Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt7

Lisa’s Diary 2014

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin is a REME Reserve Officer currently on a three-year Full Time Reserve Service commitment with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit.  She has spent 15 months learning Pashto and Dari before deploying to Camp Bastion to be the 2 IC of a team of medical personnel set up to mentor Afghan medical personnel. This is her third tour of Afghanistan and her second blog, as she blogged during her last tour in 2010/2011, when she was deployed as a Female Engagement Team Commander.

 

29 Apr

left behind

As I sit in my tent typing this it feels very odd as everyone else in the tent is packed up and ready to go back home. The Med Group personnel are changing over so it is out with the old and in with the new, apart from a small number of people that will endure like me. Many of the people going have become my friends and I shall miss them, and most of the Med Dev team have changed over so there will be a period of adjustment for all of us. My new OC (Officer Commanding) is a good bloke so I think we will work together well and the new CO (Commanding Officer) of the hospital seems to be good too, and he understands the importance of what the ANSF Med Dev Team does and will support us in our endeavours.

The new team are bedding in to their roles at the moment so the atmosphere at Shorabak is very different when we go over; the guys are finding their feet and our Afghan colleagues are assessing them and seeing how they work. It takes a bit of time to develop a good relationship- and the previous team had an excellent relationship with the Afghan medics and doctors- so I am sure in time the atmosphere will be as it used to be. There is some continuity with me still being here as 2 IC (Second-in-command) and our 3 British clinicians will not change over for a few more weeks. It does feel as though I am being ‘left behind’! I will go through this again in July too as most medical personnel only do 3 months at a time out here so later in the year I shall witness another changeover.

Hi, I’m Lisa

 

I got to meet Al Murray, who was performing a show.

I got to meet Al Murray, who was performing a show.

I was lucky enough to see Al Murray perform when he came out here recently. More than that I also got to meet him in his dressing room before the show. I stumbled somewhat over introducing myself as I thought ‘Hi I’m Lisa’ was perhaps a little too informal, but ‘Hi I’m Captain Irwin’ was too formal. So, instead I looked a bit of an idiot when shaking his hand as I said ‘Hi, …….I’m………Lisa’! The show was excellent though, including the 2 support acts. I haven’t seen many shows whilst deployed, as I haven’t been in the right place at the right time, but they are always excellent for morale so well done to the artists that volunteer to come out.

7 May

There has still been little kinetic activity (fighting) out here, as the Afghans and insurgents have been focussed on harvesting the poppy, so that has meant few casualties. The harvest finished recently and there still hasn’t been much of an increase. It is a difficult one as we are glad that less people are being hurt but it also means less opportunity for the team to mentor the Afghans in difficult medical situations. There have been instances of casualties arriving at Shorabak whilst we are there and that happened again recently with one of the medics telling me ‘casualties are coming’ as the ambulance pulled up at the Emergency Department door. The casualties were 2 ANA that had been burned when a cooking pot exploded. We watched how they dealt with the casualties, who mainly had burns to the arms and face, and interjected with advice on occasion, and the casualties were dealt with promptly and efficiently. It perhaps was not how we would do things but their way worked for them and the casualties received appropriate treatment and are now recovering well.

With our time left out here rapidly reducing we need to make the most of every opportunity that we have to mentor so that we can leave the ANSF trauma care in as good a state as possible. To enable that we sought permission to mentor at night too and that permission was recently granted and was enacted tonight. An ANSF casualty came in to Bastion via helicopter and his injuries were such that the ANA doctors in Shorabak would not quite be able to manage him on their own but would be able to with some of our team mentoring them. After several phone calls made by my OC and I the casualty was transferred over to Shorabak, a small team of mentors was sent over ( with Force Protection) and I am happy to say that the case went well and the casualty is now recovering. It was the first reactive mentoring case carried out at night and the team, plus everyone else involved with ANSF Med Dev, felt it was a step forward in the mentoring process.

14 May

The past week has been a bit of a blur as I have been very busy. Not only have I been busy with the usual tasks of my job but I also volunteered to teach basic Dari to anyone interested in the Medical Group (though primarily the ANSF Med Dev team). Dari is not my best language (Pashto is much easier for me) and I am not a qualified language teacher, but the classes seem to be well received and the small things that I teach enable the team members to communicate better with their Afghan colleagues and thus help to develop their relationship.

An Afghan Warrior is treated by Afghan medics.

An Afghan Warrior is treated by Afghan medics.

We had a day last week when there was an influx of ANSF casualties presenting both to Bastion Hospital (having been evacuated by ISAF helicopter) and to Shorabak Hospital. The first I was aware of the casualties coming in was via a phone call at approximately one in the morning which necessitated me dressing quickly and heading in to work. There I met the OC and our clinicians waiting for the casualties to arrive. The next few hours passed in a blur of phone calls, discussions about treatment and where the casualties needed to be treated (ie did they need to stay in Bastion or did Shorabak have the capability to manage them) and a host of other things. Suffice to say I had 2 hours sleep that night (my OC had less!) and still worked a full day the next day. I think I was running on adrenaline!

This week my OC and I were introduced to an Afghan Major General who commands the ANA 215 Corps (the ANA we work with belong to his Corps). As usual I was wearing my headscarf, which he commented on as good because it showed my respect for their culture, and I had a conversation with him and then gave him a brief on the Shorabak hospital and its capabilities- all in Pashto. At times I was uncertain if I had the correct word but I looked to the interpreter who nodded at me to carry on and the General listened intently and thanked me for my brief. The interpreter reassured me it was good Pashto and I felt really pleased. My language ability has definitely improved during my tour- although I am far from fluent I can definitely get by.

I shall be moving to a new job next week to cover someone’s R&R and I think it will be another varied and interesting job- even if I am only doing it for 2 weeks. It involves working as an advisor with some of the Afghan Doctors who are responsible for training frontline medics, to ensure ANA casualties receive the correct care when they are first injured. It will enable me to develop a deeper understanding of the whole casualty care piece, from point of wounding to receiving treatment at Shorabak (or in some cases at the moment in Bastion) and so I am looking forward to it very much. Particularly as the doctors appear to know of me and are looking forward to working with ‘Touran Leila’, as I am known in Shorabak (Touran is Dari for Captain, Leila is my ‘Afghan’ name).

 

Pt1: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt2: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt3: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt4: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt5: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt6: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Read Lisa’s previous blogs from 2010/2011:

Lisa’s Diary 1: October-December 2010

Lisa’s Diary 2: January-March 2011

Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt6

Lisa’s Diary 2014

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin is a REME Reserve Officer currently on a three-year Full Time Reserve Service commitment with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit.  She has spent 15 months learning Pashto and Dari before deploying to Camp Bastion to be the 2 IC of a team of medical personnel set up to mentor Afghan medical personnel. This is her third tour of Afghanistan and her second blog, as she blogged during her last tour in 2010/2011, when she was deployed as a Female Engagement Team Commander.

 

13 Apr

Hard to say goodbye

Today was a momentous day for me, my eldest son turned 21! Being in the military can be really hard at times as you want to be able to share special occasions with family and friends and the separation can be tough. However, the wider military family are very supportive of each other and we all know how difficult it can be so there is a lot of understanding and support. We are actually quite lucky now as the military has become pretty good at welfare provision. We have internet and telephone access, and even when I was working at small remote check points on my last tour I was able to make calls via a satellite phone and not feel completely cut off from home.

There has been a definite reduction in insurgent activity over the last few weeks, despite the Afghans holding their elections. The Afghan Government increased operations conducted by their security forces and it seemed to work, with relatively few casualties coming in. However a few days ago one of our interpreters phoned to say they were expecting a number of casualties injured by an IED.

Initially it was difficult to get a clear picture of what had happened and when the casualties were expected but after a couple of minutes of speaking to my interpreter he handed the phone over so I could speak to the ANA Colonel in charge of the incident myself. Well, my Pashto isn’t bad but trying to conduct a conversation over the phone, without the cues of body language and gestures, is quite difficult! However, to my relief (and, I think, the Colonel’s) I understood what he was telling me and realised that the casualties were several miles away, coming by road. I relayed the message to the Bastion hospital command team and asked the interpreter to call me when the casualties arrived.

Several hours later in the early hours of the morning, he rang back to tell me the casualties had made it to Shorabak and there were two that the ANA doctors were concerned about. I quickly got dressed and hot-footed it to the hospital (thankfully only a few minutes from my accommodation) and informed the night staff that the ANA were requesting to transfer two casualties to us for examination. A couple of phone calls later we had the go-ahead to receive them. One was not too sick and was returned to Shorabak after being examined but the other had multiple injuries and needed an urgent operation. Thanks to the expertise of our medical staff, and to all those involved in moving the casualty to Bastion, he is now recovering.

17 Apr

The lull in kinetic activity has continued so we have seen few casualties either at Bastion hospital or at Shorabak. Those that have presented to Shorabak have been managed competently by the Afghan clinicians and medics and moved as soon as possible to Kabul to receive further treatment if required, or to recuperate. In terms of mentoring, the best teaching opportunity is when a case comes in that is suitable for reactive mentoring but that also enables us to conduct other teaching sessions with the clinicians and medics simultaneously, though it can sometimes be difficult to hold their interest!

We are now coming up to the handover/changeover of the Bastion hospital personnel, which also means most of the personnel in the mentoring team. It will be hard to say goodbye to people that have become my friends but I know they are all hugely looking forward to going home. I shall be the continuity (although the new doctors have been here for almost a month already) so it will be very important for me to keep communication flowing in the team and for me to look out for them. They will be working in a strange environment and most of them will never have worked with ANA before, so they are facing quite a challenge. However, I am sure that they are looking forward to it as much as I was, and I will be able to reassure them that it is an interesting and challenging, if at times a little frustrating, role.

Pt1: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt2: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt3: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt4: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt5: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Read Lisa’s previous blogs from 2010/2011:

Lisa’s Diary 1: October-December 2010

Lisa’s Diary 2: January-March 2011

Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt5

Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt5

Lisa’s Diary 2014

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin is a REME Reserve Officer currently on a three-year Full Time Reserve Service commitment with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit.  She has spent 15 months learning Pashto and Dari before deploying to Camp Bastion to be the 2 IC of a team of medical personnel set up to mentor Afghan medical personnel. This is her third tour of Afghanistan and her second blog, as she blogged during her last tour in 2010/2011, when she was deployed as a Female Engagement Team Commander.

 

31 Mar

Rest and recuperation

I have been lucky enough to have been able to go home for almost two weeks’ rest and recuperation this month so I haven’t been over to Shorabak as much as usual over the last few weeks. It was lovely to go home though and see my fiancé and children. I also managed to go up to Scotland to see my parents and siblings, but driving to visit everyone did mean that I was almost glad to come back to Afghanistan for a rest!

My fiancé and I managed to go and see our wedding venue in Scotland and it is lovely so we are both really happy and looking forward to the big day. I also managed to fit in a shopping day with my daughter and bought her bridesmaid’s dress. She looks absolutely beautiful in it and without doubt will overshadow the bride, but as the bride is me, and I am a very proud mum, I do not mind at all!

Happy New Year!

Whilst I was away there weren’t many casualties so things quietened down a lot for the team, and in particular for my Commanding Officer and the Sergeant Major who was covering for me. The team continued to go over to Shorabak on routine visits to carry on with mentoring tasks but there were fewer reactive mentoring cases. My R&R also coincided with a few changes on the team and we now have a completely different set of clinicians. The General Surgeon, Orthopaedic Surgeon and Anaesthetist changed over as doctors do shorter deployments than the other team members, so there were some new faces when I returned. They weren’t completely new to me though as I had met them when training prior to coming on tour.

Customary Afghan food to celebrate the New Year.

Customary Afghan food to celebrate the New Year.

When I was on R&R Afghanistan celebrated its New Year (their New Year is usually around 21 March) so before I went on leave I made sure that the team were aware of the relevant cultural practices and had plans to take some food to Shorabak to share the New Year celebrations with our Afghan colleagues – and importantly that they also knew how to say ‘Happy New Year!’ in Pashto. The Afghans had a two-day holiday to celebrate the occasion so the team didn’t go over on the actual day but celebrated with them when they returned to work afterwards.

A cake decorated with the Afghan flag and the words 'Happy New Year'.

A cake decorated with the Afghan flag and the words ‘Happy New Year’.

When the team arrived at the medical centre they were taken to the ANA Colonel’s office and as is customary the food was set out on a cloth on the floor. The team sat cross-legged on the floor (not always easy for Westerners!) and ate the food with their hands, which is traditional Afghan custom. I was told by the team that the food was delicious, which I was not surprised about as I shared meals with Afghan families several times during my last tour.

The ANA hospital personnel were also very appreciative of the cake that the team had commissioned for them (pictured). It is always good to share these experiences with our Afghan colleagues as it shows an understanding and appreciation of their culture which is something we must always remember.

Observation sangar collapsed

Although casualties have been fewer of late I have still been called in on occasion when an ANSF casualty is en route to Bastion to arrange for transfer of the casualty to Shorabak where possible. Dependent on the extent of the casualty’s injuries the mentoring team will often go across to assist the ANA clinicians. Sometimes we get calls from the hospital in Shorabak asking us to review patients that they are concerned about, which involves bringing them over by an escorted ANA ambulance. One such casualty came in to the hospital a couple of days ago; he and several of his colleagues had been injured when an observation sangar collapsed. The ANA medics had noticed that this patient’s condition in particular seemed to be deteriorating and asked for the help from the Role 3 hospital at Bastion. On arrival he was assessed as having suffered a crush injury to his chest which had probably caused air and/or blood to escape in to the chest cavity, which was making breathing difficult. Further tests revealed the initial diagnosis to be correct so the team in ED prepared to insert a chest drain to rectify the problem.

The ANA medic who had brought him over asked if he could watch the procedure as it would be a good learning experience for him – with the added bonus that he spoke some English and could act as an interpreter. I stayed too and translated from English to Pashto to the medic, who was then able to translate my Pashto into Dari for the patient (my Dari is pretty basic). It was a slightly unusual set up but it worked! It certainly tested my language capability as I had to explain every step of the procedure; not only so the patient knew what was happening but also so the medic understood what was happening. I think my brain was fried afterwards!

Pt1: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt2: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt3: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt4: Lisa’s Diary 2014 

Read Lisa’s previous blogs from 2010/2011:

Lisa’s Diary 1: October-December 2010

Lisa’s Diary 2: January-March 2011

Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt4

Lisa’s Diary 2014

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin is a REME Reserve Officer currently on a three-year Full Time Reserve Service commitment with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit.  She has spent 15 months learning Pashto and Dhari before deploying to Camp Bastion to be the 2 IC of a team of medical personnel set up to mentor Afghan medical personnel. This is her third tour of Afghanistan and her second blog, as she blogged during her last tour in 2010/2011, when she was deployed as a Female Engagement Team Commander.

 

7 Mar

The past week has been a challenging one for the ANSF Med Dev Team and a tiring one for me.  We have been busy with routine visits to Shorabak when possible but also busy doing some reactive mentoring.  The Shorabak hospital has been relatively quiet so the guys in the team carried out teaching on things such as airway management rather than direct patient care and encouraged the Afghan medics to carry out necessary reorganisation of equipment.

Whilst the guys were teaching my role was a little interpreting, chatting to everyone to maintain relationships and assisting in teaching.  I had a book of Afghan poetry which was written in Pashto, and I showed it to some of the patients as I know that poetry is an important part of Afghan culture.  They were surprised that I had such a book and even more surprised that I could to read it. I read some poems to patients who were unable to read (in the past many Afghans were unable to attend school) and they really appreciated it. It was such a simple thing but elicited a warm response from everyone in the hospital, patients and staff alike.

VIP visit

Ed Milliband visited the hospital at Camp Bastion.

Ed Milliband (left) visited the hospital at Camp Bastion.

We had a VIP visitor to our team in March.  Ed Milliband was visiting Bastion and as he was coming to the hospital he visited our team due to our mission being considered important.   He seemed a personable man and listened intently as my OC, Fletch, explained exactly what we do and introduced the rest of the team.  He seemed interested in our role but I am sure that is a skill that all politicians quickly develop!

Preparing for surgery

As the week progressed the ANA were due to start a large military operation and therefore we started to prepare for a potential increase in casualties.  As the casualties started to come in I was frequently called in to the hospital to be there as the casualties were brought in by helicopter.  Once the casualties arrived I waited for the doctors to decide if the casualties could be treated at Shorabak, or remain in Bastion, for those who could be transferred I co-ordinated the transfer of the casualties to Shorabak.  Some of them were suitable to be transferred without the team going over to mentor and others required mentoring.  Our aim is to take over cases that are slightly complex and useful for us to mentor in order to increase the Afghan doctors’ knowledge and confidence, but not so complicated that they may be overwhelmed or not yet have the capabilities needed.

The current set-up is a bit like a field hospital, and the new hospital being built will not be ready before July, so it would not be fair to the doctors or the patients to send over cases that are currently too complex.   One of the first suitable casualties required abdominal surgery, and the operation was more complex than had been done at Shorabak before.  However, the patient was assessed to be stable and suitable for transfer.  We decided to take over only the team members that were needed, rather than the whole team, and gained permission to stay over slightly later than normal (our working hours in Shorabak can be restricted depending on the security situation).  So the smaller team, with our Force Protection, headed over.

When we arrived at the hospital the casualty was already in the operating theatre being prepared for surgery so the surgical team scrubbed up and went in to mentor the ANA doctors carrying out the operation.  Meanwhile one of our nurses and I went in to the ward to see how many patients there were and make sure everything was up to date. I chatted to the medics and patients that were there, including two patients who remembered me talking to them in the Emergency Department in Bastion hospital – I suppose a blonde, white woman speaking to them in Pashto probably makes me quite easy to remember!

As the operation progressed I was frequently checking on progress to see if we were going to be OK for time.  I also reminded the Afghan medics that they needed to prepare a bed space for the patient to return to when he came out of theatre, with oxygen, monitoring equipment and other such things that a complicated post-op patient would need.  Once the surgery was complete, the patient was taken to his post operative bed for overnight monitoring and care, and we were able to return to Bastion – the team satisfied with a job well done.  The drive back to Bastion was slightly surreal as I had never driven through Camp Shorabak in the dark before but other than feeling slightly more vulnerable we didn’t encounter any problems.

8 Mar 2014

Talking to the patients on one of the ANA hospital wards at Camp Shorabak.

Talking to a patient on one of the ANA hospital wards at Camp Shorabak.

The next day was almost a repeat of the previous day, with several more casualties coming through, some of whom remained in Bastion hospital and some of whom were transferred to Shorabak.  Of the ones transferred to Shorabak another required abdominal surgery so again the team was stood up to go over and mentor the case.  This time the as the surgery was ongoing there was another casualty with a gunshot wound to deal with, so three of us cleaned, irrigated and dressed his wound.  We then moved him to the ward but no sooner had we done that than word came through on the radio that the Afghans were bringing in 3 seriously ill casualties evacuated by their own helicopter.

Immediately I started chivvying the Afghan medics to make sure the Emergency Department was set up to receive them as the medics haven’t yet fully grasped the concept of preparation and tend to be more reactionary.  At the same time I had to keep an eye on how the surgery was progressing as I was aware that we had a limited time in Shorabak.  Eventually it became clear that the operation wasn’t progressing as planned and that we needed to take the casualty back to the hospital in Bastion, and at this stage there was no sign of the Afghan casualties.  So after numerous phone calls and radio messages we loaded the casualty into an ambulance and we all returned to Bastion.

Casevac’d for needing to pee!

The next morning as I sat at breakfast reflecting on the past 2 long days my phone rang again as more ANSF casualties were en route.  No relaxing breakfast for me then as I headed in to work.  There had been an IED incident that resulted in a number of casualties and some were on their way to Bastion.  On arrival the most seriously injured were immediately taken in to the Role 3 Hospital Emergency Department for assessment and treatment but one casualty appeared to have only minor injuries so he remained in the ambulance while he was assessed, as it appeared likely that he could be transferred straight to Shorabak.  However, although the assessing doctor couldn’t find any obvious injuries the casualty was still grimacing in pain.  Unfortunately due to the number of casualties all the interpreters were busy with other injured Afghans and so I climbed into the ambulance to speak to him to see if I could find out where he was in pain.  Quite quickly I discovered the source of his extreme discomfort….he had an extremely full bladder and was desperate for the toilet! Once he had been able to pass urine he was absolutely fine (apart from a slightly sore back).  Possibly the first time someone has been casevac’d for needing to pee!

After yet another full and busy day I eventually crawled in to bed, exhausted.   I suppose this is how my life is going to be for the next few months, with me taking advantage of any breaks I can get but acutely aware that I can be called in at any time.  I wouldn’t have it any other way though as I enjoy the challenge and variety that the role can bring and I really enjoy being able to interact with the Afghan personnel and hopefully positively influence them.  It may be small steps but I really do feel that my job, and more importantly the work of all of the ANSF Med Dev Team, is making a positive difference.

Pt1: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt2: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt3: Lisa’s Diary 2014

 

Read Lisa’s previous blogs from 2010/2011:

Lisa’s Diary 1: October-December 2010

Lisa’s Diary 2: January-March 2011

Living in the Buffer Zone, the Ledra Palace Hotel

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Captain Peter Singlehurst is from the Media Operations Group(V) and is currently serving as the Media and Ops Info Officer, with 17 Port and Maritime Group in Cyprus.

Hello from Cyprus!

In this blog I am going to look behind the scenes at where we in Sector 2 actually live during our tour here in Cyprus with the UN.  Our camp is made up of the former Ledra Palace Hotel, a small part of the former colonial period Wolsey Barracks and some other buildings. All of this is in the UN Buffer Zone, the area controlled by the UN that separates the 1974 cease fire lines of the Republic of Cyprus National Guard and the Turkish Forces.

The Ledra Palace Hotel was once really quite famous, and was known as the most glamorous and luxurious hotel in Nicosia.  Originally built in 1949, the hotel in its heyday had 163 bedrooms, together with a conference room, library, card room and ballroom with orchestra.  There were two restaurants, two bars, a café and several small shops. In the garden there was a swimming pool, paddling pool, children’s playground and tennis courts.

In 1974 following the military action the Ledra Palace Hotel found itself isolated in the newly established UN Buffer Zone, between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot cease fire lines and during the fighting the hotel suffered superficial damage that is still visible today.  As a result the hotel became a base for UN peacekeeping troops, first the Canadian contingent and now, following their withdrawal, the British.

Sweet smell of washing powder

So let us enter the hotel, we walk in through the main entrance, the old reception is the guard room, around us the décor is frozen in the 1970s.  Looking up we see some old grand chandeliers set into intricate plaster ceiling roses.  The walls are richly decorated with architectural features and the floors are marble.  All however have suffered over time and now the reception is a shadow of its former self, as the passing of time and thousands of UN peacekeepers have taken their toll

As we walk around the ground floor we find the various messes, the old ballroom has been divided and is now the main cookhouse and our gym.  Where once the notice boards would have told of holiday excursions there are now military notices and everywhere are signs of the military use of the former hotel for the last almost 40 years.

As we climb the main staircase around us there is constant activity, this after all is the the centre of a military operation that goes on 24 hours a day seven days week.  On each floor is both living accommodation and the Troop offices from which the Buffer Zone patrols are organised.

Walking down the corridors the way is illuminated by harsh strip lights.  An industrial electrical system has been added with trunking attached to the walls.  There is a constant hum from the electricity.  We walk past one of the rooms that has been set aside for washing machines and smell the sweet smell of washing powder.  Looking up the hotel’s old plumbing has been replaced with an industrial system.  The pipes are exposed the same as the trunking, this is a building that has lost its refinement and has become utilitarian.  As we continue to make our way to the roof we can hear and see Cypriot builders gradually refurbishing rooms that have fallen into disuse.

Europe’s last divided city

Looking north from main gate of the Ledra Palace Hotel

Looking north from main gate of the Ledra Palace Hotel

 

As we arrive on the roof we emerge into the bright sun, and the heat is reflected back off the flat roof, under a lazily flapping UN flag, we can look out over the city.  To the north we see the Turkish cease fire line running near the old tennis courts and in the distance the Kyrenia Mountains, with the massive iconic flag of the Turkish north on the side of the mountain.  To the west we look into the buffer zone and agricultural land with the Troodos Mountains beyond.  To the east is the old bastion walls of Nicosia and the roof tops of the old town with the minarets of the Selimiye Mosque prominent.  South we see the modern buildings of central Nicosia that reminds us we are in Europe’s last divided city.

Ledra Palace Hotel

Ledra Palace Hotel

Returning to the ground floor and the outside we walk across the car park on one side are war damaged buildings; on the other side is the Greek Ambassador’s residence.  As we walk across depending on the time of day the cicadas are chirping or the bells of the Greek Cypriot churches are ringing or the call to prayer from the Turkish Cypriot mosques rings out.  At the main entrance we can see Cypriots and tourists making their way to the Buffer Zone crossing beside the Ledra Palace Hotel, but if we look behind us there is the Buffer Zone, overgrown and quite, frozen in time since 1974.

Read more of Peter’s blogs here

Modern city to deserted landscape

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Captain Peter Singlehurst is from the Media Operations Group(V) and is currently serving as the Media and an Ops Info Officer, with 17 Port and Maritime Group in Cyprus.

Hello from Cyprus!

The day-to-day work of Sector 2 is patrolling our part of the Buffer Zone here in Cyprus, as I have mentioned before this is carried out in four ways, namely in vehicles, on bikes, on foot and in the air.  This blog will describe a recent vehicle patrol I accompanied in the west of our area.

Normally patrols consist of two soldiers, either two Privates or a Lance Corporal and a Private.  For this patrol they were joined by me and some army media personnel from the Media Operations Group, who were in Cyprus to gather material to help tell our story.  For this blog however I will concentrate of the patrol itself, so that you can get a flavour of what the patrols are actually like.

We set off from our base at the old Ledra Palace Hotel, in the centre of Nicosia; our objective was to patrol the western end of our operational area.  To get there however first involves a drive through the city.  We leave by our main gate and join the busy traffic at the well-known “Billy the Bomber” roundabout.  So called because in the centre is a statue of an EOKA member throwing a grenade.  A constant reminder of previous troubled times and the British Army’s long standing presence here.

Watching us watching them

We drive through the city towards the old airport, the Cypriots do no give us a second thought we are part of their everyday lives and the sight of the white Toyota Hilux pick-ups we use with the large black UN letters on the side is an everyday occurrence.

After a few minutes we arrive at the main entrance of the United Nations Protected Area, as the old international airport is now known. Here we pass through a UN manned check point and receive a salute from the Argentinian soldier manning the gate, immediately we turn off the main road and on to the patrol track.  We have entered the Buffer Zone and the change is immediate.  We have gone from a modern busy European city to a deserted landscape.  Around us are a few scattered damaged buildings and old defensive positions from the 1974 fighting, as we drive on we see our first Greek Cypriot National Guard Observation posts and Turkish Forces Observation posts.  Some are manned but many are not due to the progress that the UN has made in de-escalating tensions between the two opposing sides.

We wave at the soldiers and sometimes get a friendly wave back, sometimes though they are indifferent and continue watching us watching them.

Our first stop is AD crossing, this is one of three places in Sector Two where the two communities can cross the Buffer Zone that divides them.  It also marks the boundary between our West Troop and our Centre troop.  Just before we get there however the patrol track takes us past one of the most unexpected parts of the Buffer Zone, when we drive past what are now the back gardens of a row of houses where people still live.  The edge of the Buffer Zone is the edge of their property and the patrol track used to be a normal residential road.  On the other side of the track are derelict houses.  This means the Cypriots living in the houses can just walk out of their property and straight into the buffer zone.  Today though nobody is about and it is all quite.

Wayne’s Keep

Our next stop is an old UN patrol house. In the past up to a company of men were based here and the area was once a problem area.  On top of the patrol house is a UN observation point and soon we are watching the Turkish and Greek Forces watching each other and us.

Nearby is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery of Wayne’s Keep that is located in the Buffer Zone.  The cemetery is one of the unexpected jobs that we in Sector Two have, for we conduct visits to it on behalf of the CWGC.  Nearby is also an old school, high on a hill that commands the whole area and which has a Turkish Observation point on it, we look to see that all the opposing forces have the right number of troops in their observation posts and they do, so it is time to move on.

Caption Wayne’s Keep Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the Buffer Zone Sector 2 UNFICYP

Wayne’s Keep Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the Buffer Zone Sector 2 UNFICYP

Poo lagoon

We set off again driving west and the Buffer Zone opens up here the land is dry and parched.  The ground is stony with only the hardiest of plants growing, it is deserted and the Turkish and Greek Observation posts are now in the distance.  We continue our drive west to visit a pig farm that has been given permission to operate in the Buffer Zone.  We need to monitor the activities of the farmer to see that he is sticking to what has been agreed.  This includes inspecting his pig slurry lagoons. The smell is unbelievable and it is not a pleasant task.

Caption On Patrol West AO Sector 2 UNFICYP

Caption On Patrol West AO Sector 2 UNFICYP

 

The patrol is also on the lookout for fly tipping, this has been an issue for many years as Cyprus like most countries charge for commercial rubbish disposal and therefore dumping rubbish in the UN controlled Buffer Zone is a cheap, if illegal solution.  Near the pig farm some fly tipping is spotted and so we stop and take pictures.  In due course the Municipality will be informed and they will remove the rubbish.

Our final stop of the patrol is at another UN observation post that is in the far west of our patrol area; here the OP is on the edge of a long ridge that means we look out far to the west and north of the Turkish Cypriot area.  The land is dry grassland with a strong hot wind blowing.  Nothing is moving and in this part of the Buffer Zone we are quite alone.  It is only in the distance that the nearest town with its large mosque with twin minarets and a silver dome glistens in the sun.

Our patrol has reached the edge of the area of operations and now it is time to head back to Nicosia, another patrol complete.

Looking West Sector 2 UNFICYP

Looking West Sector 2 UNFICYP


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Flying with the Argentine military

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Captain Peter Singlehurst is from the Media Operations Group(V) and is currently serving as the Media and an Ops Info Officer, with 17 Port and Maritime Group in Cyprus.

 

The military currently serving with the United Nations in Cyprus is made up of service personnel from a number of nations that you would not expect to usually work together.  Not many people realise that here on the island we, the British Army, work very closely with the Argentinian military who, after the UK, contribute the second largest contingent to UNIFYCP.

Argentinian helicopters on service with the UN

Argentinian helicopters on service with the UN

The Argentinians patrol Sector 1, which includes the mountainous Buffer Zone in the west and they also operate the only helicopters the UN has with this mission.  This therefore means that when we in Sector 2 patrol from the air we are flown by the Argentinian Air Force in their helicopters.  Recently I joined one of these air patrols and have also spent a day with my Argentinian counterparts to see how they carry out their work and the challenges the UN face in Sector 1.

In Sector 2 we patrol on the ground, on foot, by bike and by vehicle.  This however limits what we can see and we need to monitor what the opposing forces are doing immediately behind their respective cease fire lines.  The answer therefore is to take to the air and fly along the Buffer Zone. 

The air patrol

One morning recently I  joined two other British soldiers for an air patrol.  First we had to report to the Argentinian UN Flight for a briefing.  The helicopters operate from a corner of the old Nicosia International Airport.  This has been closed since the fighting of 1974 and remains frozen in time slowly deteriorating, as nature recaptures the land and the buildings crumble.  Here in a corner sits one hanger and a small office where we are briefed on the flight and I explain that I want to look at an illegal rubbish dump that is being used by Greek Cypriots from the south and some building work being carried out by the Turkish Forces in the north.  Finally I will be looking at the farmer’s crops in the Buffer Zone and how much they have harvested so far.

Once the briefing is over we are taken out to the small Hughes 500 helicopter for our patrol.  I sit in the front right hand set next to the pilot and the other patrol members sit behind.  Soon we are off and I am looking out through the plexi glass dome at the deserted airport.  We fly over the old runway and see the long abandoned remains of an old Royal Air Force Shackleton below.

On aerial patrol

On aerial patrol

As we climb it is now time to be thinking of work, I have to get my bearings and look for the edge of the buffer zone so I can find the rubbish dump.  I see it and take some pictures before we fly on to the northern side of the Buffer Zone to check on the construction we have been asked to look at.  Everything is in order so now it is a quick flight across the old town before we can see the east of our sector opening up before me.  I note the progress of the farmers before it is time to return to the airport.  Suddenly we are coming into land and the patrol is over.

Nearly an hour has passed and though I have flown in British military helicopters many times I have never been in one so small and noisy.  As the pilot shuts down the ground crew are there to escort us out but not before thanking the pilot.  It has certainly been an experience.  Now it is back to Ledra Palace to download my pictures and file my report.

The Buffer Zone Nicosia

The Buffer Zone Nicosia

The ground patrol

On Tuesday a small group of British personnel joined our Argentinian colleagues for a familiarisation tour of their sector.  Our sector, Sector 2 consists of the Buffer Zone passing through Nicosia and some flat rolling agricultural land either side.  It is therefore the narrowest part of the Buffer Zone and also the most populous area.  Sector 1 lies to the west and the Buffer Zone quickly opens up into a wide area several kilometres across.  Initially the land is farmed and it is green with orange and lemon groves unlike the parched fields we are used to where cereals are grown.  The Buffer Zone then rises into the Troodos Mountains before meeting the northern coast away to the west. The two sectors therefore are very different and the UN peacekeepers face different challenges.

We join our Argentinian hosts at the UN Headquarters and set off for Sector 1 in convoy, our first stop is in the Buffer Zone, near the northern edge, by a Turkish Cypriot village which lies just outside the Buffer Zone and further north.  Here we are standing on the site of a serious disagreement last year with one of the opposing forces that ultimately was resolved after some prolonged negotiations by the UN Force Commander, Maj Gen Chao Liu, but the area still remains contentious.

Polite discussions and negotiations

Soon after our arrival and as our Argentinian host is explaining the past problems to us an officer and private soldier from one of the opposing forces approach us.

Our visit has just become a patrol and we are witnessing a violation of the status quo agreements.  This means that troops from either of the opposing forces can only enter the Buffer Zone with prior UN agreement and that is not the case here.  To start with we observe, photograph and report the incursion.  Meanwhile the officer observes photographs and reports us!  Our Argentinian host begins to discuss the situation with the officer but an Argentine patrol arrives and we are able to hand over the incident to the new arrivals.

Welcome to the UN Buffer Zone where instead of violence, it is polite discussions and negotiations over what might appear to be very minor incidents, but this is the world of the peacekeeper and it has worked for many years here.  Our success means tensions between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides have eased and now it will be the diplomats and politicians who must reach a solution through talk.

The rest of the visit passes without incident as we journey to the far end of the Buffer Zone to visit the large manned observation post there. This OP is on the top of a small mountain that looks out over the sea.  Here an officer and eight soldiers look out over the other peaks at the equally isolated Greek Cypriot and Turkish positions in the distance.

Argentinian manned UN Observation Post Sector 1

Argentinian manned UN Observation Post Sector 1

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