Letter from Afghanistan
Laura Boyd writes about her experiences
Whilst sitting here in the ever increasing temperatures of Afghanistan, its hard to force yourself not to think about home too much. And as I do allow my mind to wander when times are quiet, I often think about life on Tiree.
I arrived in Afghanistan five weeks ago and have since moved from Camp Bastion to FOB Nolay in Sangin where I am working with 40 Commando, The Royal Marines. A FOB is a forward operating base, from where we patrol out into the local villages and farms.
As I flew into Sangin on the helicopter full of nerves and anxieties about the months that lay ahead I was surprised at just how beautiful the landscape was. The poppies in the fields were in full bloom, and the Green Zone was busy with locals working hard in the fields, tending to the wheat and poppy crops.
My Medical Centre consists of a tent, and trauma bays are set up and ready to receive casualties. It also serves to treat anything else from blisters to homesickness. I have a medic who is battlefield trauma trained, and a nurse who helps with the running of the Medical Centre. Although initially quiet when I first arrived, as the harvest comes to an end unfortunately the fighting increases and with that comes casualties.
An average day for me, if there is one, is waking before first light when the first patrol heads out, and being ‘stood to’ in case of any casualties until the last patrol comes back in. Often I am woken by gunfire, and leap out of my sleeping bag to find out how far away the threat is and whether there are any casualties.
Daily jobs still need to be done such as washing my clothes, and this is done in the cement mixer! Luckily I paid attention when Dad used his so I was able to get the thing turning! As the only female here I also seem to have been given the job of ‘local hairdresser’, so thanks to the years of watching Mum cut Dad’s hair at home, my patients also come by for haircuts!
I normally head out of the base, later during the day, on patrol- either in armoured vehicles or on foot, depending on the route being chosen. The pace is slow as the front men scan the ground with the IED detectors, which means we’re often quite exposed for lengths at a time, and it can be quite a daunting experience. Yesterday we passed by an orphanage, and the children all came out to greet us. The orphanage is run by two elderly widows who clothe and feed the children with what they have.
Last week I attended a Shura, which is a meeting held by the Mullah, the village elder, who spoke to the local villagers. At the meeting about 100 local people attended, and the Mullah spoke about education, farming and the importance of alternative crops such as wheat. I’m quite sure that in amongst the gathering there were insurgents listening in to what was being said, but even if it gets them thinking of an alternative way of living then it must be a start.
The people of Afghanistan are very kind and hardworking. You can see in their eyes, when you talk to them, the hardship they have faced, but an enduring spirit is still resilient. I am often reminded of the farmers of Tiree, and how their years of experience would help the locals here with the farming issues that they are faced with.
I spoke with two elderly local men and told them that I was a farmer’s daughter, and told them about how we harvested the silage and hay in the summer. They seemed very amused to think of a woman in the fields helping out!
I hope within my time here to be able to provide medical aid to the villagers, and to set up women and baby clinics within the communities. I may be naïve but I feel that we all have a job to do out here, and that in some small way I will be able to do my part for the people of Afghanistan.