Heat and Dust

June 14, 2007

  Operating in a desert poses some logistical challenges that a reporter must overcome on a daily basis. I am gathering material for Reuters TV, so I brought a mountain of TV and transmission equipment with me to Helmand province, most of which is not happy being engulfed in the clouds of dust that are created by the slightest breeze or movement by a vehicle or a helicopter. Im ever conscious of an embed with the U.S. Marines in Iraqs Anbar province in 2005 when my Iraqi cameraman was unable to protect his camera from the dust, and we ended up with no means of filming. Not fun. On this trip I am the cameraman and, with Anbar in mind, I spend a fair proportion of my day, uncovering, cleaning, recovering and checking the camera. So far, so good.

    Our first filming location in Helmand was the town of Sangin, where we stayed with members of the British Royal Anglian Regiment. They had just taken the town from the Taliban, and set up a district centre based around the home of a suspected former drug baron. He is now living nearby and trying to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation for his trouble.

    Our billet was the concrete shell of a house with no electricity (camera and laptop battery management can take up quite a lot of your day) and no running water although, as Peter explained in his blog, we were right next to a fast-flowing irrigation canal. The Royal Engineers had rigged up a water purification plant that provided an endless supply of drinking water stored in black plastic 25-gallon jerry cans. The relentless heat in this part of the world means the water emerging from these cans is almost hot enough to throw a tea bag into but my U.S. Marine experience had taught me a clever trick: how to cook up a cool drink in the dessert. Ingredients: Drinking water, one wet sock and one plastic bottle. Fill the bottle with hot water, slip bottle into the sock and dip sock into the canal, repeating regularly to keep the sock wet. The sock immediately becomes a heat exchanger, evaporating the water immediately and cooling the contents of the bottle at the same time. Thirty minutes, later youre a sipping a cool, fruit flavoured drink, courtesy of the British Army ration pack. I prefer the blackcurrant it makes your urine change colour, but its worth the surprise.

 soldier.jpgWater is a resource not to be wasted. On another U.S. army operation in a desert, I remember being accused, quite loudly, of having a f*****g Hollywood shower for not turning the water off in between soapy operations. At the HQ for ISAFs Task Force Helmand in Lashkar Gah, the rules are politely explained. A note on the wall of each cubicle details the Ship Shower Routine. It reads: Water on, wet hair and body. Water off, soap hair and body. Water on, rinse off. Water off.

    Very helpful. Not as much fun as leaping into the canal running through Sangin camp but at least were clean.  

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