Musings of a Zentradi Invader: My Time Among the Middle East Miclones

Every Generation needs a few good Zentrans, this generation got stuck with the likes of me…
So I finally made it back home with most of my person intact save perhaps some of my sanity but I doubt anyone would notice a slightly larger spike in my insanity. I was reminded of how two very different cultures met after reading this post regarding SDFM. I think in many ways the American military experience in the Middle East is somewhat like the first meeting of Zentran and Miclone, and keeping with the theme that America is EVIL for the sake of political correctness we’ll be the the warmongering Zentradi and the Arabs, Kurds, Persians, Pakistani, Indians, and every other expat in these parts can be the cultured miclones for the sake of this post. No doubt if a Minmay/Sheryl/Ranka came out here we’d all die of moe, good thing the miclones in these parts don’t really have the kind of idols like in Japan. Besides not too many Westerners would want to come to these parts of the world and I think that much of the contact we have had over the recent years has been by American Zentradi rather than civilians from the West.

Despite the similar architecture the Arabs have little to do with Sailor Moon…

Fundamentally neither the conservative narrative, the liberal narrative, nor the Japanese narrative seem to apply to the locals. In Gundam the Middle Eastern folk are little more than stand-ins for Japanese as victims of the West and the menfolk in these parts are all  proud warriors… Obviously that is bullshit despite the portrayal of most Muslims and Arabs in particular as terrorist guerrillas in the news. While there are some groups that have a more militant slant there are other groups that are less inclined towards militancy. The locals aren’t all terrorists and not all the women in the Middle East are forced to wear the burk-ha. It challenges perceptions when one is face to face with these people or at least within visual distance. It’s also harder to ascribe romantic notions and derive faults that aren’t really there as many would safely in their offices and homes on the other side of the world. That being said I have only met Kuwaitis, Iraqis, South Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and a handful of Central Asians along with lots of Filipinos. Hence I do not speak for all miclones of the Middle East simply because I have not I met all of them.

I want to make one thing clear though: I was only in Iraqi waters and not on Iraqi soil and the place where shit gets REAL right now is primarily Afghanistan, while in these parts things have tapered off. While still dangerous is isn’t as dangerous as the Afghan hinterlands. It’s a testament to Petraeus’ handiwork in that violence went way down, though it’s on the rise again through no fault of his own as the Iraqis march to the beat of their own drum, contrary to what the ignorant may say. The only soil I was on was in Kuwait and within the gulf the US Navy claims superiority despite the occasional annoying Iranian boat and suspicious vessel. Still I got a better look at Arab culture, which is just a fraction of the Islamic community of believers, than most people get and unlike an academic who probably has done zero field work to justify pretentious butthurt over the situation, looking through the wire I could not choose what I saw nor ask selectively about a myriad of topics. What struck me was how different they were from me, not that differences were a bad thing but it made me more skeptical of the notion that we could all get along nice and fine simply because I find their habits to be rather incompatible. Even if they immigrate they would have to give up a lot of their cultural identity to fit in or their hosts would have to make some significant social concessions to help them fit in.

Even the locals built their own bastions of Capitalism.

The miclones of Iraq I can safely say have only met the men who have taken up the soldiering profession, and to be frank they lean towards the lazy and tardy side when it comes to field day. I am not sure whether or not they are just used to seeing junk and a mess on the street but when they go to work they don’t feel keen on cleaning up. I have never confronted them about it but maybe they felt that janitorial work was beneath them as there is a hierarchy within Arab societies, and there is a stronger sense of aversion from “unclean” work. It could have just been that janitorial work was considered unclean. Either way I found it quaint that they responded to each new mess with “inshallah” or “God’s Will” even when they were late for something they responded the same way. In the case of being tardy I can understand given the driving conditions and the huge suck it is to walk in the scorching heat, but I confess it was kind of irritating at times. I guess that they would find us strange too for being so set on keeping things as clean as we can even when the oil platforms were always dirty. In that regard I can understand but personally I still prefer to keep things neat and orderly.

Even among the Kuwaitis, who are considered fairly liberal by Arabic standards, they still observe Arab social norms when it comes to women and rank. The US Army made it very clear on what we can and cannot do and took great pains to educate us on how some of our hand gestures such as ‘okay’ were interpreted as insulting by the locals. We were told not to ask about the female members of their family as it was considered rude to ask and men were advised that when an Arab man gets close and would in the western view be invading his space, it is normal as it indicates that the Arab you are talking with is interested in what you have to say and is trying to convey that he is paying attention. Women were advised that given how Arab men rarely deal with women to not take too much offense if the local dudes were seemingly unresponsive. All NCOs were advised that the higher your rank the more respect you get and that if we made no headway to drag out an officer since within Arab culture rank does matter, as does one’s level of education. Also we were to use whatever titles that the locals had earned, i.e. if the guy was a doctor we were to address him as Dr. Muhammad and never just Mr. Muhammad.

I guess in that regard they are more similar to the Japanese but much more strict on titles and honors. I wonder if much of this was the result of being a formerly semi-nomadic culture that was forced into the modern world during the age of colonialism. That said the Kuwaitis at least take great pride in their education and send many of their students abroad to get a western education. Many of them do speak English and are fairly fluent but for some reason judging from the people I met they were shy about using English around us because they were embarrassed about their accents. Moreover with foreigners making up roughly 55% of the population and given that they come from a bunch of different places, English is the common tongue as the result of the British Empire having once claimed Kuwait and India, where most of the laborers come from.

While am I sure that there are fools out there who think I pissed on the Koran the truth is that he US army makes it clear that we are guests and that we were to never bring up religion, foreign policy, the female members of their family, or Israel as a topic for discussion. While Japan is thought of having a distinct culture of shame I think the Arabs have them beat here, as even asking for directions can be a pain. It’s not that you won’t get an answer it is that sometimes even the polite locals who will answer will not always give you the right answer as there is more shame in not knowing than giving wrong directions.

When you see it…you’ll shit bricks.

I am not sure whether or not the Kuwaitis care about prices since they pay a hefty mark up for just about all their electronics as running the math with regards to the Kuwaiti Dinar worth roughly $3.50 USD their prices are outrageous. I guess that is why there were plenty of Kuwaitis using the Exchange despite it being for military personnel only. Even if it is breaking the letter of the rules I think it is good policy to let the Kuwaitis use the exchange since they pay out the ass for electronics anyways. Oh and judging from my experience the three top things are video game systems, iPods, and supplements. I wonder though if the cultural curiosity cuts both ways as it seems that the Kuwaitis seemed to think us odd for not liking volley ball and the French.

While I am not as good as an ambassador as Warera, Loli, and Conda I think that I can empathize a little more with how the Zentrans saw the miclones when first contact was made. Though I am not about to demand integration nor am I making plans to emigrate to Kuwait or any part of the Middle East. I did get a good case of LOL GUNDAM when thinking about how way off the mark Gundam 00 was and how offensive Gundam Wing might have seemed to them had they heard of it. Still good thing for Japan the people there are more aware of Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon than Gundam. Also my little misadventure gave me new appreciation for just how AWESOMELY BAD Rambo 3 and True Lies were, and yes I did watch those after the death of my laptop in theater. If there is anything that creates commonality between all the people here it would have to probably be the World Cup because there was like one or two people cheering for Argentina and just about everyone else laughing about how they were shut out for elimination.

Contrary to What Gundam would want you to believe the Middle East isn’t just all Pipelines…

I wish we had more of these in every mall…

Oh look local cuisine I wonder what they call it…

Now in halal…

If you thought the PS3 prices were outrageous at launch you should see their prices here…

Zeus was kind enough to let us stay a while in the land of beer after being in the land of no beer, no 4chan, and no fun. If only the command were as kind…

I was so glad hey had them in Zentradi sizes.

This entry was posted in Editorials, Field Reporting, Kampfgruppen of Shame, Macross Frontier. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Kherubim
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Nice pictures, there (especially the steins, R&R in Ramstein???)…

    Seeing how in my part of the world we have many different races living within the same city, I seriously wonder how people from the old countries can assimilate into our culture, in many cases, they do not and it’s becoming a hot potato of a political topic here. Body language and method of expression wise there are still differences, and as you mentioned, can be taken the wrong way… As for the hierarchial system and how the natives treat Asians (either of same faith or otherwise, and whether in the same country or overseas) I reserve my own opinions…

    Did any of the locals mooch stuff off you or your teammates, and were any of them like “Meesh” from GK???

    • Crusader
      Posted September 7, 2010 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

      No the layover was at a civilian airport but the place had a special holding cell for the likes of us where they could keep us away from the beer… them damn no good officers. The Kuwaitis solved the immigration problem by heavily restricting it to those who can find a Kuwaiti sponsor and provide proof of a working contract. At least that is how it works in theory and so long as the foreigners keep relatively quite about religion they are free to go about their business.

      The Kuwaitis are friendly enough but you do see how the different groups treat each other, at least there was no fisticuffs or at least I didn’t see any fist fights.

      We were largely confined to base and out side most of the people had work or if they were Kuwaiti were rich enough to not work much at all. Still the Kuwaiti military and to a lesser extent the US Army has a bunch of ex-military Third Country Nationals working for them. The ones who work for the Kuwaitis were mostly ex-Pakistani military and we got along fine since we make trades all the time, the US Army gives out pallets upon pallets of water, Gatorade, and energy drinks for free and we didn’t feel stingy when the Pakistanis came to ask for drinks, usually we just told them to take a case or two and go on their merry way since they were kind enough to let us use their motor pool from time to time as well as they weren’t using their vehicles day in and day out like we were.

      The US military has a box a day program where various groups send us care packages, and as far as I can tell we took chocolate for granted while the TCNs thought the stuff was darn near gold. I guess that chocolate is still a luxury in parts of the world even if it is the stuff made from bees wax. The only time Kuwaitis were bumming stuff off us was when they ran out of drinks at the ECP, I suppose they like to drink finer stuff and hated the dreaded square bottle mineral water as much as we did. Still everyone loves chocolate even Kuwaitis.

  2. Posted September 7, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Pretty interesting stuff man. I’m very very wary of representations of culture from the perspective of an outsider, and I have very little expectations from the Japanese to write geopolitical/cultural material. I instinctively feel that to expect much is a recipe for disappointment. This is not to say I’m lenient on Hollywood. I spent much of my (former) academic career operating within the post-colonial discourse so I am quite aware how butthurt (us) former colonials can be when we see others (usually the West) is DOIN IT WRNG.

    What you said about being a visitor interested in culture but having no desire for integration is interesting too. This is in light of the immigrant masses that go to the United States but are selective about the aspects of integration they pursue. This is because while on paper the US is permissive and respectful of cultural (and religious) differences, in practice there is much passive, and even overt hostility towards what is perceived to be foreign, and/or Other.

    Back during the presidential campaign here in ’04 I became fast friends with a devout and kind Muslim named Omar Ali, whom I learned tons about their faith and their love. That said, I learned from him that there is sectoral and ethnic/tribal plurality among them, which does involve varying degrees of fundamentalism and radicalism (and hostility); much like our Christian poly-culture.

    I can make no learned or wise comment on coexistence or harmony. I only appeal to the commonality of being human, that there is merit in being interested in people so seemingly different from ourselves but are really part of us anyway.

    • Crusader
      Posted September 8, 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink

      Hollywood is an easy target because their films make it to the far corners of the world, cinema in general is pretty bad when it comes to the others I think since I get to be the bad guy in some of them.

      Cultural norms from the old country tend to die hard even in newly adopted countries, what one may believe to be looking out for family can be seen as nepotism by another. The Kuwaitis value long term trade relationships and the practice can easily grate with places where doing business fairly is the ideal. While there are groups that think revenge and grudges to be petty, the Kuwaitis can hold some mighty grudges if they feel betrayed, some of them still can’t forgive the Palestinians and Yemenis for siding with Saddam in Gulf War 1 and almost to a man still hate the Iraqis and generally refuse to give charity to them. Conversely the Iraqis seem to hate the Kuwaitis universally more than they hate Americans in some instances.

      One of the things they teach us in Islam class was that local culture always trumps Islamic values hence what applies in Arab culture does not work with the Afghan groups.

      As for all of us being human the trick is to keep that in mind when we meet people who have a different cultural mindset. It’s easy to dehumanize and find faults with the ‘other’. In that regard I am still confused about how Arab women deal with wearing black all the time, we were told never to talk to women so they were probably the most mysterious group to me. Some did not bother with any covering at all, some followed the letter of their guidelines but had tighter fitting ones, others stayed traditional, not too many full face veils but still all black in a desert can’t be that comfortable. Moreover how can they reconcile having lingerie shops in public view? They are an interesting folk to be sure sadly academia has hated the Pentagon for sometime and there is a lack of educated people willing to help us learn more about the locals for fear of helping colonialism…

      • Posted September 8, 2010 at 2:36 am | Permalink

        Yes here the Muslim women vary widely with their choice of head/face wear, even within/among the three major tribes/ethnic groups (Maranaw, Tausug, Badjao).

        Academia, afraid?

        [Insert Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear]

        • Crusader
          Posted September 8, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          I guess it’s not just he Arabs then though I hear that the Saudis are much more austere than the rest.

          If only Dune were more widely read…

          • Posted September 8, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

            When I was in Malaysia, my then ex-pat friend there told me Saudis were like rockstars over there!

          • Crusader
            Posted September 8, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

            Well as far as I can tell because he Saudis hold two holy sites they have a lot more clout within the Islamic community, as for being like rock stars I think not. Certainly it seems that the Saudis disseminate a lot more religious advice than most and the Saudi Royal Family is keen on promoting a more austere interpretation of Islam than the rest. I bet things are quite different in Iran however…

          • Kherubim
            Posted September 8, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

            @ghostlightning: It’s another form of colonialism… just like how “Mighty Whitey” is perceived in my country (yes, even the Whisky Tangos and Echo Tangos)…

          • Ryan
            Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:33 am | Permalink

            from what I remember a lot of the auestere traditionalism experienced a rebirth in the past couple of decades and was dying out only decades ago.

  3. vucubcaquix
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Glad you’re back safe and (mostly) sound. My sister’s husband was just promoted to Sergeant and is about to be sent off to his third tour at Iraq. He was last in Basra.

    Have you ever seen Lawrence of Arabia? It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, and I do remember that some scenes regarding the Bedouins are definitely a product of their times sensitivity-wise (it also suffers from a pretty bad case of Mighty Whitey despite being Truth in Television), but it also mused interestingly on the idea of forcing modernization on a people who’ve been nomadic for thousands of years, and the possible implications of it.

    • Crusader
      Posted September 8, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink

      Ah the magical time of being an E-5 I hope brother-in-law is going to stay safe and out of trouble.

      Arab culture and to a degree the Bedouins like to socialize a long time before making decisions, in a way it is kind of Entish of them ala Lord of the Rings. I suppose that from their view we Americans are always in a rush trying to do too many things in a day. The Kuwaitis at least have adapted to the modern world better than most they are very good businessmen and I have seen them talking to many different peoples for social/business gatherings. One family that was nice enough to host servicemen as regular guests seemed to take a good liking to Apple products, even going as far as getting iPads and iPhone 4s which probably came with a hefty mark up. Elsewhere cellphones have taken over and are fairly common place in places we have had boots on the ground.

      Still not every group had the benefit of being skilled merchants before the age of colonialism, but at least a few individuals made out okay with better pay in Kuwait than what they could get at home. I can see from the state of Pakistan why there were plenty of happy ex Pakistani Military in Kuwait. The thing about modernization is that you either do it or try and find an accommodating great power to back you. Nevertheless societies that made it into modernity on their own have gotten past most of the growing pains, for the rest they are still dealing with the worst of it and we should not be surprised if they do not enter the modern age in the same manner in the West.

      As for Mighty Whitey the locals were use to the hot humid weather, while each new group rotating in is trying to hide in air conditioned spaces and hogging swamp coolers. I wonder how humorous the locals find us silly Americans with our heavy kits and body armor while seemingly tethered to our much prized AC units.

    • Ryan
      Posted March 20, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      in that movie just about everyone came across badly. the british and whites are portrayed as racist facistic bastards who don’t care who they screwed over as long as they got what they wanted

  4. Posted September 7, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Nice to see that arcades are alive somewhere other than Japan/East Asia.

    • Crusader
      Posted September 8, 2010 at 12:25 am | Permalink

      The thing is that they were mostly for younger children, most of the adults still preferred some game with checkers and pool sticks that originated in India. There was a social aspect to the latter that is generally absent in the former, though with the spike in console sales by Kuwaiti servicemen I wonder if the nature of entertainment will change with succeeding generations. Maybe the Wii will be what the Atari 2600 was to some of us in the States.

      • Posted September 8, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

        Interesting, I have heard that there are places in Kuwait that actually have proper arcade games and that there’s even a proper fighting game community in the region. Might have not just been the right arcade.

        • Crusader
          Posted September 8, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

          Probably the place seemed to be targeting little kids I bet the adults don’t play in malls much.

  5. Mel
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    It’s good to see you back safe and sound.
    I don’t think, they have German police/ BGS (Bundesgrenzschutz) in Rammstein ^_^, so it looks like Frankfurt Airport.

    I had to write a short introduction to Germany some days ago here: if you want to know a bit more about Germany than just beer … we have sausages and bread too ^^.

    • Crusader
      Posted September 8, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      I think it was Frankfurt it was an unscheduled stop added on at the last minute. They did give us tasty bread and sausages but the denial of beer brought no shortage of complaints.

      Speaking of punctuality the Arabs seem to be your polar opposites, that and the deal with trash.

      • Mel
        Posted September 9, 2010 at 3:17 am | Permalink

        The funny thing is: they try to stick with our deadlines, because they know, we are Germans. I get a mass of emails by them as the technical admin and they are really scared of ignoring one of our rules.
        Well, when I was a kid and 10 mins too late in the evening, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house the next afternoon (the same with 3x 5 mins too late).
        And you ought to take care of your own things, which include trash.

        :D my brother is staying in Bavaria right now for a job and he is drinking through all the dark beer there. Apparently he transports some bottles back home to his friends too.

  6. Magnus
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 4:27 am | Permalink

    Wait, you did make a stop in Germany? Oh, well, unless it was in Hamburg there was little chance of meeting at all. :p

    • Crusader
      Posted September 8, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Yeah we made a stop for about two three hours they locked us up and would not let us out into Germany proper…them damn officers. If only they let us have a day or too you know for how they mistreated us for most of the deployment.

  7. Posted September 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Great post.
    I have only been to the Kuwait airport, so, I can’t talk about their culture, but I lived in Qatar for about 5 years. I would love to agree/disagree with your observations, but unfortunately, I didn’t really deal a great deal with Arabian adults. I spent most of my time going to school with Arabian children ( I was there from like grade 5 to 9 ish). So, I shall talk about what I know of their culture from the kids.
    You know how getting the latest gizmo gets kids popular in elementary school? This phenomenon happens in Qatar, but it is far more exaggerated there. You could be ugliest nerd in school, but if you got your hands on the newest cell phone, or if you were dropped of in a Lamborghini, come home time, you would surrounded by your peers. Unfortunately this popularity would last at most a week, until a newer cell phone came out, at which point the cycle would repeat. The Qatari rich (especially those related to the Emir), would change cellphones on a VERY frequent basis. I would love to mock them on their blind love, but frankly speaking, I got brainwashed into loving phones to, and as such I would often be one of the people ganging up to get a look on the phone. Luckily, this obsession for the most part cured itself, when I came to Canada.
    The Qatari’s also liked to stick together, they would form groups ( large ones), with other Qatari’s, and in a way shunned a good deal of foreigners ,especially non-arab ones, but not the Europeans/Americans(white people are pretty well liked). This shunning often came in the form of bullying, and even though I tasted some bullying in my earlier ears, looking back, I can’t exactly blame them. The Qatari’s were vastly outnumbered by foreigners, and many foreigners were only there on contracts for manual labor. Although it is present in most regions, disdain towards lower end jobs (cleaners, maids, construction workers, etc…) was quite common there. There were some horrible stories about how maids/servants “imported” from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines were treated. Unfortunately, I am still not totally sure about why the adults disliked the lower end jobs, that no one could live without, but I’m most certain, the children only felt that way, because to a certain extent, they were thought that way. Looking back on it, I think a lot of those kids had self-esteem issues, they had pride, way too much pride, but I think the pride was just a substitute for self-confidence. In anime, you know how rich people are arogant, and as such abuse the main character, but in many cases, the cause of the arrogance just turns out to be busy parents. It was a bit like that in Qatar, but I think a lot of parents had a good deal of free time, but choose to spend very little of it with their children. Why raise your kids, when you can just hire a bunch of nannies to do the job for you, why drop them at school, when you can just hire a driver to do it. I almost never saw rich children being picked by parents (especially fathers), it was almost always a driver, or a driver+maid combo, and in some cases a driver+mother combo. Adding to the somewhat parental neglect, and general spoiling were the expectations parents had. Perhaps it is because nomadic tribes needed to have pride, or because their culture is still a bit confused, but the children had to be perfect in their behavior around other rich kids. The children had to walk tall, talk with pride, and showcase the full power of their family background. In other words, high, high social expectations. Unlike Chine and India, these social expectations weren’t really about having good grades, but influence and positive impression. I think it’s very difficult to not end up being an elitist snob, when everyone is trying to raise you into one.
    I’m sorry, if I dragged on too long with this horrible worded, bias comment. I have been out of the middle east for about 5 years now, so, I do not know of the changes that may have taken place during that time. The middle-east is a great place to visit, shopping is a lot of fun ( the prices are probably high, but I don’t remember, because I made my parents buy everything), and the buildings are great to look at. I personally don’t think the middle-east is a great place to live/work, especially if you aren’t of American/European origin, and even then, living there isn’t the most pleasant experience, unless you have a ton of money, in which case it could be fun, I suppose.

    • Crusader
      Posted September 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Admittedly Arabs can seem more ostentatious than most other groups but a lot of them have attained a degree of wealth unimaginable for most of us, and for generations they were nomads who often displayed largess and wealth to show how powerful their group was. Things haven’t changed though the amount of money they can display has increased. I did not see too many unattended children most Kuwaiti women with kids often had a nanny as a helper and they were easy enough to spot. I can’t vouch for the children but Arab men and Kuwait men in particular do not really talk of family even when they did they were more likely to speak of brothers, fathers, and uncles than kids.

      I remember the days when there was that kid in the play ground with his Game Gear when the rest of us had Gameboys so yeah there was a school yard hierarchy though the Game Gear Kid was hated on as much as he was he drew a crowd.

      As for unclean work they still hold a strong bias against using the left hand for any thing, the Kuwaitis have learned to be more understanding of the Americans but I think that they are the minority in the Arab community since we did a lot for them in Gulf War I they haven’t forgotten but even so with Iraq not being a clear and present danger they don’t see the need for so many bases, at least in that regard the Pentagon seems to agree. Education wise most Kuwaitis send their kids abroad and if their English is any indication they aren’t that many slackers when it comes to education. Having a scholar or a doctor in the family is a matter for prestige for them. Even if their other skills are middling they do take business seriously even if they hold to the slow decision making process they have kept for generations, social pageantry and all.

      I am not sure how much has changed in five years but I don’t think much change has occurred since they aren’t really in a rush.

  8. theCorpsCommander
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    the Middle East is a boring place, IMO.
    have you been stationed in Okinawa before?

    • Crusader
      Posted September 8, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      I wish I could be stationed there but not anytime soon since the active components have all shut their doors during these lean times. At least in Okinawa one can hope that one is not beholden to the vagaries of Satellite Internet.

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