The Euphrates River. Just being there—seeing it, listening to it, smelling it—seemed to have biblical implications. How many foreign invaders saw the river that way? A soldier, sitting on top of an armored vehicle. The sun setting on the horizon. A long, hot and uncertain day coming to an end with another warm night about to begin. It was something as simple as a cup of tea that made it bearable.
There had been a riot in town earlier in the day. The soldiers drove right through it — or, at least tried to. There was much shouting, anger, and resentment in the air. There were hundreds, probably thousands of people yelling and chanting. This was the very first American visit into the city, in war with an uncertain future; a visit that was apparently not welcome. The convoy slowed to a halt in the middle of the mass of humanity surrounding it. The soldiers glanced around nervously, wondering what they were going to do next.
The crowd acted first. They threw sandals; lots of them. It seemed like a thousand people simultaneously pulled the shoes from their own feet and hurled them through the air in defiant protest. Soldiers ducked down inside their vehicles because they threw rocks too.
Shoes? Are they really throwing shoes at us?
Hundreds of leather sandals sailed through the air. Some hit, most didn’t. One soldier who was too slow had a small wooden chair smash apart against his helmet.
With gentle persistence, the convoy began to move. Inch by gigantic inch, the armored vehicles advanced through the crowd. The drivers hoping not to hurt anyone. The push was long and tedious. Finally, the crowd gave way and the convoy broke through. The drivers accelerated quickly away from the plaza. As they raced away, the soldiers looked at each other in amazement over what they had just witnessed. Shoes. It was shoes. They would later learn that shoe-throwing was a rather significant insult.
That evening, back at the small camp alongside the Euphrates River, the soldiers counted up all the sandals still stuck on their vehicles. 127 sandals was the highest number with over 500 total. This didn’t account for the dozens that fell off during the sprint back to safety.
Later, one soldier was sitting alone on top of his vehicle looking at the river when a boy from a refugee family inside the camp appeared with a metal cup. His mother had sent him over. She was smiling from her place next to a cooking fire. A pot of tea brewing.
The soldier climbed down from his vehicle and sat on the bank of the river with the boy. The tea he offered was strong and sweetened heavily with sugar. It was also scalding. It had been weeks since the soldier had eaten or drunk anything so hot. Bland military rations are never exciting, and the tea was wonderful. It was welcoming.
The boy and the soldier began throwing rocks into the river. The boy was happy and the soldier was grateful. Invading a country is no small thing; being invited to tea is an entirely different matter.