Thursday, 28 January 2010

Afghanistan



"Look, Jeremy", the senior officer of a famous British regiment, grabbed me by the arm. "We're breaking our necks trying to win the battle of 'Hearts and Minds' out there. We've built drains and septic tanks, bridges and water systems. But, in Afghanistan, everyone is a livestock farmer - and there are just no vets at all there. I know what SPANA does, and it's just what's needed out there. Can you come and help? Please!"

When I'd recovered from the shock of such a request - and he even said please - I mumbled something like "Isn't it a bit dangerous out there?"

"Not at all" he replied quickly, perhaps sensing that he'd caught me at a weak moment, "and anyway, we've got tanks and helicopters to give you cover".

Blimey. What could I say?

What a place for SPANA to work - Helmand Province, south Afghanistan - currently winner of the 'Where NOT to go for a holiday in 2010', competition.
But maybe that's exactly why we should be there.



Afghanistan is a strange and difficult country – a land of contrasts – a land of staggering beauty (the mountains are breathtaking), and a land of cruelty and ugliness.

Yesterday, we went out to visit a ‘model farm’ about five miles west from the southern Helmand town of Lashkar Gah.

Now, these are the ‘badlands’ – they say there are thirty thousand plus armed insurgents in Helmand, and death comes suddenly and violently to people almost every day.

Just to go out to the farm needed twenty five armed guards, including two heavy machine guns who stationed themselves on a ridge of high ground above the farm, while the rest (local Afghanis, who risk life and limb by being on our side) spread out around the farm.

The land, next to the Helmand river is rich and fertile, and is growing top quality crops of vegetables and fruit, lovingly planted, tended and weeded by hand. Sadly, all the livestock has been stolen.

Yet when I suggested that all this security might have been a bit over-the-top, they grimly bade me follow them to a corner of the camp. There stood a mangled, twisted heap of steel which may have been a car once.

“IED”, (Improvised Explosive Device) they said. “Last week, on the farm you’ve just visited, in a drain on the track you’ve just driven over”.

“Oh, right”, I replied weakly. “Absolutely. Point taken!”

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