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"Coyote" Part 8
From the Author
In the last installment, an invasion was taking place, no one called it that, but what else can you call thirty thousand troops causing havoc in the East, cutting off villages and restricting movement to them, but what can be done?
I've pointed out before that this is a true story, and there are days when I wonder how the hell we got away with things? but at the time, we had no idea we would, so read on and see what happened next. (Oh, and thank you for joining, now pull up that sandbag, and make sure you've got your helmet on, I think you're going to need it!)
Thank you for joining us
Continuing. The next morning
Samir got there just as the sun was coming up over the horizon, the eastern sky was a blaze of colour, vehicles were being lined up ready for the task in hand.
The whole street was a hive of activity. Two new pickups were unloading more sacks of rice, it seemed that despite the fact neither he nor Azeem had said anything, (Mr James had sworn them to secrecy) just about everyone seemed to know about it.
“Mr Tariq” Samir called out as he approached the three people unloading the second of the two vehicles, “what's going on, what's all this extra food?” he pointed to the sacks they'd just unloaded, there were six of them, each weighing twenty five kilograms.
“Seems some of the other organisations might not be able to come with us” the Englishman began, “but that doesn't mean they don't want to help.” He moved round to greet them, “we got another fifteen bags of rice, ten bags of lentils, and don't even ask about tea and sugar!”
They each lifted a sack, “throw 'em in the back of the 'Eva’, that'll be your vehicle Azeem.”
Azeem’s face lit up, the 'Eva’ was an old ex East German Army four ton truck, she was old, and slow, but she could handle any terrain, even the terrain the Land Cruiser and Land Rover had difficulty with, she wasn't a vehicle Tariq gave up easily.
Just about every local and foreign worker Op Mercy had was there, they all wanted 'in’. Everyone knew it was dangerous, and more than a little nuts, but they wanted in on the act!
“Jamila’s got some food for us before we leave” Tariq said as they threw the last of the sacks into the back of the trucks, “Come on, you never know when the next meal’s coming”
“But we’ve already eaten” both samir and Azeem replied almost together, “we don’t need”
“I didn’t say it was optional” Tariq cut them off, “It’s the only way Pauline can persuade Jamila to stay behind, feeding the troops” he looked straight at the two of them, “besides, I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be a long day, and we’ve no idea when we’ll get the next meal, come on, she’s made scrambled eggs!” he led them inside.
Breakfast finished, time to move
Everyone had a job, two of the single female staff would be with them, but then one was a qualified nurse, and the other was fluent in Kurdish, Tariq and Luka would be in the lead vehicle, the Land Rover, the girls behind them in the Land cruiser, along with a driver, a guard (armed) and medical supplies.
Next was one of the pickups, then Azeem in the IFA with most of the food, finally, Samir with Father Boutros, Samir had the tools for any breakdowns.
“You'll all have a Motorola” Mr James was saying, “channel ten, Pauline will monitor from here, any issues and she'll be straight onto the M.C.C (or Military Coordination Centre, a small detachment of US, British, French and Turkish special forces stationed in Zakho)
“Considering they said don't go” Tariq half joked, “I'd really like not to have to call them” everyone smiled, he carried on, “Colonel Mike will not be a happy camper, if you know what I mean”, confusion registered on most of their faces, then they got the message, laughter, just quiet at first, but everyone relaxed as they realised, if things turned to custard, an unimpressed colonel would be the least of their worries.
“Before you leave” a female voice called out, it was Mrs Pauline, they all knew what was coming next. “I think there's someone we all need to talk to, I'd like to start,” then pausing, she turned to Father Boutros, “maybe father, you can say a blessing after?”
Father Boutros’ eyes lit up, he didn't know much English, but Samir offered to translate, “certainly, I'll say in Aramaic, Samir will translate into English?”
Luka had translated everything into Kurdish for a few of the people who didn't speak English, no one argued.
“We're all sons and daughters of Adam” the old Arab proverb crossed Samir's mind as he scanned the gathering, every head was bowed, Muslim and Christian, it didn't matter, was it respect for the westerners here? Somehow, it seemed a bit more than that.
“Heavenly father, I'm not going to ask you what your wish is in this” Pauline cut right to the point, “you seem to have made that bit obvious. So, as we go about that Lord, I'll just remind you,” it was literally like she was talking to a friend, and no one seemed fazed by it. “You used to make blind eyes see, this time, can you make sure those eyes that see, only see what you want them to, thank you.”
He really didn't know what to make of it, talking to God, praying as if he really listened! He wasn't used to that, but from the reactions, the others were!
As soon as Father Boutros finished, Tariq cut in. “Okay folks, let's roll
When the Darkness closes in, the light shines BRIGHTER
Join in the song
Take a minute to listen to the song, maybe join in and take a moment to put your own nation's name in there, praying that the 'flame' will burn brighter.
As soon as they got out of town they were at the snowline. The slush that was in the town giving way to the hard packed snow and ice that had been there for days. The only thing that had kept the road 'useable’ was the heavy military convoys.
In the distance, about half a kilometre either side of the road, they could see heavy armour, some of it 'dug in’ with only the Tank turrets showing, from their positions they protected any military convoys on the road, and gave support to the infantry in the mountains.
They were lagered three Tanks with an Armoured personnel carrier to each lager, about two miles between each one. He could just see the outline where the Tanks had left the road, the snow was flattened, but the ground, so frozen that even sixty tons of armour didn't even leave an impression.
The ground was frozen, his breath was freezing even as he exhaled. He was freezing, but the hands were clammy, a cold sweat. He glanced over at Father Boutros, he was thumbing his rosary, muttering prayers with each one.
The vehicles were evenly spaced, but the front one was slowing up, approaching a checkpoint, the radio crackled to life, but all Samir heard was his own thoughts, 'i hope you know what you're doing Mr Tariq, I really do'
That same thought was running through everyone's mind, not least Tariq's
“Lord” Tariq was praying under his breath, “I've got no idea how this is going to play out, or if it's going to work, I just know we've got to try, HELP!”
They'd covered about eight or so miles when they saw the first checkpoint in the distance. Two Tanks, one either side of the road, alongside were two Armoured personnel carriers, both had heavy machine guns fitted, and trained on the road.
A couple of soldiers could be seen manning the checkpoint, both of whom were by each end of a wooden barrier.
“Take it slow Luka” Tariq spoke quietly as they approached the checkpoint, the lead soldier was waving them to stop.
They were about a hundred yards away, Tariq slowly raised his handset, so the soldiers could see it, it was all part of the bluff, pressing the switch he spoke quietly but firmly, “first checkpoint, here goes”.
By that time Luka had brought them almost level with the soldiers, he eased them to a crawl, Tariq opened his window and was about to speak when the first soldier turned to the others and began signalling them to remove the barrier, he must have been either an officer or senior NCO because they all 'jumped to it’. As soon as the barrier was moving, he turned and waved the convoy through.
“They're letting us through” the radio came to life again, “keep moving, keep a steady speed, and don't forget to wave a 'thank you’ with a smile” Tariq's voice sounded unusually calm, “keep rolling”.
Three more checkpoints they passed, each one the same heart in the mouth experience.
“No wonder everyone respects these people” Samir turned to Father Boutros as they pulled into the makeshift camp, “they deliver on their promises, someone up there” he pointed to the heavens, “listens to them!”
At the camp
Being the answer to someone's prayer
They parked up and began setting up to unload, Tariq and Luka had gone to find the village chief or chiefs, Azeem was making sure no one got too near the truck, a crowd was beginning to form, surprised happy faces appeared from all sides.
A couple of minutes later Tariq, Luka and a few men from the camp emerged from one of the tents, “Azeem, Samir come” Tariq called.
Fifteen minutes later, they'd hammered out an agreement how the food would be given out, the chiefs would take care of it, they knew exactly how many people there were, and the most needy. The girls would run an Impromptu clinic while it was all going on and would do what they could, everyone got to work.
Normally, with the UN everything's done by the foreign and local staff, with nothing done by the locals, while the aid is often needed, and people are thankful, they're also resentful.
It was Luka suggested they try something different, kind of made sense really, but Tariq was a bit sceptical, “you sure on this?” He asked them all as they gathered round.
“There's over a hundred families here” Samir finally spoke up, the rest knew the idea was sound, but they didn't want to annoy him by pointing out Luka was right, “if we try, we've no idea who belongs to which family, it'll take us hours, and we've only got four hours daylight, if we hand the distribution over to them,” they were speaking English, Azeem and Father Boutros followed the conversation, but struggled with speaking it, “I think Lukas is right, we should get the Mukhtar, the village chief can distribute the food.”
“What do you think Azeem?” Tariq asked.
“I think he good man” Azeem replied. “He's village Mukhtar, the chief, he will give out the food,” he pointed to the three Mukhtars, Azeem never could quite get the difference between the singular and plural in English.
There wasn't really much need to think about the situation, with the sun creeping across the sky, the crowds forming, expecting their Mukhtars to take charge Tariq spoke up again, “tell them we're arranging another convoy for next week, it'll be a real UN one this time, but if we hear a y complaints about food distribution, we'll tell the UN not to bring it!” It was a hollow threat, they all knew it, but the Mukhtars didn't, they all smiled, Tariq had no intention of holding back food supplies, but wasn't letting on.
There was one building where they were, if that’s what you could call it, in reality it was just a corrugated shed that the village people had managed to cobble together, to keep the few supplies they had in there, the Mukhtar had them back the truck up to the shed, the people were still gathering, hoping, some were weeping, but they were tears of joy.
The Mukhtar soon had the village people organised, he made it clear that no one was to take anything until the trucks were unloaded, and they’d had the chance to see how much they had of everything, “but tonight, everyone will sleep with food in their stomachs!” he shouted as a cheer broke out, they went to work with a vision and a song in their hearts.
Samir worked alongside people who couldn’t stop saying “Thank you.” It was exhausting, yet rewarding work, cries of “You’re the answer to our prayers” were on many lips, and it was true.
It was a strange feeling, praying and seeing answers to those prayers, like they’d seen that day, and being an answer to someone else’s prayer!
All for this week
I hope you're still enjoying the story, and that it's making you think about what it's really like for those people who've come so far for a 'safe' place to live.
Samir had a lot to think about after this, why was he an 'answer' to someone else's prayer, yet God seemed not to have listened when he needed him?
Why were the people he worked with so crazy as to put their own lives in danger, simply to help people they'd never met? Could they even know if they were good people?
Have a think about those, and put your thoughts down in the comments below.
And remember, never judge a 'book' by it's cover.