‘You’ve Stolen My Mud…’
‘You’ve stolen my mud!’ said Gulam.
Well he didn’t say it to me directly, but it came to me through an interpreter who was already smirking at the comment.
I was taken aback. What DO you say to someone who is complaining that you have stolen his mud? Plead innocence? Admit to the theft? Look astonished that someone would even do such a thing?
I chose the latter. The problem was I sort of knew what he meant…
Outside the Check Point here we have a pit for the burning of all of our rubbish. I know, it’s not exactly environmentally friendly, but we have to get rid of it some how. Essentially, all that is burnt is food waste, boxes and of course, our ‘wag-bags’. This is done in a pit dug outside the camp gates, across the road.
The farmer who toils in the heat in the field where the burns pit is, came to complain that he couldn’t grow crops in the field due to the smoke from the fire. This was a perfectly legitimate claim in my eyes, and one that could turn into a win win for both the farmer AND us. You see the burns pit was getting full, and we needed to expand it. It made sense to move it further away from the camp as well, and into the field. If the farmer couldn’t use the field, we would rent it off from him and then build a bigger, better pit for our waste. A win:win scenario. A further win was the fact that the defences of the Check Point were going to be upgraded and they would need soil to fill the HESCO walls of the new Sanger (to you and me, a big guard tower) being built. The soil is placed inside vast mesh baskets that provide protection from small arms fire all the way upto Rocket Propelled Grenades. But they need vast amounts of soil.
Anyway, I set up a rental agreement with Gulam to say that the field would now be ours, and the engineers came in the very next day to start work. Their massive, armoured JCB cutting out a swathe through Gulams…sorry…OUR field.
Within minutes Gulam came running up and began to shout at the engineers. I quickly intercepted him and took him into my Shura area just by the gate to calm him down. He was irate and this is where the famous, ‘you’ve stolen my mud’ comment came…
These in this area are simple folk. Farmers. Uneducated, but certainly not stupid. Some would make excellent lawyers back in the UK – you know the sort…’Ambulance Chasers’ I think they are called…the ‘Where there’s blame, there’s a claim’ types. Gulam, in particular would be very good at it.
He forcefully put his claim forward that we were stealing the soil from his land, that his field would be unfarmable. He would lose his livelihood. His children would go hungry. I had to remind him that we rented the land. That he’s agreed to us building a new burns pit. That he was being paid each month for us to use that land. Slowly, through the interpreter we calmed him down. Eventually he went on his way, not exactly happy, but certainly placated.
And then today came. The engineers are back. They are doing more building on the site that needs more HESCO. Needing more soil. As we rented the land…I told the engineers exactly where to get the soil for the HESCO from…you guessed it, next to the burn pit. Within hours of the digger scooping up soil, Gulam was back, looking just as irate as two months ago. He launched into a blistering tirade about us ripping up his field, and taking his soil. He wouldn’t let me or the interpreter get a word in.
Until I eventually just held up my hand. ‘Gulam, shh!’ I said quite forcefully.
‘Gulam. I understand you are not happy with this. But you have to remember that we rent the field from you. I have made sure that you get the very best rent for that field as possible, and I know that you have helped us out here as much as you can – possibly more than other people. But I am hurt that you have come here today to complain about this. You know that we rent that field and that we pay you for using it. We need that soil to fill the walls of the new defences here. I have told you in the past that when we come to leave we will clear out the pits of any un-burnt rubbish and we will return the soil to your land. We will make good any damage we cause and if we don’t make it good, we will pay you compensation. But for now you are still receiving money from us each month, and now you come in here to complain, like before. I have done my very best for you and yet you come to complain. Gulam, I am hurt by what you have done today.’
He looked sheepish. Then he gave me a big smile. Even though he was just a farmer, like all good lawyers, he knew when he was beaten. He knew he was in the wrong and he offered me his hand. ‘Okay’ he said. ‘Samadi.’ We chatted for a moment about what crops he was growing elsewhere and about his family but eventually he stood up to leave.
‘I don’t want you back here complaining about this field’ I said to him as we walked to the gate of the camp. ‘We will put it right when we leave, but you have to remember we rent it now and we need that field for our defences.’
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘You can borrow my mud…’