Clothing Gap


In my short 20-years of living I had no idea how terrible a smell a refugee camp could smell. We were there as a part of the UN Peacekeeping Forces.

Privately, none of us were happy about being in the position we were in, we considered ourselves to be warriors not peace-niks. Eventually we would get to fight, but that is a different story.

Walking through this mass of people, rotting food, defecation and poor water supply, I was appalled at both the site and the odors that came from every inch of the place. I was tasked with medical aid.

Even though I had a large tent set up near the center of this camp, I was not seeing any of these people. They refused our assistance.

It took about two weeks for someone to suggest a change in our habits. Instead of wearing our Marine utilities, we got permission to turn out in jeans and sweat shirts.

Command airlifted our “new” uniforms via the Quarter Master. Many of us figure the QM believed we had lost our minds by requesting “civvies.”

The first day I put on my jeans and sweatshirt was also the day I was ordered to the pass. There I had to set up another medical tent and organize the supplies.

It was astonishing to see the hordes of people fleeing the war torn country behind them, looking for peace and safety. They trudged up the side of Safed Koh all day and all night to reach the flats jus’ beyond the gap in the mountainside.

This was no small feat as it’s over 3,500 feet. And the majority of these refuges packed everything they owned with them.

Still, not many stopped for medical assistance. It had to be something major, like a broken leg, that impeded the hike up to freedom.

In a case like that, I’d realign the bone to best of my ability, put the injured limb in a standard plaster cast and through an interpreter, instruct the patient to return if it continued to hurt, became swollen, infected or simply need to have the cast removed.

Not once did I see anyone for a return visit. Once they made it to the pass and had stocked up on enough supplies in the camp, they’d leave and not return.

Within a month, the Marines were moved of the mountain and into the valley. The Pakistani PCF took over the care of the incoming refugees and old rivalries and feuding sprang up. It became a sorrier situation than before.

But though it was on my mind, we didn’t have time to worry about this. Instead we were working out plans to win the Cold War by advising the Mujahideen in their war with the Soviets.

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