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Expat - chapter 1 (1,152 words)

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Old 07-13-2006, 06:16 AM
gary_wagner
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Expat - chapter 1 (1,152 words)


A jet flew high above Yousef Kaleeja as he laid in the rapidly cooled air of the Arabian desert. When the faint sound reached his ears, he quickly aroused from his pre-sleep drowsiness and listened closely to discern if it was just another civilian airliner or if the sound might be from an approaching enemy jet. Sitting up, he buttoned the shirt of his uniform, and pulled a dark green, scratchy, wool blanket around his shoulders to keep warm in the chilly nighttime air. Holding his breath, he closed his eyes in concentration and listened to the fading sound. Relief, with a dash of disappointment flooded over him. “Not yet, but soon, inshallah.” he breathed quietly to himself as he brushed the sand off his woven reed mat, laid down beside his rifle, and drifted off to sleep.

Three months ago, Yousef completed high school and searched in vain for employment. Dirt poor, his family didn't have enough money to pay for an apprenticeship or to bribe an employer to give him a job. Unable to afford to live on his own, he remained with his parents, three younger brothers, and two younger sisters in their tiny, two bedroom apartment located in the worst of the slums of Baghdad. His father left home each morning in the pre-dawn darkness and returned as the sun was setting and the call to Isha prayer was being blasted from loudspeakers on the minarets of the neighborhood mosque six days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Even with the long hours and the back-breaking work in the brick factory, he barely brought home enough money each week to feed his young children, keep a roof over their heads, and clothes on their backs.

When government agencies discovered that Yousef, now eighteen years old, was unemployed, the Iraqi army was notified and he was ordered to serve for four years. Army assignment was used by the Iraqi government as a place to put young men who couldn’t find any gainful employment on their own. It was dreaded by the Iraqi lower class because it had become the lowest rung on the welfare ladder. Not his family, his relatives, or anyone he knew had enough money for the standard bribe that would keep him out. Needless to say, they also didn’t have the larger bribe that would have placed Yousef in the highly respected, well-funded, well-treated, and well-fed Republican Guard. He would either serve in the regular army or be shot. The first option was only marginally better.

Rail thin, living on barely enough food to keep him alive, Yousef managed to survive his grueling boot camp training. Not all of the men who began the training with him could make that claim. Two died when a cheaply made and poorly maintained climbing wall collapsed while they were climbing it. Three others were tracked down and executed for leaving the camp and attempting to cross into Syria in a desperate attempt to desert the army.

Just a week following the assignment to a permanent unit, the order to mobilize caught them by surprise. He was issued a battle scarred Soviet Kalashnikov - manufactured years before he was born, loaded into a transport truck, and taken three hours across the stifling hot desert and dumped in the middle of nowhere.
His unit had almost no equipment or supplies. Since they had no tents, they dug holes in the sand and arranged a threadbare blanket over the top in an attempt to make some shelter. Their food, rice and beans with an occasional boiled chicken thrown in, was delivered to them twice a day in a truck. Their first three days there, they didn’t know where they were, why they were there, or what they were supposed to do. They spent their days attempting to find relief from the blazing sun, cloudless skies, and 125 degree temperature. They spent their nights under blankets trying to keep warm when the dry desert air quickly cooled to 60 degrees.

On the fourth day an officer finally came to their encampment to explain the situation and give them their orders. He told them that they were at the Kuwait border because Israel was threatening an invasion of their Arab neighbors.

The officer lied. The truth was that Iraq was planning to invade and claim the Kuwaiti land, wealth and oil as its own. The command of the Iraqi military decided to tell its soldiers the lie about Israel instead of the truth because they knew the troops would fight harder if they thought they were fighting the fiercely hated Jews instead of the Kuwaitis.

Yousef held Kuwaitis in contempt because of their arrogant displays of wealth and their attitude of being the most elite of all the Arab nations. That contempt was overshadowed by his intense hatred of Israel. He had just completed 12 years of school where almost daily it was drilled into him that Israel was a violent aggressive nation whose ultimate goal was total annihilation of all Arabs and Zionist expansion throughout the entire Arab peninsula. Despite his dislike of the Kuwaitis, he was willing, ready, and energized to fight to his death to protect them from Israel. After all, they might be arrogant but they were fellow 'Arab brothers'.

Yousef’s eyes closed, shutting out the millions of stars twinkling overhead in the clear desert sky. He dreamed of being home, sharing his sawdust filled mattress with three of his squirmy, bath-deprived brothers. His body writhed as his blissful slumber turned to nightmare. He was transported from his woven mat in the sand to his bed at home. Trapped in that bed, his blankets became ropes with his brothers holding him down with them. As he watched helplessly, the front door of the house burst open and Israeli soldiers burst through. Their faces were human at first glance, but as Yousef lay paralyzed by fear on his bed, they twisted into terrifying contorted masks of horror. Their hands were transformed into massive razor edged claws.

The monsters moved toward his mother sitting in a chair. She didn’t seem to notice them. Yousef desperately tried to call to her, to warn her to get up and run. His mouth wouldn't open. He couldn't make a sound. As he watched, one of the creatures snapped her head off with a quick slash of his taloned claw. Yousef tried to turn his head away, but it too, like his jaws, was frozen in place. His eyes would not shut. He couldn't stop himself from watching the monster bend down to feed at the headless torso of what remained of his mother. He tried again to scream. With tremendous effort, he forced his mouth open. A small sound began in his throat. He concentrated and intensified the sound.

Yousef awoke on his mat, drenched in perspiration and screaming in terror.


Last edited by gary_wagner; 07-30-2006 at 04:28 PM..
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Old 07-13-2006, 07:15 AM
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Army assignment was dreaded by the Iraqi lower class because it had become the lowest rung in the ever descending welfare ladder.
This should be hyphenated.

well funded, well treated, and well fed
These should all be hyphenated as well.

Since they had no tents, they dug holes in the sand and arranged a thread-bare blanket over the top in an attempt to make some shelter.
"Threadbare" is one word.

He lied. (New paragraph) The truth was that Iraq was planning to invade and claim the Kuwaiti land, wealth and oil as its own. The command of the Iraqi military decided to tell its soldiers the lie about Israel instead of the truth because they knew the troops would fight harder if they thought they were fighting the fiercely hated Jews instead of the Kuwaitis.
You should begin a new paragraph here in order to let the reader know that Yousef is not aware of the lie. When I first read this, it sounded like Yousef knew this already, but in subsequent paragraphs that is not the case.

Their faces were human at first glance, but as Yousef lay paralyzed by fear on his bed, they twisted into terrifying contorted masks of inhuman horror.
The repeated use of 'human' makes this sentence sound odd. You could omit the word 'inhuman' and the sentence would flow nicely.

Overview:

This was a very enjoyable read. It is refreshing to see a story written using an excellent source of subject matter that, in my opinion, doesn't get enough attention. That's not even mentioning the fact that it starts out by telling it from the "other side."

I am definitely interested in seeing where this goes. I seem to remember seeing part of this story posted on another forum, and if I recall it gets quite good. Looking forward to it.

Last edited by Zermonth; 07-13-2006 at 07:20 AM..
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Old 07-13-2006, 07:51 AM
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Thanks, Zermonth. I made the edits you suggested. This is the beginning of a side-thread of following Yousef through the course of the buildup and first few days of the war while the main story actually begins in the next chapter centered on an American expatriate trapped in place during that time.
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Old 07-14-2006, 02:02 PM
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Army assignment was dreaded by the Iraqi lower class because it had become the lowest rung in the ever-descending welfare ladder.
I'm not sure why, but this sentence jumped at me. It seems to wander a bit before landing its point--maybe you could revise or break it into two sentences?

The first option was only marginally better than the latter.
'than the latter' seems redundant. If there are only two options and the first one is marginally better, you don't have to remind the reader of the latter.

Rail thin, living on barely enough food to keep him alive for his entire life,
This sentence is fine until 'for his entire life.' It doesn't make sense. If you don't want to drop that part, you need to change 'living'. Perhaps: 'Rail thin and having lived his entire life on barely enough food...' I also don't think the use of 'life' twice in the same sentence works very well--it interrupts the flow of the sentence.

Yousef held Kuwaitis in contempt because of their arrogant displays of wealth and their attitude of being the most elite of all the Arab nations but this contempt was overshadowed by his intense hatred of Israel.
This is a run-on sentence. Consider revising.

Yousef’s eyes closed, shutting out the millions of stars twinkling overhead in the clear desert sky. He dreamed of being home, sharing his sawdust filled mattress with three of his squirmy, bath-deprived brothers.
I loved these two sentences.

He couldn't stop himself from watching the monster bend down to feed at the headless torso of what had once been his mother.
'What had once been his mother' should change. Technically, though she's headless, she's still his mother; unless you wrote it specifically this way because she's a 'dream-mother'.

I enjoyed reading this. An original point of view, realistic writing and a character you can feel for, though you aren't sure if you should. My favorite writing are those based at least somewhat in reality. Again, I very much enjoyed your writing. Are you a veteran by any chance? Keep it coming!
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Old 07-14-2006, 03:42 PM
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Thanks for the review and comments. I'll look them over closer when I have a little more time. I was in the army for a couple of months back in 1975 but got sick and received a medical discharge before I could officially be classified as a veteran (which happens at 90 days - I was in for 71 days). I was in Saudi Arabia during desert shield/storm as a civilian working for a steel company and spent a lot of time with the American troops when they came in (my brother-in-law was in the marines at that time and ended up stationed about 10 miles from where I lived). I use of lot of the first hand knowledge of the country, the culture, and the military I picked up while there.

Thanks again.

07/17/06: Revision - made some fixes to the chapter.

Last edited by gary_wagner; 07-17-2006 at 08:45 AM..
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Old 07-20-2006, 04:14 AM
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Just found this – didn’t occur to me to look before… so here goes…

‘Dirt poor, neither he nor his family had enough money to…’ – I don’t think there’s any need to mention both him and his family here – if you put something along the lines of ‘His family could never have afforded to…’, I for one would take it that he was included there.

‘with his parents, four younger brothers, and five younger sisters’ – 10 kids? Is that realistic? I mean, that’s actually a question because I’ve never been out there. But it just seems unlikely to me that a women suffering from undernourishment and living in harsh conditions would have the continuing strength and fertility to give birth to 10 children. And that's even without assuming that she would probably have tried to avoid getting pregnant after the first few. Again, apologies if I’m being naïve.

‘the lowest rung in the ever-descending welfare ladder.’ – ‘ever-descending’ might be unnecessary – it kind of goes without saying that a ladder descends towards the lowest rung.

‘The officer lied. etc...' – it’s just this sort of informative paragraph that gives the story life – showing the reader some of the background and reasoning behind what’s going on enables them to feel more involved in the story. Good work!
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Old 07-20-2006, 04:38 AM
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OK, this can't count towards my "score" of providing a critique of others' works, as I don't have any pointers to add. I do agree with the points those who came before me made, though.

I did just want to comment to say that I enjoyed this piece. I might not normally think to pick up and look at something like this, but a forum like this makes it more likely that I will, since I'm actively hunting things down to review and pass comment on.

I'll read some of the other parts of this you have uploaded. I just wanted to start from the beginning.

Sorry I can't be more helpful though.

Ah-ha, wait a sec. I found a typo at least! I can help out a tad:

and the call to Isha prayer was being blasted from loudspeakers on from the minarets of the neighborhood mosque
Cheers,
James

Last edited by Jimbo; 07-20-2006 at 05:19 AM..
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Old 07-20-2006, 06:19 AM
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Thanks, lucyj. My comments are in red below.
Originally Posted by lucyj
Just found this – didn’t occur to me to look before… so here goes…
Originally Posted by lucyj

‘Dirt poor, neither he nor his family had enough money to…’ – I don’t think there’s any need to mention both him and his family here – if you put something along the lines of ‘His family could never have afforded to…’, I for one would take it that he was included there.
Good point. I'll fix it

‘with his parents, four younger brothers, and five younger sisters’ – 10 kids? Is that realistic? I mean, that’s actually a question because I’ve never been out there. But it just seems unlikely to me that a women suffering from undernourishment and living in harsh conditions would have the continuing strength and fertility to give birth to 10 children. And that's even without assuming that she would probably have tried to avoid getting pregnant after the first few. Again, apologies if I’m being naïve.
Ten children might not be the average but it is not at all unusual. Most sects of Islam forbid any type of birth control. Culturally, a man's worth and virility in the Arab society is judged by how many boys he can father (the girls are considered mistakes). It would probably be a little unusual for all ten children to still be alive since the mortality rate is high among children there. I could back down a little on the number of children here if it would make it more believable to a western audience.

‘the lowest rung in the ever-descending welfare ladder.’ – ‘ever-descending’ might be unnecessary – it kind of goes without saying that a ladder descends towards the lowest rung.
I can pull ever-descending out of there if it would make it more clear.

‘The officer lied. etc...' – it’s just this sort of informative paragraph that gives the story life – showing the reader some of the background and reasoning behind what’s going on enables them to feel more involved in the story. Good work!


Thanks again for the comment and edit help.
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Old 07-20-2006, 06:27 AM
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Thanks, jimbo. I don't necessarily agree with some of the other people who think that you should not post a comment on something you read here unless you offer a suggestion for a change or a correction. I appreciate your grammar problem discovery and have fixed it. Thanks again.
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Old 07-20-2006, 06:55 AM
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'I could back down a little on the number of children here if it would make it more believable to a western audience.' - it would, in my opinion - 7 or 8 would easily sound credible, yet still give the impression of there being many mouths to feed. I think once you go into double figures of surviving children, people (like me) who aren't that familiar with different societies might be sceptical.
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Old 07-20-2006, 08:12 AM
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I went with 4 boys and 2 girls instead of 5 and 5.
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Old 07-30-2006, 02:43 PM
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Glad I decided to start at the beginning...
This is a good read, interesting, well written and atmospheric... I could almost felt the sand between my toes...
One little thing:
A jet flew high above Yousef Kaleeja as he laid in the rapidly cooled desert air of the Arabian desert.
I feel this sentence would flow better if you took out the first desert...

Will definitively be reading the rest - what to know what happens...
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Old 07-30-2006, 04:29 PM
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Thanks, Joëlle. I must have missed the double desert think when I edited that line. I fixed it. Glad you want to read more.
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