Fighting ISIS Over Cups of Tea
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - A small group of Soldiers from the Army Reserve 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Indianapolis, and the 82nd Sustainment Brigade Fort Bragg, N.C. are currently serving as a logistical advise and assist team at Camp Taji, Iraq, to help Iraqi Security Forces sustain their war fighters as they push forward in their fight against ISIL. They accomplish this mission by drinking a lot of coffee and tea (chai).
Iraqi culture is deeply rooted in Arabic customs and courtesies. One custom among almost all Arabic countries is to be generous with guests by offering them coffee and chai to drink.
“In almost every home in Iraq there is always a pot of chai on stove,” explained Cathy, a native Iraqi interpreter working with U.S. troops. “Even if it is hot outside, we still drink hot chai every day.”
“You don’t have to ask for something to drink,” Sam and Nicki, also interpreters, interrupted. “We are a generous people. We are generous to our guests.”
Almost every meeting between the 310th A&A team and Iraqi military officials begins with coffee. A pot of thick black coffee is brought in with two small cups and the guests in the room are each handed a cup one at a time. If Soldiers are not familiar with Iraqi culture, they may end up drinking more coffee than they intended.
“I didn't know their customs and when I handed the empty cup back, they filled it up again and handed it back to me,” laughed Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christina Winfield, Supply Systems Technician. “Then I was taught you have to shake the cup back and forth to signal that you have had enough.”
Sharing coffee is very symbolic within the Iraqi culture. The cups are poured and handed to the right of the officer in charge. After it goes around the room, the officer is the last to drink. The cups are shared, so it shows trust to drink from everyone else’s cup.
“I look forward to seeing the Camp Taji Garrison Commander because he is very much into customs and courtesies,” Col. Michael Midkiff, the 310th A&A Commander, said. “Experiencing other cultures helps us grow as individuals and I also like coffee and chai.”
The sharing of coffee and chai is not only for the guests in the office, but is extended to the Soldiers pulling security in the parking lot as well.
“You don’t expect someone to come out to the front yard and wait on you,” said Staff Sgt. Brian McDermott, a tank mechanic pulling security outside the garrison commander’s office. “I don’t see that happening back home.”
A typical meeting may consist of first drinking a thick, oily black coffee followed in a few minutes by steaming hot chai. Later, a creamy caramel like coffee is shared, followed by more chai. If the meeting approaches the lunch hour, guests are often expected to stay and eat.
The 310th A&A team has learned that discussing business takes time in Iraq. Friendship and trust is built first by sharing coffee and chai. Once the trust is established, work can be accomplished.