Posts Tagged ‘life’

My life has been a kind of a roller-coaster of events, a mixture of highs and lows, times of excitement and lulls of nothingness. I have struggled with despair and at other times have felt the kind of happiness that only a truly content man could feel. I’ve known love as well as hate, have risen to the top and have also felt the pain of being at the bottom. Sometimes I feel as though my whole life has been one constant battle and always will be and that any moments of peace that I experience are just lulls in that battle letting me catch my breathe before the next fight begins. Recently I have been pulling my way through a huge life changing experience, something that has a profound affect on my life and all of those involved and that has led to some hard decisions being made and also the self realisation of the kind of man that I am and in all reality will always be. I have had to open my eyes to a lot of things and also take stock of my past, my actions and the routes that have led to to this place that I now find that I am in. My life has been turned upside down and I have felt chinks in my armours starting to appear allowing things that I had pushed to the back of my mind to start seeping out and I have no real idea of how I am supposed to deal with this. So with that in mind I have decided to start writing again as a way of acknowledging certain events that I think maybe define me as a person and may give you and idea of what drives me, who I am and why I am the man that I am. I have no actual idea if you even read this anymore or even if you really care, but that is by and by as this is not for you – it is for me. What will follow will be a series of events in no particular order that have affected me in one way or another throughout my years, some good and some not. It will be an apology, an explanation, a story, a pouring out of my heart, a confession, a ride and most of all a look into my life that not many get to see.

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So it has been a while since I have been here to leave a Blog and during that time a lot has happened. Old friendships have been rekindled, a new job started, a couple of life’s realities faced and accepted and more importantly a ‘new’ me has immerged from my time out. There is too much to talk about in one session on here so I think for now that I am going to concentrate on what has led me to use ‘A Restoration Of Faith’ as the title of this entry.

My time in Afghanistan, although not continuous, spanned almost a decade of my life. During that time it became my life defining who I was and becoming an obsession that took over everything in my life. I lived and breathed it day and night whether I was there or back in the real world. I dreamed about the place and during waking hours could see it in my mind. Smells, noises, a word spoken or a song heard could take me back there in an instant. It wasn’t just me that became affected by this place and my experiences. My family and close friends became affected by it, albeit in a different kind of way, as over the years they saw the effect my time away and experiences had were affecting me as a person. Through highs and lows they watched me, supported me and most importantly I think – kept on loving me. During my highest moments when the darkness receded and I could think about better times, remember the good things that had come out of my time there, appreciate what I have and push the bad times to one side for a short period they were there laughing and enjoying life with me. During my other periods when I was so full of rage, hate, anger and sadness that all I could do was cause pain they were still there, stood beside me, supporting me and helping me find my way back into the light. Without the love of family and friends, someone’s comfy arm chair, some witty and ‘intellectual’ conversation, a very understanding couple who patiently and without complaint listened to me during the early hours of the morning when I was so lost that I thought there was no turning back and a wife who through everything stays with me and is often my voice of reason I have no idea where I would be now. But what I do know is that where I am is better than there. It’s not perfect, nothing ever is, and I have a long way to go still but I am at least now tabbing in the right direction and the road looks good from where I stand. 

You see, what I am getting at I think is this: I lost faith in myself and to an extent everything else in my life. I couldn’t see a way out and was almost consumed by what was happening to me. I knew what was going on or at the very least I had a good idea of what was happening to me and it scared me. In fact for a long time I was terrified. I didn’t have faith in my own ability to deal with what was happening to me or feel that I had the strength to fight the battle that was being fought inside my head. Only a few months back, less than that even, I thought I had lost the fight but due to the reasons that I mention above I seem to have gained faith in myself again and through that the strength to fight and hopefully win this battle. I am restoring myself and like all decent restorations it will take some time and a lot of patience. No doubt there will be some setbacks as no job like this is ever straight forward and to get ahead I will need to face a few demons, some from a life before the Army, and beat them or at least find a way to lock them in their cage. I am a determined man and can rise to a challenge. And a challenge this is.

It is worth pointing out before I sign off that writing also appears to be helping me. I seem to be able to express how I feel and talk about what is happening in my life a lot easier like this than I do through talking face to face with someone. So it doesn’t bother me if anyone is reading this or not as I think that it is just a case of me finding an outlet through here to ‘verbalise’ everything that is going on inside of me. I need this. But if you are reading then thank-you for taking an interest.

And that is it – the reason behind the title.

‘It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life For me’

Nina Simone.

If I close my eyes and think back I can still remember the first time that I saw my wife. It was way back, almost 13 years ago that she walked into my life and me into hers. It has never been a relationship made in heaven and most definitely is no fairy tale. Like all relationships that last the test of time it has been an up and down thing, some would say even stormy at times. There was a period where we didn’t talk to each other and an even longer period where we were just friends and now here we are, still not perfect but happy, married and mapping out the rest of our lives together.

When I first laid eyes upon my future wife I was working behind the bar of what was then the newest and trendiest place to be seen on a night out in the small seaside resort that we live in. I was stood behind the bar that was located at the back of the building, probably cleaning or thinking about bringing some stock up for the fridges ready for the early evening rush to begin. At the front of the pub a few off duty staff were sat around one of the bay windows enjoying a few drinks before moving onto where ever the night led them. It was while I was stood there watching them and wishing that I could join them that I saw her: in she walked, my very own songbird. The sun that was coming through the bay windows made her shine and her long blonde hair glowed in the light that it produced. Even from where I was stood I could see her smile as she approached my colleagues and that smile blew me away. Her figure took my breath away and her eyes were the most amazing eyes that I had ever seen. Everything about her was perfect. Everything about her is perfect. I remember she turned to look at me and that look said it all as I tried not to drop the glass that I was holding from the embarrassment of being caught in the act of standing there, staring at her with my mouth open and a slightly dazed ‘I’m in love’ look about me while trying to look cool at the same time. It’s never a good look but at least I wasn’t drooling which is something I guess. And that was it as far as our first encounter went. Just after she caught me looking I was distracted by two other beautiful young ladies that had made their way to the bar intent on winning me over and getting me to part with my hard earned cash to buy them peanuts and drinks – but that’s a story for another day, one that can wait for now.

A few years after that, years that had bought us together and at one stage taken us away from each other there I was again, stood by myself, nervous and apprehensive at what was about to take place. A Beatles number was being played in the background by a fella with a guitar sat on a stool in the corner of the room. Behind me, seated in the pews, were some close family and friends who had travelled from near and far to be part of this day. My stomach was in knots and a sheen of sweat covered my hands as the doors at the back of the church opened and I turned to see my almost wife walk gracefully into the building. Every eye in the house was on her as she walked down the aisle towards me, our eyes locked together while the guitar continued it’s song in the background. Nothing could of prepared me for this – I didn’t believe that she could ever be more beautiful than what she already was – she was amazing, beautiful, stunning, elegant, everything that she already is and more. Here was my very own princess walking towards me with silent promises to make this commitment with me and of spending the rest of our days together. And there I was again, just like the first time that I ever laid eyes on her, standing there with my mouth slightly open and a ‘I’m in love’ look on my face. She reached me, we kissed, took each others hands and turned to face the Vicar so that she could start the ceremony. All knots had gone, my nervousness had disappeared and my apprehension had disappeared. This was our future and I couldn’t be happier.

So life carries on and almost four years later we are still married. Life hasn’t been easy and as we all know it never is. But what’s important is that we never give up on each other – marriage isn’t supposed to be easy, you always have to work at it because if you stop working at it that is when it stops. I never quite understand why my wife is with me or what it is that she see’s in me – she is kind, beautiful, intelligent, witty and sophisticated. I am a drinker, slightly scarred, a fighter at times, angry, have an odd sense of humour, no education and spend most of my time away from home. Our relationship kind of reminds me of the one that Princess Leia and Han Solo have in the StarWars films – the two characters come from totally different backgrounds,  have a lot not in common and at first you think that it shouldn’t work but as the films go on you realise that it should work and that they are perfect for each other. That’s how it is with us. Geeky I know.

Now the thing about these two memories that I have shared with you is this – as anyone who has read my previous Blogs will know I have a few issues that I am trying to work through, the main one being my Incredible Hulk impersonations that come out of me from time to time. A good friend of mine, a brother if you like, suggested to me recently that when I feel myself heading into that bad place and starting too lose control I need to try and picture in my head a memory that brings me nothing but joy and hang onto that thought almost as if my life depends on it. I need to use that thought to keep me from where I am heading and to hold me firm on the ground where I am now. The idea is that these thoughts, these amazing memories, will be strong enough to keep the darkness at bay. The two memories that I try to picture are the ones that I have mentioned above. The one of my wedding day is my happiest and has, just recently, worked as my friend said that it would. I think of it as being like my own personnel piece of the ‘force’ from the StarWars universe. That geekiness is showing through again.

My wife doesn’t read my blogs so she wont actually see this. But this is my way of saying thank you to her for all of her support and love that she has and continues to show me. She has no idea how many times over the years that she has saved me. I’m a lucky man. She is my rock.

“Love is like a flower, give it time and it will grow”

John Lennon.

When working in this industry in a hostile country there is only so much for a man of my trade to do in his spare time. Once the tasks are complete, the meetings done and the reports finished then there really isn’t a lot for us to do. It isn’t like we can just nip out down to our local pub for a pint or pop into the town for a wander and a spot of lunch. Once the work is done we are confined to our 50×50 compound to sit, think and find ways to pass the time.

For me, passing the time consists of various things – working my way through one of the many books that I have on my Kindle or maybe kicking back with the latest releases from the UK cinema’s that have been recorded with a shaky hand on low quality camcorder by someone sat at the back of a flea pit of a picture house somewhere in deepest darkest Europe. If the films and books don’t do it for me then the gym will. There is nothing quite like a sweat inducing, vain popping, muscle pumping session in our ‘prison yard’ gym to take away the stresses of everyday life in a war zone. Unless of course I can find someone to play a game of chess with and then I am more than content to sit there in the sun smoking a cigar with a coffee at hand while trying to outdo my opponent in the age old game of skill trying to look like I actually understand the game and can think more than one move ahead.

One other thing that helps me to pass the time over here and keep my mind away from other things is to read Blogs. Not on any particular subjects, just any that, when I first read them, catch my eye and keep me interested and with any luck entertained.  This is what got me thinking about the subject of this entry into my series of Blogs. There is one particular Blog that I have started following where the writer covers a varied amount of subjects and recently published two to do with films – one was to do with their top few horror films of all time and the other was to do with the worst film that they had ever had to sit through to this date. Reading about the authors top horror films of all time managed to get my mind wandering to how films influence us and effect out lives. For instance, thanks to a couple of horror films that I watched from behind a pillow in my younger days I now have an irrational fear of clowns (or Klowns depending on what film you saw), give sewer grates a wide berth and always keep a wary eye on any hedgehogs that I may see shuffling their way across our garden. And it was a hell of a long time after seeing a particular film before I could take a shower comfortably without having to check the locks on the door to the bathroom were securely pushed across and that the windows were shut and that there was no-one squeezed into the bathroom cabinet just waiting to make a appearance once the water started running.

So we all know that films influence us all in one way or another, whether sub-consciously or consciously, to various different degrees. One film that, while I was thinking about this subject, kept springing into my mind as having a huge influence on my life was the Breakfast Club from 1985 written and directed by John Hughes. This film was and still is as far as I am concerned one of the best movies to come out of the 1980’s. For those of you that haven’t seen it the story follows a group of five high school students in the States who are all given a Saturday detention where they are left by the supervising teacher to sit in the school library for the day and given the task of writing an essay about themselves and who they think they are. Each of the five main characters accurately portrays and different stereotype from our school years: the Jock, the Nerd, the Rebel, the popular girl and the plain weird. During the course of the film you watch as they pour their hearts out to each other, find out that they have more in common with each other than they first thought and in the end, for at least the period of the detention, become friends. It’s a heart-warming, funny, touching film and I am sure that every single person who has had the pleasure of watching it could identify with one of the characters when they were back in school. The ‘Rebel’ – Judd Nelson’s character – was who I identified with on some level and it was as a direct result of seeing that film and watching his character at work that my finale few years at school changed for good.

My first year of life in High School was a stressful period of my life. I found it hard. I didn’t fit in to the chaos that is the predecessor to adult life. I was an outcast from my fellow pupils and didn’t fit into any of the before mentioned groups – I was no good at sports so as a rule gave them a wide berth which kept me out of the Jock category. I wasn’t smart enough to be a nerd so they ignored me as well. I was anything but popular and no-where near ‘cool’ enough to be a rebel. And even the ‘weird’ ones amongst us ignored me. Even to this day I am not sure of the reasons for this, maybe it was because I was quiet or even because I was a little shy. Maybe it was because I wore a mix match of clothes as my uniform – a mixture of the cheapest items or second hand shop clothes – who knows. Children can be funny at times and often act without reason. So for the first year of High School I put up with various in-conveniences like being spat on, being pinned against a wall while some of the ‘popular’ girls slapped me in the face just because they could, being pinned to the floor while one of the ‘tough’ guys bit my arm, suffering various digs and jibes at my expense and even being chastised by a couple of teachers on a regular basis for not living up to what my older brother and sister had achieved during their time in that same school – my sister was and is a very smart woman and my brother excels at sports. I am neither smart or excel at sports. Eventually I think that the stress that this must of caused me and the fact that I kept it to myself eventually made me ill and I was diagnosed with ME which led to me having a extended period of time away from school. It was during this time off that I first saw the ‘Breakfast Club’ one late night while sat in my fathers arm chair after he had gone to bed. The film touched me and appealed to me in a way that I couldn’t comprehend. Judd Nelson’s character seemed to spring out of the screen at me and even though I wasn’t a ‘rebel’ something in the character that he portrayed appealed to me. He was an outsider and no-one in particular liked him but he didn’t care. And he let people know that he didn’t care. It was like his character had built himself a defence mechanism against the world and that defence mechanism was to stick two fingers up at anyone, whether it be a person, group of people or the system who upset him and say loud and proud ‘fuck you, fuck you man. I am who I am and if you don’t like me well here I am. Bring it on’. He stood up for himself. In my eyes he was a hero (don’t laugh) and and way above the ‘rebel’ type characters that I knew from my school. And best of all – he got the girl.

Now, I should point out before I continue that in hindsight his character was not the best that I could of been looking up to – he was the way that he was because he had a lot of issues. He had an abusive home life and was a very angry young individual. His actions were very self destructive and in real life could only lead him on a downward path. However, it is what it is and that is the route that I took. Before long I had grown my hair out, changed the way that I dressed and at times was sporting a leather jacket or from time to time a lumber jack style shirt worn over whatever else I had on. I had taken up smoking and was sporting a pretty impressive Zippo lighter. I went back to school but had fallen so far behind with my time off that I gave up on the idea of being able to catch up and instead concentrated on the being the ‘new me’. I walked around with a ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude and when in classes would sit there with my feet up on a table and be disruptive or rude if the teachers talked to me. If they tried to discipline me I just left. People who used to take some kind of pleasure in causing me problems now found me standing my ground and even pre-empting them and throwing a series of wild punches. Nine times out of ten this would end with me laying bloodied on the floor but it had the desired effect – they soon started to learn to lay off. Bullies don’t seem to like it when their intended victim fights back. Outside of school I had started to drinking alcohol ‘acquired’ from my parents supplies to add to the already building image. I found myself with a new group of friends – some that I am still good friends with to this day – and girls were showing an interest in me. So life seemed good to me and that’s how I carried on for almost three years. Thank you Breakfast Club.

Looking back though I wish that I had taken a different route – I didn’t pass any exams, in fact I think that I only turned up for maybe two of them. My reports were bad and only a few days before my finale school day I was finally kicked out. My ticket was even taken away from me for the end of High School boat party that had been laid on for us. However, despite that person not being the real me and leading me to a lot of bad places at times it did help to get through my finale years at school, even if it wasn’t a successful end. And when I finally did make it out in to the big bad grown up world and started mixing with non-school kids I calmed down and started to get back on track…..kind off.

“Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”

John Bender, 1985.

“Saturday, March 24,1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.”

Brian Johnson, 1985.

War is a man’s game. That’s what I have heard some of the old and bold say from time to time. Sure, women are needed – for things like administrative tasks, cooking, some of the medical jobs but keep them away from the nitty gritty side of things that make a War. Fighting. Violence. Destruction. Death. Leave that to the men.

This is still said despite the fact that more and more service women are serving on the front line of various War’s being fought throughout this world. I myself have served with a number of females and have done so proudly. A persons sex has nothing to do with their ability to soldier and to do their job when put in harms way. A IED doesn’t care what sex you are, male or female it will still rip apart your body with unashamed joy should you step into it’s path. A bullet will still find it’s target and take away your life with no thought as to your gender. All it cares about is doing what it was made for – to kill. All the Enemy see are Infidels that need to be cleansed from the face of this planet in the most horrific possible ways that they can think off. Male or female these foreign fighters are all Devils from the West. So whether or not you wear a pair of boxer shorts or a pair of knickers under your kit, or you have a picture of the biggest boy band of the day up on your pod wall as opposed to a picture of the latest glamour model doesn’t make the slightest difference to the nature of warfare and war fighting. Whatever your gender you will still bleed the same and die the same should your time come.

The men who have this view (I would say ‘out-dated’ view but it has never been an ‘in date’ view) obviously do not know their history. Females have been involved in War fighting for as long as there has been Warfare. Whether it be the women who used to stay back with their villages hundreds of years ago and defend themselves, their children and their livelihoods from marauding warriors who appeared out of the sea mists on their longboats while their men were away fighting somewhere else or the women who more recently proved their worth in clandestine operations of WW2 or the women that fight side by side with their male counterparts in the Israeli Armed Forces. Women have proven themselves time and time again as being more than capable of the same kind of professionalism and heroics as their male counterparts when the time arises. It’s not our sex that makes us what we are, it is what is inside off us that counts when the shit hits the fan. Until that time, until the first round goes down then none of us know how we will react. I have seen men who during quiet times would appear to be the strongest that we have falter and break when the violence commences and I have seen women stand their ground with the best of them.

So I got thinking about this after a female colleague of mine from the US Marine Core took four rounds the other day while out on patrol – one to the hand, one to the arm and two to the legs – out of the other Marines with her on the patrol one of them was hit in the leg and another took one to the face sending him rapidly to the finale RV. Prior to that they had been in a vehicle that got hit by an IED and was knocked onto it’s side. Somehow they all crawled out of the wreckage with nothing but a few bruises between them and took stock of the situation and were probably, until the gunman struck, thinking how lucky they had just been to get out of that ok. The enemy who opened fire on them did so from a field of wheat next to the track where their vehicle had been hit and was more than likely the one who triggered the detonation. He dropped the patrol commander with a hit to the head and then another Marine with a shot to the leg. While other Marines dived for cover this woman, this female, this member of the fairer sex who should be anywhere but on the front line, moved towards the enemy and engaged him with her rifle before being hit herself in a burst of automatic fire. Her actions gave the guys who had dived for cover the essential few seconds that they needed to get a control of themselves and deal with the situation. Milliseconds later the bad guy was dropped with a round to the head from another Marine ending that few seconds of chaos which had ended one life and changed two others forever.

She, along with the other injured Marine and the one that was killed will receive a Purple Heart and a Combat Action Ribbon for their actions and that will be it. Nothing more is needed. They are and were proud to be in the US Marine Core and serve their country and each other. And there will be a few men on that patrol who will be glad of the fact that she wasn’t stuck back at some office doing an admin job, or cooking or anything else that would involve her being kept out of an environment that only men should be in.

“Bravery doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. It means you go anyway”.

Red Mist. It’s my term for what comes over me when I loose control. It’s a state that I go into, often without any obvious reason or warning, where I become a different person. My very own ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ story.

It’s a part of me that I am deeply ashamed off and something that I wish with all of my heart that I could use a knife to cut out of my body. It’s almost destroyed my marriage and has at times left those that are the closest to me in fear for their own safety and terrified of my actions. As I write this I am doing so with swollen and damaged knuckles from a flurry of bone breaking punches that I unleashed on an unsuspecting wall in my home. The laptop that I am using is a replacement for the one that I threw across my bedroom while my wife cried in bed listening to my bellows and shouts of rage that had materialised from no-where. As I am typing my insides churn as my mind tries to come to terms with the idea of what I am and where my actions will eventually lead me to if carry on down this path.

More recently my bouts of rage have been broken up by bouts of crying and feelings of self loathing. Someone that has spent the past few months trying to help me through the mess that is inside of my head claims that the fact that I now cry is a good thing and that they would be more concerned if I wasn’t able to cry. The tears are my body and minds way of releasing something from inside of me in a way that will not cause any physical harm to myself or more importantly to anyone un-lucky enough to be in my vicinity when Mr Hyde shows his ugly head.

There is no easy way to explain what happens or the feelings that it produces. When the Mist takes over my body I am a prisoner within my own head. Something takes the part of me that is not hate full, angry, vengeful or violent and locks it away in a cage within my head for it to look out from behind the bars, un-able to do a thing, as the other part of me that is all of the above and more takes over. Inside of my mind this part of me is screaming for the monster that has been un-leashed to stop as it ply’s it’s trade of destruction and this part of me also cries as it listens and watches helplessly as the monster stands over my family, fists clenched and spittle flying while verbally abusing these beautiful women that have done nothing but show me love and understanding. Finally I just collapse to the floor of my cage waiting for it to all be over so that I can be released to pick up the pieces of my slowly disintegrating life. More often than not it is over as suddenly as it began.

I’ll come out of the darkness and back into the light exhausted and with feelings of guilt and shame that will stay with me for hours, days and sometimes I think forever. This is no way to live and yet there is no way to stop it – there is no knife than can cut deep enough to rid me of this other ‘me’. I’ve lost the trust of my wife and my daughters tip toe around me. There are only so many times someone can say sorry and tell you that they love you before these gestures become nothing but just meaningless words said to try and make up for the pain caused. I distance myself from friends and other family members – the monster that I have become doesn’t deserve their companionship and I am afraid of what will happen when I finally loose any control that I may have over it and it finally throws away the key to the cage that awaits me in my mind and takes over my life completely. A few months ago I thought that I had found a way out with the help of some really good people. I spent a few days with them and through them found, what I thought, was away to control myself and lock the monster away in that cage for good. They helped me find myself again and bought me back into the light. I felt alive for the first time in years and it was almost like been re-born. I told everyone that would listen what had happened and how things were going to be different. I had hope. And then without warning the Darkness found a chink in my armor and before I could stop it it came flooding back into me with such a force that I almost had a breakdown. And now I have no hope. Ahead of me all I see is darkness and pain. Even people who have helped me before coming to spend time with me have had no effect, my head is clouded and I am struggling to keep control. I put a smile on my face for people and tell them that I am fine, it was just a blip, all is good so as not to worry them. Inside though there is no smile, I am terrified and just want to gain control again but am not sure if I have the energy to do it anymore and am on the verge of losing this battle.

So now I am back at work, back in this shithole of a country that when I stop and think about it has a lot to do with how I have become and what is happening to me. I am not naive though, I have always had a quick temper and for the Darkness to control me as it does there must of been something of it there in me in the first place – it was just there waiting in the background for the perfect opportunity to grow and control and this place gave it that opportunity. The strange thing is that when I am in this place I can control it better. I have a handle on it. I think that is because I live and work in a violent place, somewhere that it’s acceptable to an extent to be that angry, aggressive man. I can channel all of my rage into something out here that is actually a asset as opposed to a hindrance. I feel safe out here. Over here there is some kind of hope for me. Not the kind of hope that I need but at least I can use that monster while here and also while here I am able to keep it away from those that I love and hold dearest to me. It’s not an answer but it is all that I have and that has got to be better than the alternative.

Before I left my home in the real world to start the long journey back to this home my daughters both hugged me and told me that they loved me. My wife told me that she didn’t want me to come back here, that this place was affecting my health, both physical and mental and that she wanted me home. She wants to help me to get better and to find that side of me that she remembers from so long ago. She wants me to be able to live. I don’t deserve their love but I have it and because of that I will stay here and do all that I can to control this and keep it away from them. It’s all that I can do.

People seem to think that my job must be all excitement, adventure and glamour. I have no problem with them thinking this but in reality they couldn’t be further from the truth. There are jobs in my industry that have all of the above or a combination of them but at the moment that is not my role. I’m a bodyguard in a war zone and my sole task is to keep my client out of harms way which isn’t as hard as it seems. He works with local government officials which means that most of his work is meeting based, in an office, in a compound, away from all the nitty-gritty things that make a war. In turn that means that I spend a lot of my time sat outside of this office that he is having a meeting in stood waiting around for however long it takes his little powwow to finish. Often I am joined by my counterpart from the local police force who is the designated bodyguard for the government official. For thirteen months now we have both stood outside the same office, in the same compound, looking after the same clients carrying out this mundane task. And it was as I was heading back to my compound at the end of one of these jobs that I got to thinking about languages and how not being able to speak one foreign to yourself isn’t always going to mean that you can’t communicate and have a conversation with that person stood beside you who seems to be talking in ‘tongue’ every time he opens his mouth.

Like I have already said, I have known my counterpart for over a year now and if there is one thing that I have come to realise about both of us, it is that we are both absolutely unless at learning a foreign language. We know the basics of each others lingo – we can say ‘hello’, ‘how are you’, ‘thankyou’, ‘goodbye’ and most importantly ‘it’s your turn to get the smokes out’. But that’s about it. And yet we know as much about each other as two colleagues who have become friends that have worked the same shift for months can know about each other if they are speaking the same language. For example – I know that he is single but would like to get married, to a wife that he picks himself, and have lots of children who grow up with an education and have the opportunities in life that he has missed out on. He knows that I am married with two daughters who are both in college. I know that he doesn’t like animals and that dogs scare the life out of him. He knows that we have pet dogs, cats and fish. I know that he is in this job because he is proud of his country and wants to be part of helping it to change for the better. He knows that I am in this job for the money. He would like to see foreign forces leave the country so that they could start to stand on their own two feet but understands that at the moment his country needs our support and he fears that if we leave to early the old government will take control again and then his country would go back to how it was under strict Islamic control and fall into a civil war. I agree. He hates alcohol. I love it. I like American cigarettes. He likes any cigarettes as long as he doesn’t have to pay for them. He would like to me to give him my work boots and buy myself another pair. I think that he should part with some of his wages and buy his own boots. His jokes are bad and mine are good. We both think that our clients meetings go on too long. And it goes on and on like that. The point is that without being able to speak each others language we have still managed to learn enough about each other to become good friends. We have found away to communicate. Language doesn’t have to be a barrier.

It wasn’t always like this though. When we first met each other at the start of these meetings we both gave each other a wide berth. He was a local with a gun, I was a white man with a gun. We would both stand at opposite sides of the compound and eye each other warily, hands hovering over our side arms ready to re-enact a shoot out straight from the days of the wild west if either of us so much as coughed in an aggressive manner. As time went on we progressed to nodding in a manly manner at each other as we both took up our posts. And from there we progressed onto sharing cigarettes – we would meet in the centre of the compound, exchange the smokes, nod and then retreat to our respective sides. After that we moved onto trying to talk to each other. It wasn’t easy. We mastered the basic ‘hello’ and that was it for a while. Anything else was above and beyond us. We would both talk in our respective languages, both getting louder as we tried to talk over each other, more often or not we would end up storming of back to our old sides mumbling under our breaths, me saying something like ‘fucking un-educated idiots, how hard can it be to speak English’ and him probably saying ‘stupid infidels, how hard can it be to learn my language’. At some point though we both got fed up with storming off and sulking in our corners and some kind of agreement was reached where we would try to teach each other one word of our own language at every meeting. This worked for about two meetings until we both gave in and after some genuine laughter acknowledged that we are both up there with the worlds worst linguists. From there we developed our own way of communicating which mainly involves lots of hand gesturing, pointing at various objects in the compound, finger counting and for him, drawing pictures in the dust. And that is how we communicate and know all that we know about each other and how we became good friends.

We still don’t understand everything each of us is trying to say but are a lot politer about it than we used to be. He will sit there and nod politely while smoking my cigarettes as I tell him everything that is going on in my life and I will sit there and mumble under my breath as I notice the empty packet while he chats away in his own language. And when our clients come out of their meeting we both give each other that nod which is our way of saying stay safe, it’s been good chatting and see you next time.