This weekend we had a final lunch with the Colonel’s work colleagues whom, over the last year and a half, have welcomed me into their world. The world of the military. A life where there are rules, many unspoken, there is hierarchy, also unspoken and there is a system. A system that works. It is a life of order and precision in a world of chaos, unsettled politics and endless conflicts.
Their kindness have at times overwhelmed me and their patience never-ending, when I have asked them yet again to translate the letters and numbers that relate to places, people and events which dominate conversations. I try to remember that they work on the 24 hour clock and punctuality is expected and the norm, whereas ‘fashionably late’ is simply ‘intolerably late’.
Words are chosen carefully so that any potential confusion is eliminated. Of course this is all drummed into them from the very beginning of their training. Precise and clear instructions and not a lot of waffle. It’s laughable to try to imagine CGS (Chief of the General Staff) issuing vague orders … it simply would never happen! The chaos that would ensue…!
I recall one early meeting with them, and as the Colonel went to the bar to order more drinks, he asked a colleague to ‘look after me’ as he left my side for a just few minutes. This was executed naturally and smoothly without a pause in the conversation and said colleague without any hesitation chatted happily, asking me questions until the Colonel returned to me and he then slipped quietly away. From young subalterns they learn how to look after their guests. They have by then, enough life experience and confidence to be able to talk easily and more than enough manners to engage with their companions and make everyone around them feel comfortable as though their guests are as interesting as Mandela or Gandhi, as amusing as Chaplin or Robin Williams and as respectful and important to them as their own wife or mother. Manners maketh man and all that …
They have a unique sense of humour and a banter all of their own, formulated from extreme situations within the cramped metal confines of tanks or in any of those dire places in 45 degree heat in full combat gear, where at any moment they can be under attack with IEDs causing complete and lethal devastation. Where they, and they alone, are responsible for keeping each other alive as one of them begs for a trigger to be pulled as the tourniquet is tightened further and his muffled screams fill the dusty air yet again, but knowing that it’s only minutes before he’ll bleed out. There are fine sand covered body parts spread over the filth as they wait for the longed for throbbing of the chopper to take them within the golden hour, to relative safety. Time is the killer now.
So whilst I pack my boxes, organise and make lists, and my anxiety and stress levels are wanting to creep up the scale, I think of those soldiers and officers and am able to keep it marginally into perspective. It is simply moving again. That’s all. We all have different levels of pressure and stress that we are able to cope with, mine being fairly low. But that’s ok, I’m working on it. And once I’ve waved goodbye to our lovely home here and I’ve managed to pack up the house without tears, tantrums or actually packing the Colonel into a box, I’d say I’ve done rather well …