Kacper’s poor head was confused. Within last 4 days, he has been told 6 times that he would need to go to Pakistan nearly immediately, just to have all these decisions revoked hours later. Finally – and this time it seems that the decision will be implemented - appears that he will be soon going to Islamabad after all.
Kacper will return to Chad over the coming weekend, so he completes his duties in Abeche, packs, and then departs to Poland. He will apply for a Pakistani visa in Warsaw, visit his family in Nowy Sacz, and approximately a week later will be on his way to South Asia. Clare, Kacper’s boss told him, he would be deployed in Pakistan for 6 months.
He watched BBC reports on Pakistan and Sri Lanka in his hotel room in Nairobi, and nearly got depressed. Once again, things were going seriously wrong. War was displacing thousands of people, hundreds are killed and injured, children are orphaned, men and women are widowed, parents burry their kids, and friends suffer the loss of those, who are special to them. ‘Typical pains of war’ – it is difficult not to think… Kacper has experienced it too many times…
As he thinks of his new challenges that his work will surely bring in Islamabad, he is also trying to work out his small strategy how he should be protecting himself from horrors of war. Many humanitarian workers develop very specific coping mechanisms that allow them working even in the most traumatic situations, where they experience nearly unspeakable human suffering. Kacper usual technique is to build some sort of emotional glass wall around him. It allows him seeing things through and understand what is happening around him, but also protects him so that his emotions do not take over his logic, which is important for effective help that people expect in humanitarian situations.
Trouble with such glass walls is that they break sooner or later. Kacper knows, it is usually, when things become less tensed, when he can allow himself being weak and vulnerable. Often, when he returns home to Nowy Sacz, he sometimes has nightmares, and is very distressed. He then calls for help from others to deal with his experiences.
He is going to Pakistan to set up programmes for thousands of people, who flee their homes in Swat Valley, as the Government of Pakistan started heavy military operations against the Taleban in the north of the country. He is not thrilled to be working in the area, where Talebans operate. He has some experience with them already (some of it described in Post 11), and not looking forward to be meeting them again…
‘We have arrived… We will be offloading our lorries’ decided Dan – Kacper’s boss, when they reached last checkpoint in the area controlled by the Talebans. They were about to cross the frontline, and carry on their travel in the Pansheer Valley in the north-eastern part of Afghanistan, where the army of Masoud was in charge. Dan, Kacper and their Afghan colleagues travelled to Pansheer to visit their Therapeutic Feeding Centres, which they run for severely malnourished children. They were carrying with them supplies of medicines, and therapeutic milk – enough to let the centres run for a month.
Crossing the frontline was an interesting, but rather fearsome experience. The humanitarian agencies working on both sides of the frontline managed to negotiate the deal with warring parties to cease fighting for two hours every Tuesday of the week (between 12.00 and 14.00), so that the humanitarian convoys could safely pass from one to the other side.
‘We are here to cross the frontline to go to Pansheer’, Dan informed one of the senior looking Taleban. As Dan had been crossing the frontline on multiple occasions before, he must have made his face familiar to many soldiers there. ‘Welcome Mr. Dan… long time!’ – Dan was greeted by a man wearing black turban, brown jalaba, and black gumboots. He had an impressive long, thick and black beard, which seemed to be quite well looked after. ‘We have just stopped the exchange of fire with the Masoud soldiers, and will be de-mining the passage that you will use’ Taleban informed Dan in fluent English. Kacper was shocked by the triviality that the soldier mentioned about STOPPING FIRE EXCHANGE, and DE-MINING THE PASSAGE… The Taleban just mentioned it like if it was the most normal and natural activity all people do every day, just like drinking tea, or eating biscuits. He didn’t have time to contemplate it for long though. While Taleban and Masoud were de-mining the passage of the frontline, he needed to ensure that the cargo is offloaded from the lorry, and loaded on donkeys, which they would use for crossing the frontline.
‘It seems like we have finished Dan’, said Kacper to his boss. ‘We are ready to cross the frontline’ he added. They had fifteen donkeys that they had rented from the local villagers, who would always gather around checkpoints on Tuesdays, knowing that NGOs would be crossing the frontline, and would need transportation. For many of the villagers, the fees that they collected from NGOs were the only sources of income for their families. Kacper had a strange impression that the donkey men were pleased with the fighting… the frontline seemed to have given them livelihood opportunities. ‘This is so sad’, Kacper remarked.
‘We need to wait, until they de-mine the road Kacper’ instructed Dan. ‘When they finish, they will tell us, and we will need to walk in line one by one, until we reach the other side’ went on Dan. He explained that everyone needed to be very cautious, as only a very narrow path was de-mined, and that no one was allowed to go off the path, no matter what, as they might risk stepping on a mine… ‘Once we will reach the Masoud side, we will offload the donkeys and load lorries, which will wait for us there’ he kept on briefing his colleagues. ‘Easy as that Kacper!’ he finished and smiled, obviously entertained by his Polish colleague’s disbelieving looking face.
They were given a sign to start walking. They had a neutral guide, whom they paid, and who knew where the path was. Kacper’s heart started pouncing more blood, and that gave him some additional energy to walk faster. He didn’t like the idea of being in the minefield, with two warring sides waiting for them to cross, so they could restart shooting at each other, as soon as the humanitarians were out of their ways.
They walked for around 15 minutes. Donkeys were following the guide, and Kacper with his team were at the end of the procession. Kacper noticed some pick-up cars and small lorries with a logo of their organisation. ‘Thank goodness, we are soon leaving this scary place’ Kacper was genuinely pleased. As they were close enough to the other side, some senior Masoud soldier waived at Dan and greeted him. ‘Welcome again! I can see you have brought a new colleague here. Did you bring any cigarettes for me?’ he asked.
They offloaded the donkeys, paid the money to the guide and a representative of animal owners, and loaded their cars with medicines and milk. ‘We need to get out of here as soon as possible’ Dan hurried everyone. ‘They will resume fighting in 20 minutes. It is already 13.40. We definitely don’t want to be here when shooting restarts’ he underlined.
They were already well on their way, when they heard some explosions. ‘Here we go… two hours of peace have finished… until next Tuesday’ Dan tapped Kacper on his shoulder. ‘Were you scarred?’ he asked. ‘A little’ answered Kacper. All Afghan colleagues burst laughing… ‘Kacper, there is nothing to be scared of’ one of them tried to make feel him better. Kacper was not convinced.
Two hours later, tired, dirty, with mud all over their bodies, they reached their first base. It was a compound, where inside were tents, and huts, where children were treated. There was also a small office there. ‘Thank goodness you made it’ they were greeted by the base manager. ‘We were about to run out of the milk for kids… I was worried that it would came too late’ he said.
Kacper entered the room, where children played. One toddler, interested in a visitor approached him and sat on his laps. He rested his little head on Kacper’s shoulder and just sat there, obviously enjoying the company of his new friend. Kacper started thinking of the life of the kid. ‘What future will he have? Is he going to have at least a fraction of normality, which kids enjoy in peaceful countries? Will he ever be able to live his dreams?’ – all these questions were storming his mind. Kacper was bothered he couldn’t find answers, he just hoped that life, with its abilities to write the most amazing stories has prepared something special and beautiful for the little boy, who was ready for his short afternoon nap.
PS. Kacper is excited to meet his Ethiopian friends a day after tomorrow.