Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Kandahar: A soldier's thoughts

Cpl. James Dalton, 21, of the Canadian Scottish Regiment in Victoria, was deployed to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving weekend. He's been writing monthly dispatches from the Canadian Forces base at Kandahar. This is his fourth column forThe Victoria Times Colonist .

Wintertime sees a relief from the intense heat of the summer months and the start of frigid cold temperatures at night that would make you think you're back in Canada.

Even the Afghans think we're crazy when they see us sleep outside. Unfortunately, the backs of the vehicles we drive are uncomfortable just to sit in, let alone stretch out and sleep.

Traditionally over the winter, we see a decline in insurgent activity as many of the Taliban leaders head back to their homes in Pakistan and order attacks from there. Usually, there is a decline in firefights between coalition forces and Taliban, but we see a spike in IEDs around the country.

Last week, I went on a foot patrol through a built-up urban area of Kandahar with some Americans and Afghan police forces. This being my first patrol on foot, I was slightly edgy and careful of every step I took. Every bush I walked by I thought could potentially be a spot where someone could put a bomb.

After walking for about 10 minutes, I started to relax a little. Kids come up to you constantly to say hello in hopes that maybe you have something to give them. Two boys asked me if I had money, chocolate or candy. I shook my head and held out my hand to show them I didn't have any, but they still grabbed it and went through each one of my fingers to make sure.

and the other Canadian on the patrol seemed to get the majority of the attention, possibly because we were dressed differently, but many of the Afghans driving by would yell "Canada!" out their car windows and wave or give us the thumbs-up. One kid ran by the police officer and the American in front of me to shake my hand.

Getting to walk around and see people face-to-face was much more rewarding than driving past them in an armoured vehicle.

The thing you realize is that in the end, people are the same everywhere. They just want to feel safe and to be able to work so they can feed their children and provide them with a normal life. It's hard to do that in a country that's seen nothing but war since the Russians came in 1978.

Christmas doesn't have the same feel as it does most years. Other than an occasional decoration in certain buildings, it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit.

We've been receiving a lot of great gifts from back home. Unfortunately, I opened mine as soon as I got them, thus fulfilling the Christmas dreams I had when I was eight years old.

I'm also missing out on my family's tradition of watching the movie A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. We've watched that movie every year since I was about seven years old. What kind of parents would make their child watch a movie on Christmas Eve about a man being haunted by three ghosts ... on Christmas Eve! I couldn't sleep; I just sat straight up all night with a baseball bat and a whistle.

The year is coming to a close and I'm sure a lot of people are looking forward to the start of 2010 and the end of another decade, a decade where we saw the reality-show craze and Facebook reach new heights in popularity.

You could probably make a reality show about a gas jockey and turn him into a sex symbol for high school girls overnight. They would go crazy for his two-cent narratives for every emotional scene.

"I couldn't believe he wanted me to check the oil after I just filled up his truck! My girlfriend just dumped me and my parents made me walk the dog at six this morning! Nobody understands me."

Merry Christmas, everyone, and a happy new year.

© The Victoria Times Colonist 2009

No comments: