my email