Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Time Well Spent

It's dawning outside, a sun rising. I see only blackness and find myself nodding off intermittently. Wakefulness is fleeting, grasped barely and holding only the constant thrum of a diesel engine. The vehicle quakes slightly with each turn, each pothole, the rise and ebb of the inline-eight cylinder providing a lullaby.

Cool air sifts in through the sentry hatch while the orange fireballs of lit cigarettes explode into life before sullenly dying out.

Eventually, a lurch, a stop. The ramp drops and darkness still shrouds, save for the stars muffled by early morning clouds. They linger, grasping at a sky soon to banish them. I find myself left behind with a few others. Rotation, he says. I'll get my chance. Chance at what?

Sleep lulls me back. I fight for wakefulness. It's a battle I lose again and again until a slam on the hatch.

My first intake of breath is of the sight of a sun rising into the almost-crisp morning air. Mud walls rise all about. The road is hardpack, well worn from years of use and an unforgiving sun. But my first sight truly isn't the landscape. Before me lays the wreckage of another vehicle, flipped onto a side with fenders missing, tires incognito and a hole in the ground deep enough to have needed an excavator to make.

I'm told where to go. Cradling my rifle, I walk. Already, the heat is starting to become unbearable. It's not even seven in the morning. The locals are coming in force, too. I find myself cursing at them. It appears to be the only language they understand. "Get the fuck back", "Fuck off" -- they're my call words, my watch words, the only saving grace lent to me in a hostile nation. They work, but only when applied with conviction, with faith. My conviction, like my faith so early in my tour, is lacking.

It works, for a time at least.

But like the waves of an ocean, they are always pressing in only to ebb. Then they press on, trying to pass me. They make hand gestures, as though this would make me understand that they're on a tight time schedule and this is the only route they can take to get from A to B.

Hours pass by. Hours of sun, of heat, of locals staring at me. I am an animal in a zoo with no walls, an attraction. They have come to see the Canadian in tan, pretending to be a man. I stare back from behind tinted ballistic sunglasses, swearing, cursing, dehydrated...

Time spent in the LAV in air conditioning guzzling water is well spent but short lived. By three in the afternoon, we finally leave. Nothing happens beyond the IED site. It has barely been a week, but already my hate for a country I know little about is growing...