Sunday, June 26, 2005

Interview: Babu Devkota

This casual interview is the first in a series of interviews I will be doing as time and opportunity permit. As you may have learned from earlier posts, we have privately owned company, KBR, providing us many services here and at other FOBs in Iraq. KBR hires many Americans under contract as well as many people from southern Asia. Most of these Indians, Nepalese, Thai, etc, work in food service.

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure to talk, at length, with my friend Babu. I see him almost every day working in our Dining facility (DFAC) and often take time for short conversations while in line for food. He always struck me as an intelligent and interesting man, always happy to serve us soldiers with a unique pride. This was the first time, though, that we had time to kick back and chat.

At 29 years old, Babu has an interesting history and philosophy on life. Born only 20km from Buddha's birthplace in Nepal, Babu grew up Hindu with strong Buddhist influences. From this philosophical / religious background, it was easy for me to see the source of his view on life. Babu sees people as individuals, and their struggle. He does not see race, nationality, religion, political party, etc. He looks to the problems we all have as humans, in the most basic ways, as motivations and as an opportunity to support the person in need. This is the most fundamental premise of Hinduism and Buddhism, where religious tolerance is not even as much as a thought, because we all are born into the same struggle no matter what our other differences.

I asked Babu his opinion of the War and Islam, what America is doing in Iraq. He did say that it does seem that muslims always wish to fight, but then focused again on the human struggle behind it. He has no big-picture opinion on the War or our purpose here. He is secure in believing that we are doing good for the truly good people in Iraq. He takes care of us soldiers by feeding us so we can take care of our business.

Babu had left Nepal years ago because of rebels that have been trying to overthrow the current government. Apparently, certain factions view the government as illegitimate and ill-gained. These terrorists, as he puts it, had tried to recruit him and his brothers under threats of death. Babu originally left to go work then in Malaysia where he was in charge of the worker's camp. The entire camp was populated by Nepalese and Bangalese workers. Once a fight broke out after some Bangalese men were drinking. The fight turned into a mob scene into which the localauthorities were called. Because Babu was technically in charge of the workers, he ended up spending 7 months in jail getting his water from the toilet, wearing the same set of clothes, and getting little to eat. Shortly after returning home, he started work for KBR (Kellogg, Brown, Root) which brought him to Kuwait for food service. KBR then moved he and his crew to Iraq where he has spent the last 13 months. Babu plans to remain another year, saving money for his family with the hopes of someday being able to move to America. His brothers and sister are already their with their families. He knows little of America except for the idea that if he can get there, works hard, he will succeed and his family will be happy and safe.

Though Babu wanted me to not write about what KBR pays him, I will say that by our standards it is low and in no way even on the same scale as the American that hands out towels in the gym. He does not complain, always maintaining the smile of his face because he knows God will provide for him.

He told me many stories of his home where they don't even bother with cash. His family has many fields with fruits and vegetables, so do the other towns people. They share with each other and extend that hospitality to anyone in need. He spoke of many temples and the beauty of the Himalayas. His family remains there, waiting for him to return hopefully with enough money saved to immigrate. Babu has been married for 9 years to his wife Arina. They have 2 children; a daughter, Biddhya, age 8, and a son, Bishal, age 5. Babu will be away from them for more than 2 years.

Babu represents to me several things. First, he represents the third party cultures that either benefit or exploited by the business of war (depending on your perspective). He also represents to me the truly peaceful religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. I hate to label them simply as religions because we tend to trivialize that term. He is an practicing example of the application of those philosophies / cultures; his thoughts, views, answers. I just wish more cultures and people considered these perspectives. He has no sense of 'entitlement', rather he gets what he works for and is happy for the opportunity. Once he is given that fair opportunity, his is eager to make the most of it in striving for his overall goal.

37 Comments:

Blogger SnotSucker said...

Great job! I really enjoyed this piece, very interesting. Keep up the good work!!!!!!!!

16:22  
Blogger mattandriver said...

Yes, keep up the hard work. Hopefully someday, a scout from a major network will find you and you can do this sort of thing for a living. I think that would make you happy!

17:04  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

Very nice. I'm glad you're researching other perspectives. The view of the world from another's eyes can be so enlightening. Excellent reflections.

18:00  
Blogger Dorman said...

One other interesting thing we discussed, was the topic of racism. We didn't overtly discuss it, I didn't ask any direct questions about it. But when he talked about his experiences in Malaysia, I couldn't help but notice how segregated the people remained though they are all quite similar in appearance. In America, we seem to have this big hang up about not referring to someone's color or race or ethnicity, out of fear that we will be labelled as a racist for noticing the differences. With his experiences, 'foreigners' we all treated differently and known by the minute differences. The folks from Bangladesh grouped together as did the Nepalese, etc. Hell, he was even beaten in jail by his captors.

Now, being exposed to them daily, I can tell where these folks are from fairly accurately just by looking. But the differences are slight. My point is that there was no sense of pre-programmed outrage at the idea that he would be treated differently as an outside ethnicity; it was understood because it wasn't his country. Racism happens all over the world in far worse doses than in America. I think we need to realize that and get over it, taking our differences more in stride and giving up the sense of entitlements.

22:30  
Blogger Crystal said...

well, before i get started on your latest post, i just wanted to say that this was really really really interesting. i hope everything works out for him in life. and that you continue to do interviews with others.

but from what you wrote on your interview, i don't know why your main conclusion comes back to an American perception of entitlements. or even how that ties in clearly. Not to mention, his ideal of an entitlement is not that different from what we all expect in the world, despite philosophical/religious beliefs. He just wants the chance to do well, and I think that is all anyone wants.

His opinion on the war was a little confusing. How did he differentiate the war with the individual? And by association, don't you think he sort of has an opinion...or is it just uncontrollable circumstances that placed him in Iraq?

again, awesome idea. im excited about interviews to come

10:57  
Blogger Dorman said...

Look around,American politics are based mostly on special interest groups and beaurocratic issues. 40 acres and a mule is an idea for an entitlement that just won't die, no matter how absurd it is. Social Security provides so much political fodder because of its overblown beaurocracy and the idea that we should be entitled to something from the gov't when we retire. Without the idea of entitlement, it becomes kinda simple to see that if you want money in your old age without the hassle of a gov't involvement....save on your own. 40 acres and a mule? How about puttin' down the crack pipe and get and education + a job instead of trying to get something for free for something that never happened to you from people that didn't even do it to them.
In Babu's country, you have what you have, make what you need and the gov't is a totlly different entity than what we have in America. Affirmative Action in his country...negative. His idea of getting a fair chance has more emphasis on the chance part and lesson the fair. Many Americans complain and give up if rewards aren't all but handed to them, they claim they are entitled to something. Back to mattandrivers Freedom vs Liberty stuff. Babu does not shy away from an opportunity because it may be difficult. He expects that it will be and works hard to overcome. Many americans do too,but we are known around the world as fat, dumb, and lazy for some reason. Count the programs and institutions around today for the supposed purpose of creating equality. Bull.

I didn't see that as confusing but maybe I just needed to expand the clarification a bit.

Now as far as the war and his perspective, he doesn't consider things on that scale of thought. He is a single man who sees individuals and their struggles as motivations. He doesn't think on the lines of swaying whole nations or how world politics factors in to anything. Some men humble themselves to focus on certain aspects. He is concerned with people as people despite any other differences. Think back to my Fish Man story.

Iraq is not Babu's first choice, but it was his choice to pursue a job with KBR. He is aware of his sacrifices and goes forward in a life absent of regrets.

12:31  
Blogger Crystal said...

im sorry. i didn't mean for it to come off like i don't think people abuse the system.

but some genuinely need help. this person needs help, whether his government gave it to him or not. i admire his bravery and courage, to go through the kinds of suffering he has gone through in life. but its not wrong to expect more, to think we can give of ourselves more in order for all to have some amount of, well, in your words, "entitlement"

i think that is exactly why you are fighting over there for us. there has to be some bare minimum of expectation. and i do think everyone should work hard and get an education and be successful, but i also know that its not that easy. different events circumvent good people and intentions.

i like his outlook on people and wars. i think i am gonna try it out. peace out dorman.

22:03  
Blogger Crystal said...

hey, you should read saije's blog today on entitlements...sort of ironic and funny. not to mention it just validates my opinion as a twenty something :)

your age is not listed, but i know you aren't :D

night

22:27  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

I can see a distinct difference between the Western world and the 'Third-World' in how different races/religions/ethnicities/tribes/genders are treated. In India, it's the 'caste-system', in Africa it's your ethnic association (think Hutu and Tutsi), in the central Asian countries, it's tribe, and all over, it's gender. What is it that makes people think that they are better than others? Is it our own sense of insecurity and fear of failure that causes us to want to put others down? Why does one to dominate another? Some base survival instinct I suppose. Is it survival of the fittest? Are we 'civilized' but not evolved enough to treat another with basic respect? It seems that Babu may be.

I do think that there are some that have a sense of entitlement, but it has nothing to do with the color of their skin or where they came from. The world owes them something. Doesn't matter if they haven't earned it, or if they will squander it when they get it, dammit, I deserve this because I'm me! No, you don't. You have the right to breathe, and you have the right to work hard. Sometimes life isn't fair. Watch National Geographic now and then. Animals aren't walking up to the zoo begging for a handout. Show me that you want that chance, and show me that you deserve to come back the next day, and you have earned my respect. Throw that chance back in my face, and I will turn my back on you; there's someone else waiting on the sidelines for their chance.

23:28  
Blogger Dorman said...

Surprisingly I even see a lot of entitlement mentality in the Army. Any time a little challenge or speed bump happens for some people, they quickly cry racism or sexual discrimination. I know these people personally, this isn't some vague idea I think I perceive. I've been to the meetings. These people bring down morale, like in America. I see the suspicion between groups because of the residual effects. Once you start giving away things as a gov't, you can't stop without making things worse. How you are raised is a big factor in one's outlook, too.

07:46  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

I doubt it's the Army that influences that attitude. It came with the person, not because of their training. One would think the Army would try to strip that attitude out. I can see where it would be a morale-buster.

09:30  
Blogger Tonya said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

13:12  
Blogger Tonya said...

I have been reading your blog from time to time. I had high hopes with this post but judging from the comments you've made about this post I not sure you really get what Babu is selling. You have made negative posts about men showering too close to you. You posted that picture of the burned body and comment in a way that you thought he got what was coming to him. Well, you really made a joke of it. I haven't read everything on here but I am sure there is much more of that same stuff. You want something you do not extend. You want tolerance and understanding of what you are going through but you are not a tolerant person. I want to link to your blog from mine because of your firsthand views of the war but the intolerance leaves me reluctant. Although I will still frequent your blog and try to keep up with you I don't think I will ever find myself able to recommend this blog to others. Stay Safe. -T

13:40  
Blogger SnotSucker said...

And what is it you feel that Babu is selling? Are you disappointed because Dorman did not put Babu on a spit and roast him? The men showering too close is a satirical post with references to Seinfeld episodes and invasions of personal space. Lighten up!

14:19  
Blogger Crystal said...

People deserve more in general, than a simple handout. If someone falls, we all should pitch in to make it right again. That is what we do on smaller scales, in our personal relationships with family and friends, why not at the government level, why not in the world.

I see why everyone is so frustrated with people abusing the system. And yes, the system is far from perfect, but neither are people. And some people's complaints are real, reflections of where we can continue to improve our society.

Yes, I agree everyone should work hard. But so many times, and in so many place hard work is not enough.

14:44  
Blogger Dorman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

15:09  
Blogger Dorman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

15:12  
Blogger Dorman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

15:23  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

Ouch Dorman, a bit brutal, in my opinion.

*The opinions stated below are my own, based on my interpretation of the posting and comments thereafter. I do not intend to speak for anyone except myself.

1) I don't think Babu is selling anything. Tonya, I think you were missing Dorman's point in this post. He was making an effort to try to understand the perspective of someone else involved in his current environment. What was his background that led him here? How does he view the conflict? Why does he have the opinions he has?

2) I don't believe his shower-trailer comments were negative. While you and I enjoy the pleasure of being able to walk into our own bathrooms, shut the door and (hopefully) not be disturbed. His point in that particular post was that out of all the available shower stalls, the guy plunked down in the one next to him. Um, a little privacy please would be nice?

3) I didn't get to read the burned body post, it was gone by the time I arrived here. So, I can't speak for it's tastefulness. But consider the bodies of the American contractors, burned beyond recognition and strung up on the bridge in Fallujah while gleeful Iraqi's celebrated nearby. I'm not saying tit-for-tat is right, but war is terrible. The soldiers are living horrors every day, and seeing friends and comrades blown to bits has to skew one's perspective slightly. Heck, the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan changed something in me for life.

4) Everyone's tolerance has limits. If you have not read all the posts, you are wrong to assume that it is more of the same. There is healthy debate ensuing in this blog (most of the time). There is no one stating they are right and someone else is wrong. It is an open forum for opinions that you may or may not like, but they are opinions to which the bearer is entitled.

5) I would urge you to extend a link to Dorman's blog. By not doing so, you are censuring the potential opinions of others. It is ultimately your choice, but by closing that door, you are stifling debate that this country is proud to offer, and that men like Dorman are proud to defend. You can always include a disclaimer next to the link that you do not support all views reflected in this site.

15:56  
Blogger Dorman said...

Ok, I just got criticized and put down for my differing view of homosexuals by someone who says that *I* am not tolerant....

She is intolerant of my views because she sees me as intollerant.

Is anyone else getting a chuckle out of that sweet hypocracy?

16:13  
Blogger Dorman said...

and thank you I.L. for putting things a bit more tactfully than I could muster at the time. I fully believe in our inalienable right to speak freely, but we need to do so responsibly and be consistent in our views. Debate is very welcome here. Differing views are encouraged as long as you can be brave enough to support them and have opposing views aired.

I personally do not want you to link to my site. As you say, the association might dirty us both.

Tonya, I would be excited if you would take some time, consider your point of view and the issues you would like to express, then do so in a way that we all can discuss. Give me and the rest of the readers a fair chance to respond and clear up any issues you see. If we then don't agree, we can respectfully disagree.

16:20  
Blogger SnotSucker said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

16:27  
Blogger SnotSucker said...

Aww shucks, we're playing nice again. I enjoy the ranting Dorman every once in a while;)
I was looking for a good argument!
btw I will be at Chase's this weekend.....!

16:30  
Blogger Dorman said...

I have risen above those that criticize before being fully informed ;)

16:33  
Blogger Crystal said...

i totally missed out on the fun today. but did you really take the burned body post down?? if you did, i for one, am grateful.

00:11  
Blogger Dorman said...

The post is there but the pic has been temporarily unavailable. It will come back soon enough. Why? Well, because it is a way to get people's heads out of the sand. Ya, I made an absurd joke of it but to me that guy got what he deserved. That is the reality of war and the real consequencesof his own actions and choices.....

(segue music begins to play.....)

02:41  
Blogger Dorman said...

A little more clarification is due, I think, since apparently some readers have a hard time grasping the definition of tolerance. I made reference to Babu seeing things as human problems, the individual's struggle with something that motivates them to do what they do. That, again,is partially the basis for Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism. What I omitted,accidentally, was his statements that his support of an individual's struggle applies to 'good people'. 'Bad people' get what they deserve, they have brought the consequences on themselves. So, this perspective in no way supports an idea that tolerance means to not judge the actions or motivations of others. Nor does it mean that anything anyone does can acceptably be explained away or they suffer intolerance.

There are a few discussions that I am in currently that seem to have some common ideas in them. One point that I have been subtlely trying to make is how each of us processes information. Information is everywhere and we are always, either actively or passively, acquiring it. Information is critical to how we shape our own selves and our perspectives.

In psychology, there is the concept of 'cognitive construct' which we all develop. basically a cognitive construct is how as thinking (cognitive) beings piece together the information and experiences to build our idea of reality. Without going into too much detail, I raise this concept because I see two distinct groups of people. The first type of person is the person that intakes information, evaluates it, then reassesses his/her cognitive construct based on the new evidence. We tend to think of these people as 'open minded' because their self and their understanding of the world around them is always a work in progress, all information is valuable information to some degree that either validates and edifies or disproves a previous notion. The other group is the inverse. These folks tend to have a specific idea or belief in their minds that they then bend all information and experiences around. The information that validates or justifies is kept while anything that challenges or disproves is rejected and forgotten. Some people can maintain this thought process indefinitely while many people come to a snapping point at some time when they find that their grasp on reality has become significantly detached and it is difficult to function. Think cult member here as an extreme example. Their cognitive construct was wholly replaced by a charismatic cult leader. Think insurgent. Think about anyone that rejects the obvious to protect what they wish to hold up as 'their truth'. Religion is notorious as a fuel for this process. Everything must be filtered, lest the elaborate system of justifications and apologetics be challenged and crumble. Religions should be intended to free people, not to enslave them in needless doctrines and practices.

I like to think that I, and almost all of my readers, are the first type. Though I have the bully pulpit on this blog, I chose to open us the comments for the free and open exchange of info and ideas. We established in a long ago discussion that tolerance is simply a label for the weak minded to avoid forming an opinion about a challenging topic. Personal accusations or insults towards anyone here without proper documentation won't be tolerated because another purpose of my blog is to have people become more like the first type too.

"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds." --Bob Marley


Unplug from the Matrix.

03:13  
Blogger Tonya said...

One does not have to look far to see hate on your blog. So you have different opinions. That is not what I was talking about. I was refering to when you make judgement about a human being. That's not just an opinion. I'm not talking about I like blue and you hate it. I'm talking about I don't like the person you were at birth intolerance. It seems obvious to me that the others on here think it is ok to murder people because they are fighting the same fight you are but on the other side. How many children have been killed because you went to Iraq to fight the fight for Bushes oil. You yourself keep talking about the fact that you should not be there but still....

And as for Babu I just thought he probably looks at each life as important as his own.

10:42  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

Tonya, I respectfully disagree with you. I do not see hate and intolerance on this blog. Perhaps you are projecting it yourself. I don't think that anyone here has said it's OK to murder. I have been against this 'war' from the beginning. I am sad that either side is losing life. It shouldn't be happening. But, the reality is that it is. And there are people that have to fight it. Our soldiers are not there to kill children. If you think that, then you have a sick, skewed perspective. Perhaps that mask keeps you from seeing clearly.

11:06  
Blogger Tonya said...

I know that each time I comment someone on here will have to kick more dust. That's what you do when people don't agree with you. Unlike you interstellarlass I can leave and never come back. Because I don't need to win. I realize others have different opinions even if they are blinded by their own life experience. I bid you farewell. You can stop your responses now because I won't be back to read whatever you have to say and knowing that you just can't let it go.

11:19  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

Yawn. I was bored with that anyway. C'mon Dorman...where's the reaction to the Prez's speech?

11:49  
Blogger Dorman said...

Tonya, I checked out your blog last night. Seems to me that you are the character assassin around here. Criticizing a politician for having a gay brother but not supporting gay marriage as law. You sling mud pretty well. Funny how maybe he has an opinion of marriage and homosexuality but figures the two have nothing in common. I happen to agree. There is a wholelot of heterosexuality going on out there without marriage being a factor. You have your blog, state your opinion there, don't come here and waste space with empty comments.

You are pretty deluded about war and soldiers and many other things. You've judged me without much information and a lot of your own inferences. I ignorance, and you right now represent that. Unless you seek education, you'd be best served to keep your fingers from the keyboard.

12:12  
Blogger Crystal said...

i dont want to argue with you on this yet again. but people are aware, we are all too aware. its disgusting, degrading, demoralizing.

good people, bad things happen to them too. some of the best people i know, bad things have happened to them, and it is in no way a reflection of how the world SHOULD work. are they getting what they deserve? you cant possibly say that since you are bad, bad things happen to you. because that is not harmonious with good people, or good things happening to bad people. and how do you even judge who is good and who is bad?

and people who are not constantly re-evaluating their lives and the world around them are interesting. either they have everything figured out and are not letting the rest of us in on their little secret, or they don't...yeah, they prolly dont. i dont even know how that would be possible, to come to a conclusion and stick to it. that's deep, or not.

as far as religion is concerned. in my opinion, from my experiences, religion gives people a reason to be close-minded most of the time, and a reason to believe and not really think and form their own system of ethical beliefs. and such. gosh, i never have enough time!!

13:16  
Blogger Dorman said...

I agree with you on the religion thing. I disagree that there is no basis to jusdge good or bad people. Without some form of judgment, there can be no morality.

(side not: Dickie, this is your cue.)

13:22  
Blogger Crystal said...

this isn't about winning or losing, its about exploring, and developing answers, within circles that you might not necessarily find yourself associating in real life. atleast, that is what commenting here has been for me...

my goal has never been to win, and besides dorman's subtitle, i dont really believe he can be serious that he thinks he is always right, or can win every argument. etc. when i comment here or anywhere else, i do so to discover something more about the world and myself, and i think if you could just allow yourself to reflect upon our "commonality among indifference" (great blog title ;), you would find that dorman's blog has changed people's perceptions of soldiers, has been a place of connections, that are not hate-based, and has been an intellectually challenging atmosphere. but i do hope you keep commenting, because your opinion is necessary for a fuller debate.

dorman, i mean that without judgement we are more tolerant, but yes, we do need some amount of judgement in our own personal spheres to discern what is good and right for ourselves. judging is such a loose term to me. its really dangerous, and used too often, and too much, by most people against others.

peace out

13:35  
Blogger Dorman said...

Readers,let me suggest that you got to Crys' blog and comment on her latest 2 posts: A Question and The Neveau Feminist Dilemma.

Very interesting entries that I would be curious to see more responses to.

02:24  
Blogger Crystal said...

well, thank ya kindly dorman.

03:15  

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