Doa China firebase is small - several buildings surrounded by a tall stone wall, with four towers at the corners for lookouts. There is concertina wire outside the fence. It seems uncomfortably easy to get into, and uncomfortably easy to reach by mortar fire from the nearby mountains. On the plus side, the wide, flat plain between the mountains and the FOB will make it easy to see anyone trying to attack us directly.
The MP unit we are replacing have been anticipating our arrival for over a week. They are still repairing vehicles for their trip back to Waza Khwa when we arrive. Until the vehicles are ready to roll, they will remain in Doa China with us. While they are here, they will show us the ropes.
The ABP have a small police force in the compound. Surprisingly, as soon as we arrive, the commander leaves, telling us he is going on vacation. He leaves his executive officer in charge, who will arrive in the next day or two to take over. There are about a dozen or two Border Policemen, most of whom are from the immediate area. From what we gather, the BP have relatives all over the Doa China area, and are very aware of any Taliban activity. The Taliban are apparently not liked at all in this region, which is relieving to hear. Hopefully our time here will be uneventful.
After a day of resting and recovery, we begin taking our turn with the MP’s on tower watch. This will become a large portion of our duties here when they leave. The towers on the four corners overlook the FOB and the surrounding countryside, and provide a lookout for the security guards who watch for any enemy activity, day and night. We take shifts, rotating every four hours, working between MP shifts until they leave us behind in Doa China. Our ANA soldiers also take their turn with the ongoing tower watch.
We have promised our ANA Soldiers we will watch out for them. Their well-being is our responsibility: security, food, health, morale. Every day, we will ask each of them how they are doing. They rarely complain, and are very congenial. They try to teach us Dari, and we try to teach them English. One of them studied in Iran (surprisingly to us), and is somewhat competent in English. He can read and write English better than he can speak it. When our interpreter is not available, we can communicate a bit through him. Since he is educated, he is also the NCO of the small ANA group.
Ironically, the ANA Soldiers have some difficulties communicating amongst themselves. One of them speaks Pashtu, some speak Dari, and the NCO speaks Persian. Here in Doa China, we find the locals speak an idiosyncratic dialect of Pashtu which even our interpreter finds difficult to understand. (Apparently, Pashtu has many different regional dialects, since there can be large swaths of land between villages.) Even our limited knowledge of Dari and some Pashtu phrases is useless here.
Our MP hosts tell us the local villagers often come to the FOB for medical support. There is a pharmacist in the village, but often the villagers cannot afford to pay for medicine. So they come to us for minor medical issues, such as diarrhea, fevers, sore throat, and similar conditions.
Conditions at Doa China are primitive: there is no running water, other than an electric pump which runs water from the deep well, connected to a hose. We run water into water containers. What we call “running water” is water being poured from a 5-gallon can. Our only sink is a field hand-washing station which is activated by a foot pump to wash hands. Pots and pans are washed out of a big pot of hot water, heated over a fire. The firepit is our only means of cooking and heating water.
There are burn shitters and piss tubes here for waste. The sole comfort available is a single shower, which is heated by an electric water heater. We use hand-held mirrors for shaving and brushing teeth. Our laundry facility is a large iron tub, where we will wash our clothes by hand and hang them to dry. I tell my teammates it’s like Gilligan’s Island, “as primitive as can be.” Ironically, even these conditions are better than what the local population lives in.
A day after our arrival, I went with a few Soldiers to visit the nearby bazaar to meet the local villagers. We were invited to have tea with the pharmacist. He lives in a one-room house made of mud, like all the other houses in the area. Along the walls of his home were shelves of medicines and sundries, including hair care products. Afghans like to color their hair, like they decorate everything else. The pharmacist also does simple medical procedures, like stitches and splints. He has no medical credentials for his practice, but in this part of the country, it’s scarcely surprising. Anyone who knows something in this part of Afghanistan is considered an authority. We understand and respect his small practice.
The local villagers use a common well for water. There are no electric generators - houses use batteries or oil lamps, and use wood for fuel for cooking and heating. There are no sewers.
It’s hard to see why anyone would want to fight about this place.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.