Cooling off

June 8, 2007

Stewart shook me awake around dawn in the small room where they barracked us on the base in Sangin. The squaddies had made fresh porridge, a rare break from rations. It was in the headquarters building across the canal that runs right through the compound. You arent supposed to go more than 20 metres on the base without helmet and body rmour, so I suited up and hurried over.

Bellies full of oatmeal, we were given a briefing by the company commander, Major Jamie Nowell, and his staff, then sent out into the ruined town on a patrol with a young captain and a group of Afghan police. The battles fought here by British paratroops last summer have become legendary, and the first few hundred metres outside the base were lined with ruined buildings blown to smithereens in the months of fighting. But when we turned a corner onto the main road, we saw the largely intact bazaar coming back to life in the few weeks since peace has returned.

In all we marched just a few kilometres over three hours, but it was gruelling work in the hot noonday sun. On our way back, we saw most of the shops shut and the shopkeepers sleeping in the shade: no one works in such heat. Masood bought a dozen cold sodas and we gave some to the soldiers on our patrol.swimming1.jpg

We arrived back at the base, exhausted and sweaty, and stripped down for a swim in the canal. The water rushes through the base, clear-blue and cool, out of a brick archway. Its safe to bathe in. But one of the soldiers joked that you have to hang on: if you are swept off your feet you will end up in Taliban country in your underwear before you know it!



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