Houston, Texas – December 2015
Could first impressions be worse?
There they were, four of them talking so loudly to each other that they were almost yelling. Their Cajun accents were so strong that they would have better fit in a cartoon. Their voices drowned out the conversations in the seats next to them. Two of them had the lower lip and gum decay that only a lifetime of chewing tobacco can inflict on someone, and they all wore amazingly greasy hair. Despite the frigid December weather, they boarded the plane in sleeveless shirts and ripped jeans. Did I mention that they were loud?
My mind was set.
I fortunately sat far enough away that their voices faded out after 30 minutes and I slept deeply.
I was awakened to an intercom announcement: “We are now making our final descent into Istanbul, please turn off all electronics and return your seat to the upright position.”
“Idunmind if they speak Turkush here, suhlonguz everone understanz English too!,” cackled my Cajun friend. It had to have been a joke. Nobody that leaves their own country really thinks like that. But nobody else was laughing. Not even the others in his group.
We ended up standing next to each other for 20 minutes while waiting to deplane. Luck brought us together, I thought. Bad luck. Then I talked to them.
“What brings you to Turkey,” I asked. A standard question while trying to be polite as you wait, but I was truly curious with them. They didn’t seem to fit into any of the typical cliches that I remembered coming to Turkey: the backpacker who wants to discover his/herself, the vacationer who wants to see ancient sites, the western Muslim who is using this as a stopover before entering the holy lands. They struck me as the types who might even despise people from those three groups.
“This is just a stopover for us.,” he replied as he reached into the overhead compartment and grabbed his camouflage bag. “We’ll be in Erbil tomorrow.”
“Ok… what brings you to Kurdistan? It’s a pretty poor vacation spot at the moment.”
He let out a big laugh and told me that he would be teaching English there with his team. “We heard about Peshmerga fighting off Saddam, Iran, and ISIS and wanted to help in any way we could. Not that they need us!,” he laughed again, “but at a minimum we can help at the schools and with small reconstruction projects since they’re short on money and their men are fighting the terrorists. This is our fifth time out here, we were just back in America to spend Thanksgiving with our families.”
I immediately felt guilty for judging them. Yeah, insults based on racial or cultural stereotypes are perfectly acceptable when they are aimed at cisgendered white American men due to the standards formulated by college professors who hide behind tenure as they create an echo chamber by peer reviewing and approving only the research of other groupthinkers, but I still felt like it was kind of mean to dismiss them as simple rednecks.