How to win over the locals in eastern Iraq? Eat with them.
It is not always easy for foreign workers on Iraq’s many oil fields to integrate with the locals. For example, many locals in Wasit were well aware of a recent incident in Basra which saw a South Korean firm, Daewoo, forced to enter into a process of tribal justice after one of their employers beat up an Iraqi staff member. The firm ended up paying the injured man US$7,000 and giving him two months’ paid leave.
“The Chinese people understand and respect other cultures,” says Ali al-Moussawi, an Iraqi working on the Ahdab oil field in Wasit who works closely with the Chinese there; the Ahdab field is run by the China National Petroleum Corp. “They have a good attitude, unlike some of the other foreigners who came here after 2003.”
Al-Moussawi and other locals often comment on how the Chinese in their midst behave during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which time the religious fast during the day. The Chinese stop drinking alcohol in public during the month and one translator on the Ahdab field told NIQASH that some of his Chinese colleagues don’t even drink water in front of the Iraqi staff who are fasting.
“The Chinese and the Russians here enjoy certain of our community traditions,” the translator, who wished to be known only as Abu Ahmad, said. “They like going to our weddings and funerals and they respect our customs.”
Hisham Salam, a waiter in a local restaurant specializing in Chinese food says that sometimes the foreigners even seek out Iraqi kebabs. “Every now and then they venture out to ordinary people’s restaurants in the city,” Salam marvelled.
“When they walk around our more crowded areas, they wear modest clothing and they respect the rules,” he added.
The Russians and the Chinese are keen to be friends in the cities they work, al-Moussawi says. “And the Iraqis living here really appreciate that.”