By Army Sgt. Debralee P. Crankshaw
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 1, 2009 - With Iraqi forces now handling security in Iraq's cities and towns, coalition forces get fewer chances to immerse themselves in Iraqi culture. Some hope that will change with the opening of an Iraqi bazaar here this month. "We want to get to a point where we give the feel of what a traditional bazaar is in Iraq," said Army Capt. Andrew Nathan, a civil military operations officer with the 34th Infantry Division. "The business group that is setting this up is creating an ambiance of a bazaar or an oasis. It's like coming in off the desert on your camel and you need to be refreshed and you need food and drink and a place of refuge."
The Oasis bazaar will have a "soft" opening for business Sept. 6, with a grand opening planned for Sept. 22 to allow for the passage of Ramadan. It will offer a variety of traditional Iraqi clothing, arts and crafts, pottery products and stone carvings.
"What we're trying to do at the bazaar is to bring a local flavor and a [morale, welfare and recreation] opportunity for the soldiers," Nathan said. "[Army and Air Force Exchange Service] sells things to soldiers they need on a daily basis, and sometimes brings in some of the embroidery shops and framing shops. What we want to do is provide products AAFES doesn't necessarily provide, plus we want to provide soldiers with the opportunity to buy something that is very traditional, very Iraqi -- souvenirs, memorabilia, something they could only get here."
The bazaar is designed not only to allow soldiers to purchase souvenirs, but also to give them a place where they can get away from it all.
"It's an added MWR opportunity," Nathan said. "There isn't a whole lot to do on Basra, so it gives the soldiers a chance to get away from their work. This bazaar is far enough away from their normal day of work, and it's supposed to be a place of solitude. They're trying to create a place, ultimately, to kind of hang out – to get away from the work."
The Oasis will feature vendor stalls and tents, a pond with a fountain and a desert motif mural. Soldiers will be offered camel and horseback rides, and will have the opportunity to have their photos taken in front of the desert mural with the animals.
"Literally, they are trying to bring a traditional bazaar and traditional oasis that you would normally see out here in the desert," Nathan said. "If people have read 'Arabian Nights' or they see movies on the Arab culture, there is a picture in everyone's mind of what an oasis or a bazaar would be. They want to bring that stereotype as accurately as possible to give the soldiers that feel and that look."
This project also benefits local Iraqis, as local businessmen with the Moosawi Group are bringing their experience to the bazaar.
"In downtown Basra, the Moosawi Group has a bazaar -- like a mall-bazaar -- so they are already in the business of selling some of these products," Nathan said. "So, since we can't go to that bazaar, they want to bring the bazaar to us. It's going to benefit them financially. It's a market they wouldn't normally have access to."
While this is beneficial for both nations, Nathan said, he encourages soldiers to be grateful for what the Iraqis are doing.
"They are living out their hospitality. The Arabic culture is about hospitality," he said. "We are guests in their country, and they are opening their arms to us. You will see that in the bazaar; you will see their hospitality. I would really encourage the soldiers who go to the bazaar to appreciate what the Iraqis are giving to us."
For Nathan, the cooperation of the two nations has been the most important part of this project, as the bazaar has created an opportunity for both nations to develop a stronger bond.
"This project has shown that the U.S. forces and local Iraqis can come together and develop a positive relationship," he said. "I'm very excited about this project, because what the soldiers are going to come and experience, it's going to be pretty magnificent."
The project has been about bridging of cultural differences and coming together, Nathan said.
"The bottom-line message is, as we draw down and leave Iraq, it's important to have left on a high note," he said. And this bazaar, I think, is not only going to be a project and a place to go, but I think it's going to be a symbol of what we were able to accomplish together.
"It will be a good memory for the Americans, as well as for the Iraqis, when the Americans leave that we've left on a good note – [that] we've left appreciating each other's company."
(Army Sgt. Debralee P. Crankshaw serves in the Multinational Division South public affairs office.)