May 2008 - The Bamyan Times
LT Alex Dieudonne reports from his mission in Bamyan.
Alex is a Naval Reserve Officer who lives in Christchurch and is currently on a six month deployment.
I'm into my second month of our deployment and we are well established in our routines. Our patrols are out in the community, undertaking important presence and other duties aiding in the rebuilding of the community. Being the summer season, the temperature is starting to rise and we are having many clear days with crystal blue skies and little wind. It’s hard to think of winter back in NZ and those frosty days.
Image Right: Lt Alex Dieudonne in Burgua (NIS 06 097).
Being a staff officer it has been very busy as everything supports our operational demands. From time to time I get out and recently I had a trip to the Band-A-Mir Lakes which was a six hour drive. It was only some 35km from our base but as the roads are so bad we have to drive very slowly. Along the way there is some old war wreckage, with a number of Russian tanks littering the roads, which is a stark reminder where we are.
Image Above Left: Band-e-Mir Lakes (NIS 06 095).
Image Above Right: An image of a Male Buddha in the rockface (NIS 06 101).
With our region being largely hilly and mountainous, life clings to the valleys, which are fertile slithers of countryside. The Band-A-Mir lakes themselves, as legend has it, were formed when the local Mulla (religious leader) many hundreds of years ago, slammed his sword into the parched land and a miraculous lake formed.
It is hoped that this region, along with the Buddhas, will become a major tourist attraction once the infrastructure builds. In many ways Bamyan is the model province of Afghanistan with its peace and stability. We have local sitreps that are a sober reminder that there is still a long way to go and it is vital that we and other countries contribute, bringing peace and governance to the country.
Back at base, my time is largely taken up with my duties. However, once a week I teach English to the locals who work around the base. They have already a limited grasp and we are mainly concentrating on written text.
Above Image Left : Students at school (NIS 06 096).
Above Image Right: Rebuilding of the community (NIS 06 102).
In one of exercises we drew a family tree but I ran out of white board. Being Muslims many have more than one wife and one class participant had 29 brothers and sisters! Many things we take for granted are quite foreign and novel for them. In our lessons somehow we strayed onto emotion, which somehow led to Ballet and Swan Lake - which they had never heard of!
My students are eager to learn and we have many laughs. The differences between western and eastern societies are many, with the male being the dominant figure within the family group. Marriages are arranged between families at around the age of 16. There are very strict protocols when interacting with the local woman who are totally dressed from head to toe, with many still wearing Burqua’s. All conversation is through the male who accompanies them. You certainly don’t shake their hand as one would in NZ upon meeting them.
The local language is Dari which is a form of Arabic. I am starting to pick up a few words and phases, as the locals appreciate it. Their written language is quite different than western text and it’s more of a script form, which they read from right to left.
Above Image Left: The Team posing prior to dispose of unused ammunition and ordinance (NIS 06 098).
Above Image Right: Disposing the unused ammunition and ordinance (NIS 06 099).
One of our important jobs is to dispose of unused ammunition and ordinance, which is handed in by the locals. We store it and then in an isolated region, we dig a big pit, where the demolition experts place charges and explode it. This is quite hard work as the temperatures are hot and involves much digging. But the end result is very impressive however.
There is a very serious side of this work, as the country side is littered with many unexploded ordinances that is a danger to the locals and needs to be rendered safe. Afghanistan was the most heavily mined conflict in recent times.
Above Image: An amazing Historical Fort (NIS 06 100).
Driving around the local countryside it doesn’t take much to come along an old fort or some historical feature. As Afghanistan was the cross roads of central Asia, and as such, has been subject to many influences which you see all over the place.
There is no tourist industry, although any dignitaries that come usually want to see the Buddha’s and other historical sights. There is plenty of potential into the future and the Government and the NGO’s are working hard to develop the infrastructure.
Most of the officer’s here are involved in local committees, with me obviously, having the private sector working group as my portfolio. We meet monthly and are often reminded about the enormity of the task of rebuilding the country. The NZ PRT is well regarded and we play an important role here.
During our quieter periods there is always continuation training and gym work to be done. Where it is either weapons or first aid exercises, which is great fun at times with many eager participants.
Just recently, I was grand quiz master, hosting a fun night as they are fairly quiet and we need to make our own fun. We get quite a lot of visitors at our base, which has a reputation of great food and hospitality.
On this particular night, we had a number of Americans, who formed mixed groups. An award went to the group that answered the following question; Does the Red Sea or the Caspian Sea boarder Afghanistan? Someone answered - the Caspian Sea! Answer: none it is land locked much to a roar of laughter. This was a great night’s fun, with the winner getting 85 out of a possible 120.
As I mentioned earlier the temperature is starting to increase + 40 degrees, and the air conditioners have come on. Mostly the days are hot and windless. It gets light about 4.30 in the morning and dark around 7 pm. We have a number of movie nights, but it is left largely up to the individuals to make their own fun.
Other than the physical distance, we don’t want for much, we have great food and the accommodation is homely. However, I am certainly missing my golf, more so the green as here is very barren and a constant desert colour. We have good communications back to NZ, so we can keep up with the news - going to be expensive filling up the old gas tank when we return. One thing we do miss is the radio, as the local station is in Arabic of course. Some of the lads have tuned into it in their work space, as in NZ, for bit of back ground music.
Well that’s about it, for our second month, as we begin entering into our third, and looking forward to the half-way point coming - until next time Adios from Afghanistan.