Joost The South African – 3

Lacking a job and English or Afrikaans-speaking companions, Joost observes the Iraqis at the site in the way that a wildlife biologist might observe his favorite animals in the wild.

“If you will watch these men,” Joost told me today, “you will begin to notice that one of them always seems to have a plan. You can tell by the look on his face that he has a plan.”

“Yesterday I sat by the window looking out at nothing happening on the desert.” Joost smiled a little, liking the way he’d said that. I smiled back because I knew exactly what he meant.

“I saw a man walking over here to this camp from the asphalt plant,” he said. The asphalt plant lies about half a mile away from the engineering staff’s fortified trailer camp where Joost lives and doesn’t work. Between the asphalt plant and camp lies a flat pan of silty sand, criss-crossed with random patterns of tire tracks, stray berms, and scattered small piles of black asphalt that look like peculiarly large piles of pooh. When work was actually being done on Alamo Road, the Bedu truck drivers would get their dump trucks loaded up with asphalt at the plant, then – being that they were paid by the load – they would drive out of the plant, dump the load of asphalt on the desert, and quickly return to take their place in line for the next load. Very clever, though not particularly productive.

In any case … “I watched this man walking toward camp,” Joost continued, looking through me as if watching the scene unfold again in his mind. “By the look of him, you could tell that this man had a plan. He brought his plan across the desert and along the berm and through the gate and into camp. He strolled over to the shady side of a caravan where a group of men were sitting, and he said something to one man.”

Joost smiled and his eyes focused once again on my own. “When he said it, whatever it was, the group of men in the shade all roared with laughter and started poking that one man as if adding jokes to the joke.”

“The man from the asphalt plant didn’t stay after he’d executed his plan,” Joost told me with satisfaction. “He had delivered the joke! It had been successful. He stayed only for the laughter, then he turned around and walked back out through the gate, across the desert, and into the asphalt plant, leaving all the men here in camp laughing for the next hour.”

“I think,” Joost concluded, “that this is a long walk in 115F to deliver a one line joke. I think it is a long way to walk to make men laugh, but they will do this! I would not. I would think about my plan,” Joost admitted, “then I would make myself a cup of tea and relax in the chair in front of the fan, chuckling while I imagined how successful this joke could have been had those men not been so far away on such a hot day.”



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