Sunday, January 18, 2009

Journals From The Front Lines

Photo: View from a Canadian LAV III/Kandahar, Afghanistan / 2002
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada/ 42°19′60.0″N 83°1′60″W

I watched an amazing documentary last week called 'War Photographer,' by Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei. In it, he chronicles the life of James Nachtwey, acclaimed by many as the best war photographer of our time. I loved every second of it and was caught in rapture by the man behind the lens. It brought back memories. Below is a journal I wrote from the front lines of Afghanistan:

March 23, 2002:
Kandahar Airfield Base

I've crossed three continents to get here. Forty eight hours of sheer anticipation--sitting on the edge of my seat, counting the minutes until we land. And through it all, I saw the coast of Ireland, France and England, the Danube River as it approached the Black Sea, Turkey's sprawling capital of Ankara, and fiery orange wellheads glowing in the darkness of the Persian Gulf under a full moon. A world of beauty before my eyes.

I decided to come here because I wanted to see the world--in a very weird and fascinating way, to say the least. Dangerous, too. But perception aside, my decision to come to the front lines of war wasn't an easy one to make. Friends thought I was crazy. Family fought me with bitter sweet words in opposition, mixed with anger, fear and reverse psychology--in a desperate bid to change my mind. None of it worked.

Growing up, I was never a troubled child. I followed the rules. Ate my vegetables and went to bed when I was told. But when I couldn't sleep, I'd touch the globe that sat beside my bed. My fingers traced the contours of every continent in the dark. Some nights, my small fingers would hike the ridges of Everest, or struggle to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. Many times, I rounded the tip of Asia; more than once my fingers stumbled on rocks off the coast of Thailand. My globe was covered with names of nations that no longer existed: Tanganyika, Siam, the Belgian Congo, Ceylon. I'd fall asleep and dream of traveling to them all.

Some day, I hope my parents will finally understand why I've chosen to be here. In a way, I think they already do, but just too scared to tell me. While hugging me at the airport, my mother cried. Her voice trembled as she said goodbye. Holding her, I choke back tears of my own.

I now sit in the midst of war, thousands of miles from home and those who love me. Fear and anxiety dictate my every move. Riding in a Canadian LAV III recon vehicle, the tension waiting for "contact" to begin seems unbearable. Waiting for the inevitable slowly erodes my soul.

Intelligence reports said insurgents planned an ambush or might have planted an Improvised Explosive Device under a bridge west of Kandahar. Tomorrow morning, we head out on patrol. I will also be following a team of medics as they travel beyond Kandahar and into rural villages. I'm scared, yet I'm excited. It's a strange and eery feeling.

Mentally and physically, I'm ready. My training the last few months has come in handy. Even though I've only been here for four days, I think I'm quickly getting used to living with soldiers. Then again, I've yet to see combat, so I'm sure things can change pretty rapidly.

Missing everyone back home.

....To Be Continued.


Cheryl said...

Your life is awesome. Just awesome.

Indrayani aka, Indi! said...

I agree with Cheryl! :)
Always a pleasure to read you!

Random Hiccups said...

This is incredible! I agree with all those above me!

DUTA said...

Unfortunatelly, pictures from the front lines conveying the horrors of war , are often used cynnically by the interested parties , and so they don't contribute a thing to the peaceful solution of the conflicts that led to war. Nevertheless, photographers like you should not give up hope and should go on doing what they do.

Hillbilly Duhn said...

I agree with Cheryl, Indrayani and R.Hiccups!!

Sorry, nothing original today!


Bon Don said...

Ron you are an incredible writer and photographer, I’m lucky to have an awesome BBF!

*Bon Don*

Cheryl said...

hey look, ron. everyone agrees with me!

Vacation Girl said...

Hey Ron - take care of yourself over there... will you be back before I leave Feb 1? Nancy

John said...

Woah... you had gone through very interesting experiences in life... many of which many will never get the chance to experience.

You are one of a kind dude, and I'm glad I'm one of your friends :)