"You Become a Real Connoisseur of Eyeballs and Ankles"

Oct 24, 2011

52 year-old Rocco Pepe has had numerous military deployments. Too many campaigns, he says, to name.  His 20 year career with the Marines began in 1976, followed by several years in the Air National Guard.  Today Pepe’s an officer with the Georgetown/ Scott County Emergency Management Agency.  He boasts about seeing 35 percent of the world without paying a penny for transportation.  The veteran grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, in sight of the New York City skyline. Despite the cosmopolitan surroundings and his military travels, the veteran is not immune to culture shock, abroad, and in the U-S…

“Culture shock, if you want to start with the Middle East, uh, especially, seeing how, uh, Saudi Arabia, in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to be in the front seat of a vehicle.  Uh, they can't vote.  They can't do a lot of things.  They have to be, uh, dressed up.  And when the veil's up, we call them ninjas.  Uh, there was quite a few times that, uh, I got to see where, in a pickup truck, the male is driving the pickup truck, they have a camel or a goat, baby camel or a goat, seatbelted in on the passenger side while all the women are in the back of the pickup truck.  Now, us as Americans, we're  looking at that going, What the foxtrot is going on with this?  But that's their culture.  They've been doing that for centuries.  Here in America, we would not accept that, not in a heartbeat.  But that is how cultures, uh, handle themselves over there.  Now, with, uh, Kuwait, women are allowed to operate their vehicles, but if they're operating their vehicle, they have to be veiled up.  So if you're going to the Middle East, uh, you become a real connoisseur in eyeballs and ankles real quick.  And for anybody who wants to go see what the Middle East looks like, may I suggest that you go to Buckeye, Arizona during the summer.  Look at the terrain, feel the heat, get back in your car, come home.  Uh, the only thing you don't have to worry about is being shot at, unless, of course, you're running into one of the drug cartels down there, then you have to worry about it.

Italy, when I went to the Vatican, uh, you have to have closed shoes.  You have to wear long pants, guys, and you have to wear a collared shirt, whether it's a polo shirt or a dress shirt.  You cannot roam around in the Vatican area at all unless you're properly dressed.  That, that wasn't so much a culture shock, but that was very interesting, 'cause I come from a Catholic background, even though I claim agnostic now.  But to see that, to learn the heritage behind what they do, that was interesting.

Uh, culture shock in Italy in some of the towns, I think I had more of a culture shock being in Portland, Oregon, than I did in some of the cities.  Portland, if you can think about a certain lifestyle, it is there, and it's different areas of Portland that you get to see.  You get to see the grunge, you get to see the goth, you get to see, uh, tourists roaming around; you get to see all different cultures roaming around; and it's a big melting pot there.  Uh, Norway, the biggest thing for me was trying to get over my fear when we went to go see some of the fjords. The fjords are absolutely gorgeous; however, if you're trying to go to the top of one of the fjords that's, uh, one thousand feet above sea level and the only way you can get to the top is walking on a bridge that's on the side of a cliff, yeah.  My, uh, fear of heights kicks in pretty well.”

Pepe’s comments are part of the University of Kentucky’s oral history project, “From Combat to Kentucky”. McKenzie graduated with honors from Eastern Kentucky University, majoring in Homeland Security.