It’s odd how you can find small and surprising pleasures in the oddest of places.
Here in the Check Point conditions are a little basic. Yes we have the internet and BFBS broadcasting the best of TV from back home, including all the footy and a dedicated news channel so we can keep up with events around the world…and yes we do have two chefs who do their very, very best with the fresh food they get, producing some meals that would shame the best of restaurants back home. And then there is the gym which not only works to keep us fit, but also as a stress relief and a way of passing the time.
But on the flip-side we have the joy of using ‘Wag-bags’ in our toilets – which are just wooden out-houses. Wag-bags are basically a plastic bag that fits inside a toilet seat that is a much better alternative than the famous ‘long drop’ toilets…and it makes disposal of your ‘waste’ a lot more pleasant than having to burn a barrel of poo.
Washing and shaving is basic too – most of the time the water is heated by one of several venerable Puffing Billys – age old devices that drip petrol into a small fire and which heats up water in a large tin bin. Lighting Billy can be a bit of an adventure at times – you can get a small burst of flame out of the chimney of Billy which, if you are not careful. can take your eyebrows off, but once going they are really effective and heat the water up in the bin quite quickly.
Showering is obviously with water from the same source. In this case though we use shower bags which can be filled with water from Billy, or can be filled with cold water and left in the sun to heat up. This second method is okay if you are planning on showering in the day, and you have had enough forethought to fill it and place it out. At night, or needing an unplanned shower then you are either in the realms of a shower with water from Billy, or else a cold one.
And here’s the thing. Back home a cold shower is not necessarily a welcome thing – but out here, when you have just returned from a patrol in 45 degree heat then a cold shower certainly can hit the mark in ways that you wouldn’t imagine. Often on patrol you think of what you are going to do first when you get back – and mostly I like to get my kit sorted and then get into the shower to cool down. Sometimes though, the cool of the shower – the cold water running down your back is something that you start to fantasise about…dreaming of being free of body armour and helmet. No day-sack on your back with god-knows what and how much kit in it weighing you down.
But as good as this is, it’s showering at night that is pretty amazing. The showers are outside you see. Just a bit of spare Hesco mesh with a wooden door making a single shower cubicle and some Hessian sheeting, and a spare poncho giving you just a bit of privacy. A wooden frame over the top is for the shower bags to hang from, hoisted into position so they hang from a wire hook and a length of rope.
And as it is outside you get to see all the stars in the sky as you wash. It’s a pretty amazing thing. The whole thing becomes a much more intense experience. It becomes almost sensual…you have the sights of the stars and the moon – and of course with no light pollution their display is awesome. You can see the band of stars of the Milky Way snaking across the sky to the south, if you are really lucky you will see one or two shooting stars streak across the sky. There are people who would pay a fortune to get a sky-light in their house so they could see up to the stars…and here we get the view for free.
You get the feeling of the water cascading over you, and the feeling of the shampoo and soap washing you. The camp is generally quiet at night and you get the sound of the water gently splashing on your skin – like the patter of a light rain shower on a plastic roof.
This might sound unnecessarily like I am over-blowing the whole thing, but in a place of few pleasures and many hardships, you take what you can, and you enjoy it. It allows you to escape from the reality of things here, to escape from the drudgery that is day to day activity here. Everything just takes longer than at home. Washing your clothes takes ages – you can’t just chuck it in a machine and it comes out ready to go on the line, here we use a cement mixer and hand pump water from the well. Shaving or showering isn’t just putting a plug in and turning on a tap. It takes time to prepare the water before, and after you can’t just pull a plug out and it goes down the drain. Here you have to wander across to the drain area to where are you going to throw the water from your bowl…
So when there is a chance to enjoy something. To take a cool shower during the day – or even better a warm shower at night – then we make a grab for them with both hands…and who’d have thought that, once I go home, one of the things I know I am going to miss about being out here – as good as going home will be – is being outside, under the stars, showering at night.