On a Base in Iraq, The Pedi-Cure
Sunday, February 8, 2009
MOSUL -- Pfc. Cortez Hamilton of St. Louis smiled blissfully as a 20-year-old beautician from Kyrgyzstan rubbed lotion on his left foot after spending a half-hour scraping off dead skin.
"It relaxes you," the 29-year-old cavalry soldier said halfway through a recent pedicure at Forward Operating Base Marez in this still-volatile northern Iraqi city. "You just go to sleep and it feels so good."
Marez, after six years of war, has become a cosmopolitan city within a city. Soldiers can buy tailored suits and knockoff designer purses, cigars and DVDs, lattes and burgers. After a long day of soldiering, a 30-minute, $17 back rub hits all the right spots.
"If not a need, there's certainly a demand," said Maj. Amanda Emmens-Rossi, a frequent customer at the beauty salon. "You come here on the weekend, and there's always Joes lined up to get manis and pedis. Just because you're deployed doesn't mean you have to look like a ragbag."
Full-body massages are forbidden, to eliminate the possibility of sexual conduct between soldiers and salon employees. Soldiers in Iraq are prohibited from having sex with foreigners.
Mosul, the country's third-largest city, has attracted little investment in recent years. Its economy is in shambles. Its politics are a contact sport. Many of its neighborhoods are crippled by years of fighting. Insurgents determined to elude capture sleep in vests rigged with explosives.
In December 2004, a suicide bomber attacked the Marez dining hall, killing 22 people, among them 14 U.S. soldiers.
But Aina Isaeva, 45, a nurse from Kyrgyzstan, didn't think twice when the opportunity arose to work in Mosul for a year as a beautician. U.S. defense contractors have brought thousands of laborers from Central and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America to keep American military bases humming and service members well fed and comfortable.
"Nurses earn very little money" back home, Isaeva said as she worked on the feet of a former infantryman now employed by a nonprofit organization. "I have two sons and a girl. And I am a widow. I need the work."
Hamilton, the private from St. Louis, works 12-hour shifts fueling military vehicles. He heard about the beauty salon from his friend Spec. Billy Scott, 33, of the District, who says that living in a war zone is no excuse to let your hands and feet grow rough.
In this dusty, arid base, where the temperature creeps well into triple-digit territory in the summer, walking into the beauty salon after a 12-hour shift is transporting.
When Hamilton and Scott head to the salon, some of the other guys give them a hard time.