There are other sorts of memories that also visit. Sometimes these come if we hear a loud noise or we are startled. These are memories of times when we nearly lost our own lives.
One of us told this story:
‘There was a time I was in one of the big military trucks called a Mastiff. I was with the British forces at that time. We had been moving slowly in a convoy with two or three within each vehicle and two soldiers with weapons moving in the ditch by the side of the road. Then the Taliban attacked. I think we had two casualties. My mentor, Chris, was shot in his neck, but it wasn’t deep and he survived.
There was then a powerful explosion that damaged the vehicle I was in. We were stuck and could not move. The powder, the smoke from the explosion, filled the vehicle. It was summer. The weather was hot. I remember that I had to try to cover my nose and mouth because the powder was that much strong. I took my socks off of my feet and covered my nose and mouth with them. It was the only thing I could do.
That was at 2pm. We couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t go out. The only safe place was inside the Mastiff. We were stuck there with no food until 4pm the next day. 26 hours we waited for another tank and tow truck to come to us. Around us, we were surrounded by Taliban. In the daylight hours there was constant shooting. When the night came there was quiet.
There were two other interpreters with me in the same vehicle. We did talk. We certainly couldn’t sleep. We had water to drink but I was even scared that when we drank water then we would have to pee, so for that reason, we didn’t want to drink. The other two interpreters, when it was really dark in the middle of the night, and we believed there was no contact coming, they got out from the car and peed outside of the vehicle and then came back inside. I was scared. I did try. I went out, I tried to pee, but I couldn’t. And when I came back to the car, I had a really strong pain in my side that I was holding until the next day. Maybe that pain damaged my kidney. When we finally got to another camp, by 5pm the next day, then I finally went to the washroom.
I remember that.’
For us interpreters, there were many times when we nearly lost our lives. Interpreters and our families were targeted by Taliban. We all know other interpreters who were killed or kidnapped.
‘I remember an interpreter who was 18 or 19. A really good boxer. We were playing some game in 2009 and he lost to me. He said ‘okay, I will beat you in a rematch’. But we never had the rematch because he stepped on an IED and part of his foot flew 200 metres through the air and landed in the camp close to where I was sitting speaking with one of my other friends. He was from Herat province.’
We have seen the bodies and body parts of our interpreter friends. And each time we went out on patrol we knew it was 50/50 if we would come back alive or not.
Fear would sometimes visit us in our sleep:
‘We were sleeping under a big basement, to protect ourselves from the mortar attacks and I remember my friend shouting when he was sleeping, “Oh, please, please protect me … please protect me … the Taliban are killing me, the Taliban are killing me”. I woke him up and gave him some water’.
We were not only fearful for ourselves but also for our families:
‘My family was sent a threatening letter by the Taliban. The letter said that if their son doesn’t stop working they were going to kill me or kill them. That’s why I stopped going to my province to visit my family. For the nine years I was working, every second of my life, I was in danger. The level of scaring and frightening was that much that eventually I couldn’t sleep day or night. I couldn’t enjoy my life. I was thinking that at any time they could target me and they can kill me.’
Sometimes memories of those moments, or those hours when we nearly lost our lives, return. They remind us of how close death can be and how precious is life. One of us said:
‘I have nine children now here in Australia. Nine more lives.’