Saturday, November 21, 2009
BATTLE OF WILLS
The start of a tour is always incredibly busy. Every day is a new experience.
Yesterday we held a Shura at the base. Or more accurately, we had a Shura come to us. A large group of elders arrived to protest the innocence of a man who had been arrested in a security operation. There was no doubt that they had been sent by insurgents, but they were a notable gathering.
In Afghanistan, age, gender, and facial hair are all indicators of seniority in open society. Inside the compound there is alleged to be a matriarchy, outside, in Helmand, mature men with long beards get respect. It was as an impressive bunch of beards as you are likely to find.
We talked for about two hours. They are good talkers and the conversation moves at a sedate pace. "You have the watches but we have the time" is a popular Afghan jibe.
We sat on our haunches until my western joints creaked and we moved to benches. Green tobacco is taken with care. Small globules of spit form a circle of dust balls on the ground around each chewer.
Afghans often suffer myopia alleged to be the result of a lifetime of dehydration. They break into your personal space to look closely from behind a beard and leathery skin tanned by a thousand Afghan suns.
At one point I was told that we both believed in the same God. "There is only one god," he assured me. We had been going for an hour an a half at that point and I felt we might have only just warmed up if the theology continued. So I felt inclined to agree and left it at that.
We arranged to meet again in three days to see if their issue had progressed.
It all appears to be a caricature and a slightly idyllic one, but it is not. The Shura had been delayed for an hour because two children, both nine, had been brought to the FOB having stepped on an IED. Innocent victims in the battle of wills.
I will not describe the full extent of their injuries but horrific barely does the scene justice. Our doctor, medics and medically trained Riflemen worked for 35 minutes to save them. They were alive when we put them on the Chinook helicopter to the hospital in Camp Bastion with relatives. They died of their injuries there.
It is hard not to believe it was a small mercy. Their uncles returned later in a taxi with the two coffins. They were buried today.
We are left with the moral dilemma of having found, marked clearly and avoided that device only for two children to detonate it.