Ghar Notes:  24 November 2009

The Sandman of legend puts people to sleep by sprinkling them with his magic sand thereby sending them off to dreamland. This benign character of fantasy and myth served the purpose for parents in the past to ease their children into sleep. Pop culture versions see the Sandman as a hapless and reluctant villain opposite some our most cherished superheroes and crime fighters, to be resurrected and destroyed as Hollywood sees fit according to the requirement for sequels. Here in Afghanistan the Sandman is something different entirely…it’s us.

Picture your favourite sons and daughters. Now envision those covered head to toe with a fine brown talcum powder. On top of that imbed a thick grained silicate that could help make the biggest sand castles in the world if wet. Imbue the sweat of several days without showers into their clothes and pack enough deep dirt from several feet under the surface into the fibres causing the arid pattern of the uniforms to almost be one color. Finally blow in a haze of fine partials that never want to settle anywhere except in your eyes, nose and ears, producing a permanent squint, sneeze and lack of hearing. Thus are the Sandmen and women reborn.

As the various members of the Sqn return to the Ghar from our first big operation these sand creatures enter into the gates and walk by saying hi. It gives one pause. Firstly, who was it? Secondly, surprise when you find out who it was. Thirdly, shock as you wonder if the SSM has seen this yet. Fourthly, bewilderment as the next sand creature you see is the SSM. Whilst this steady parade of elementals returns from each and every sortie they are easily distinguished by their countenance. Those who lead our columns appear as dashing young cavalrymen, exuberant in their near clean state. The front 3rd of the veh crews, though choked with dust and debris, are semi ecstatic, as they realise that behind them the true torture lies. At the rear, those lucky enough to be in a tank praise its height, as they float through the upper dust as a plane through a cloud. In the middle down low they know only of the permanent sandstorm of the column. Always searching for those in front and trying to avoid those behind. In that maelstrom of dust the Sandmen are born.

Thankfully Ops don’t go on forever and eventually we all return to ourselves putting that villain away once more with a hot shower, hot meal and a good load of laundry. As the days begin to cool down and the clouds are finally starting to return to the sky, dust and sand settle to ground for the winter. However, with that winter comes a new fear as the first drops of rain return to this awkward desert. As the rain pelts harder we all look to ground at our feet and we know…the Mud man cometh.