Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. At Camp Bastion

Silent Heroes Camp Bastion

Rafik, the eight years old character from my latest novel, Silent Heroes, continues his journey to Camp Bastion, forced to leave his home village of Nauzad with its fragile security.

What brings him to Camp Bastion? I will leave this for you to discover in Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are worth Fighting for.

Perhaps it was my medical training, but I enjoyed learning about Camp Bastion (later Camp Shorabak), British Army Base and state of the art medical facility and the largest military camp built overseas after World War II. The camp started in 2005 with just a few tents as a Tactical Landing Zone set up by two Royal Air Force Traffic Controllers. They were looking for a safe place to fly supplies for the troops who were to be sent to the southern province of Helmand, Afghanistan.

Rafik journey Camp Bastion - source BBC
Camp Bastion. Source BBC – covering an area the size of the UK town of Reading

The camp’s first runway, operational in 2007, was capable of landing C-17’s direct from the United Kingdom. In 2011, the camp’s airfield and heliport handled up to 600 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft movements every day for combat, medical and logistics flights. A helicopter from Bastion could reach an injured soldier in less than 19 minutes. The most serious cases could be sent to the UK in less than 24 hours.

‘By the MEDEVAC helicopter, two figures in commando uniform strode towards the four Marines clustered around Tommy, carrying a collapsible stretcher. The MEDEVAC medic introduces herself as Corporal Bethany Welsh with the Camp Bastion’s Joint Forces Medical Group.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

Camp Bastion housed 30 000 people and it even had its own Pizza Hut. The US Marines were housed in the area called Camp Leatherneck. Afghan security forces had their own compound, Camp Shorabak.

True to the historical facts, even Prince Harry makes a blitz apparition in Silent Heroes.

Prince Harry. Camp Bastion. Photo credit should read JOHN STILLWELL/AFP/GettyImages
Britain’s Prince Harry at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan on September 7, 2012 (Photo credit JOHN STILLWELL/AFP/GettyImages)

Camp Bastion’s Hospital (operational until 22 September 2014) was operated by (are you ready?) personnel of the British Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force of the Joint Force Medical Group and medical assets from the US Army. Their medical staff included Orthopaedic Surgeons, General Surgeons, Anaesthetists, Nurses and Medics. At Camp Bation’s Hospital were brought all the wounded military personnel from the British, US and other Nato-led security missions, ISAF, fighting in Helmand Province. This was the main place for treatment; from here they were further evacuated to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Of course, Afghan nationals were also treated at Camp Bastion’s Hospital, including the victims of accidental injuries and road traffic collisions – simply because Afghan state hospital had very little (if any) supplies and medics.

It is here that Rafik arrives in his journey through Silent Heroes, at Camp Bastion. Was he scared? Was he hurt? Will he make it further?

‘It was during this time that the British Army, part of IASF, built the first tents of what was to become Camp Bastion, Field Hospital, and MTF, Medical Treatment Facility, Helmand Territory, Southern Afghanistan. The first medical outpost was a tented construction, much like a scene out of M.A.S.H., minus Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce mixing his very, very dry martinis, plus plenty of military and civilian casualties. It soon morphed into the most famous and busiest trauma hospital in the world. Nearly thirty thousand people, Marines, British soldiers, medical personnel and contractors were confined to an eight square miles area, a world completely separated from the country around them.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Image of scene at Camp Bastion, the principal British base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan during Operation Herrick XVIII (H18). Taken during a visit by members of the War Story project team. Emergency Department, Role 3 Hospital, Camp Bastion.
WAR STORY: STUDIES OF CAMP BASTION, Copyright: © IWM

‘The room went on and on as the boy began to glide. His entire village could fit inside this colossal building, Rafik thought, his eyes darting around, his ears pounding with the beats of his own heart. The air had an acidic undertone and it soon made his nose dry, his tongue sticking to his cheeks. Along the walls, he noticed pictures with signs and lots of words. The largest one, green like the grass with four big bold white letters and the picture of a man running, he could read that one. His stomach fluttered. It said “exit”. That was the only sign he could read. Here and there paper pictures of smiling people and beautiful gardens. And light, lots of light inside, pouring through long rectangle-shaped windows in the ceiling.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

To see the real life behind Camp Bastion, have a look at Robert Wilson’s photos.

Rafik will journey further through Silent Heroes, past Camp Bastion. Where will the war carry him next, a child of only eight years old, like a leaf caught in a desert sandstorm? Come back to find out. Soon…

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. An Afghan Village

Welcome to Rafik’s journey. The youngest character in Silent Heroes, Rafik travels from his Afghan village of Nauzad all around Afghanistan. It isn’t a journey made by choice, but out of necessity and bravery.

A critical political hot-spot for the past two millennia, Afghanistan is a country often mentioned in news headlines, yet one that few people choose to think of, and even fewer are aware of its natural beauty.

Life for Afghan children, the true Silent Heroes of any Afghan village

How was your life when you were a child of eight years old? When I was Rafik’s age, I wouldn’t even dream of going around the town on my own. My grandmother or my parents would still walk me to school. Yet Rafik and his friends venture daily outside their village.

boy and girl. Silent Heroes Afghan village
An Afghan boy a little younger than Rafik

They start their walk early, right after sunrise. It is a 10 kilometers march to the nearby stream to collect water for drinking, washing and cooking. Then they tread back, bent under the unforgiving Afghan sun and the liquid weight of their buckets and yellow plastic containers, for another 10 kilometers, home.

The water sings while their small feet dance on the hot sand. Sometimes a few drops would spill and the youngest children would laugh to see them roll away over land so dry that not even water can penetrate it. The older ones would scold them. Water is precious and they don’t want to take this journey again, later in the day. The sun is unforgiving and so are the landmines that litter the ground between their village and the stream, like weeds sprouting after rain, but planted by Taliban. So the youngest ones would burst into tears. That one word, Taliban, has this effect on them, as it has on their older sisters and their mothers.

Here, in Afghanistan, one does not need folk tales with monsters to tell their young. To scare them. Here, in Afghanistan, the monsters are real and they walk between the people.

Once a well-known bazaar, today Nauzad village, where Rafik lives with his mother and older sister, is no more than a ghost town, a dusty landmark lost in the shrub-lined valley of the Nauzad river. The only majestic landmark that still stands is that of the Hindu Kush Mountains, profiling in the horizon. With all their men gone to war, life has become a way of simply surviving from one day to the next, the hot climate being just as unforgiving as the Taliban insurgent group operating in the mountainous area rising in the north.

In the beginning of Silent Heroes Rafik is entrusted with a life-and-death mission…

‘Between their skirts, a skinny boy of eight moved along.’

‘Rafik wiped the salty drops invading his eyes with the dusty sleeve of his shirt, yellow-tinged by time and wear. His head was ablaze and sweat trickled down his neck, soaking the back of his pants. His feet bounced on the already hot sand. The boy was sure they looked like the naan his mom used to cook in the tandoor. Back when flour was still available. He would crawl behind her and grab fresh bread out of the basket to share with his friend. She would laugh and playfully snap at him. But not anymore. For the last year there had been no one for him to share his naan with.
One morning, his friend had left to fetch water and never returned. They found him on the field, halved by an IED.
Rafik felt his chest ready to explode with the pain of memories and wiped his eyes again, although no tears came. The rough sleeve against his face helped relieve the agony in his chest.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Afghan sunset over Hindu Kush mountains
an Afghan sunset

Placing an entire country on Google maps

I invite you to open Google maps and search for Afghanistan. Now zoom in. How many places can you actually visit? Why do you think it is still impossible to zoom into Afghan locations?

Did you know that the Afghan maps you do see today on Google Maps were not visible before October 2011? Most of Afghanistan was pretty much off the map.
A man named Hasen Poreya and his friends, the Afghan Map Makers, all volunteers, walked around Herat with pen and pencil in hand and filled in all the missing details from Google maps.

Herat is Afghanistan’s third largest city and it was a major historical landmark along the silk road. The Afghan Map Makers have put streets, parks and even the Herat University on the map – so that people from all over the world can discover their town all over again. They, too, are the Silent Heroes of any Afghan village.

Afghanistan before and after the Map Makers have added details on Google Maps
Afghanistan, before and after the Map Makers have added details on Google Maps (source, Google Maps blog)

Where will Rafik travel next?
Come back in a few days to find out – or subscribe to my blog posts.

Until then, you might like to read:
5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.