Behind me, I hear a tinkle, and I turn to find three slender women passing by, mounted on the backs of donkeys. The donkeys are piled high with cut rushes and the women are perched upon the rushes. They are completely covered from head to toe, in clashing, undescribable patterns, colors, and designs. Except for their faces. Their weather-beaten, ageless faces look at me with unabashed interest as they pass quietly by. I notice that each is holding a small sickle, with a worn wooden handle. They had cut the rushes with a sickle… much as might have been done two thousand years ago. Not much, it seems, has changed for some people.
Some time later, a middle-aged man dressed in brown slacks and a collared, button down shirt boldly approaches. He claims to be a farmer and that he has found a “rocket” a little ways down the street. This was definitely worthy of investigation. Leaving the vehicles, five of us move with the farmer and translator several hundred meters down the street.
The farmer leads us straight down the road and gestures off to the side. “There,” he says, “the rocket.” Off to one side, lying on a matted bed of grass, is an artillery shell. Not a “rocket” as the farmer had explained, but a 155 South African Howitzer shell… and it looks new. At the Captains request, the translator asks the farmer… “how long has it been there?” The farmer looks blank for an instant and then says “two years.” He smiles, revealing dark black gaps in his teeth. I exchange glances with some of the others… the shell is in too good of a condition to have been lying there for two years.
Quickly we move to secure the site, and call EOD. It seems EOD, the busiest guys in theatre, have other calls to attend to, and it will be a few hours before they can reach us. The farmer departs... It gets hotter… The sun shifts in the sky... It gets hotter... and EOD arrives.
EOD pulls up in 5 vehicles, and the EOD sergeant saunters over with a friendly wave. He is wearing a shoulder patch with a bomb and blast symbol that vaguely reminds me of old black and white photos of the fat man and little boy.
EOD proceeds to examine the shell. He inspects it for wires, and detonating devices, blasting caps, and booby traps. I watch from a respectable distance, as do most of the infantrymen with me….no sense in tempting fate. Finally satisfied, the EOD sergeant nods his head and bends at the knees…. As he straightens, to my horror and amazement, I see that he has lifted the massive shell up off the ground and put it on his shoulder like a sack.
With no ceremony at all, he walks off to his vehicle with the shell on his shoulder… mission complete... to be stored and detonated at a later date.