The Future Wave Of Humanity

, , | Working | November 25, 2016

This is just a little something that happened to me when I was deployed to Afghanistan with the British Army in 2012. It’s not much, but I like to tell it.

I was working out of our base in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province. On ops, every soldier (and Marine, sailor, and airman) on the base had to stand sentry (‘stag’ in the British forces) in one of the many sangars dotted around the base perimeter at some point. With the amount of people on the camp it usually meant that you went on stag maybe once every two or three days.

Lash was fairly quiet at that point, not much going on in the city, and so stag rotations usually ended up being relatively boring, although being in the city proper meant that we got to see some interesting sights from inside our sangars, or whenever we went outside on patrol…

In this particular instance I was on stag mid-morning. It was hot for October, and most crucially, it was one of the days of Eid al-Adha, which in the Muslim calendar is the end of Ramadan, and a time of feasting, celebration and giving — think a combination of Christmas and Easter.

Now, usually the streets of Lash were fairly busy, but fairly drab, too — a lot of black and grey and white and brown clothing. Not during Eid al-Adha. It seemed to me, up in my perch, that everyone was out in their best clothes and off to visit friends and family. While there was plenty of security in place, everyone seemed happy and high spirited.

I’d had a busy morning (up before 0400), and I would go on to have a busy day (head down at 0200-ish, if I remember rightly) but for those precious hours I was doing a simple job with minimal distractions.

You watch everything on stag; you try and cram everything into your tired eyes so as not to miss anything, but one moment stood out for me as I was watching that day. A group of girls came walking down the side of the road that passed the front of my sangar, all decked out in lime greens and yellow and bright blues. I think they must have been anywhere between 10 and 20 years of age (as you may have guessed, I couldn’t see their faces beyond the eyes).

As they came past my sangar, they stopped and looked in. They wouldn’t have seen much of me, in the shade as I was – perhaps the shape of my body-armoured and helmeted form behind the GPMG in the sangar window, and even that through the slats of the RPG cage. But they stopped and I could see them looking directly at me.

And then they waved.

Me, a foreign soldier, not even distinct, not really visible. Just another man in a uniform in their country.

They waved at me, one of them called up to me and said ‘Hello’ in Pashto; whatever else they said I didn’t catch.

I said ‘Hello!’ back, waved back, and then they walked on and were gone.

Thinking on it, I suppose for them it wasn’t much of a thing to do. They were just taking advantage of the freedom of the Eid al-Adha celebration to doing something a little daring: waving at the foreigners. For me, used to the usual endless procession of almost uniformly dressed (and 95% male) people in front of my sangar, it was a beautiful bright spot of humanity in my nearly-seven months in Afghanistan — that those girls had chosen to make a small connection with me on such an important day. It is a memory I will cherish, and it pains me that I will never know who those girls were, or what became of them, but their simple act replenished my faith in human kindness somewhat, and that’s something precious.

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