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Ryan Paul Lobo | Excerpts from Ryan’s Journal

We take some shots from a point on a hill overlooking the city and close to Babur’s tomb (Pg. 14). The city looked like an aerial sketch of Mohenjo Daro. I climb into the tomb’s basement and find used syringes and faeces. The tomb’s dome has mortar holes and numerous bullet holes. Here lies India’s first Mughal
“conqueror. ”His grave has been defecated upon. (Pg. 8)

We visit with two soft spoken and skinny heroin addicts. One brings his little daughter along. They take us to an abandoned building some distance out of Kabul. The structure is bombed out, bullet hole marked and littered with human faeces. The little girl waits while they smoke heroin. We film as the men crouch in a corner and thick clouds of the drug waft by. After a while, I feel nauseous but it is replaced with a feeling of euphoria. We finish shooting and I stand outside the building, unintentionally high on heroin. The mountains are beautiful. I am beautiful. I wondered what will become of the child. “Maybe she will be sold,” says Brian who gives the girl a bar of chocolate. As we leave the little girl makes scary faces
and sticks her hands out in front of herself and roars, as if to act like a monster. (Pg. 10)

We walk around the house to the poppy fields and interview the farmer. A crowd of children collect. He says that he is unaware about what the drugs will do to it’s users. He avoids eye contact. Then he says it pays better than other crops. He makes eye contact when he says so and laughs. I notice people walking over from across the fields. In the distance I see figures running through trees. I am suddenly nervous. I feel the little voice, that feeling on the edge of things telling me that something is amiss. It’s because the children are behaving differently. (Pg. 22)

Our informer friend appears and he is perspiring heavily. He says that we have to leave immediately. His hands are shaking. As we hurry back I see a boy who I had met earlier when he was smiling (Pg. 25). In the distance I see men crouching and approaching us. They want to kidnap us, I think. 200 yards is not far. The kids look angry. I find that frightening and I can hear my own heart beat. We get back to the house and Brian says that we have stayed too long. Enough time for someone to put on a suicide vest and come by. He looks very tense. A crowd collects and people ask us why we are leaving. I turn away from the crowd and a little boy looks at me from a doorway. In that chaos, it looks like he is swearing an oath of allegiance to some unknown flag but he’s just holding a filthy shirt together. (Pg. 27)

Mr. Brown shows us Saddam’s bedroom in a obscure part of the palace. It’s very small with a bathtub and a big balcony. He was paranoid about being assassinated. The wallpaper near the headboard is peeling and I take a small piece as a souvenir. We stand on the balcony and Brown shows us the spot a short
distance away where a katyusha rocket landed killing a KBR contractor. We look at at the air-conditioned pre-fabricated housing for State department employees in the date palm orchard.  We go to the top of the Al Rasheed with Sergeant Rhodes. It’s a tall building with two “counter sniper” posts. Choppers swoop over the buildings moving fast and low. (Pg. 38)

18th October
I wake up early and I am 34 years old. It’s my birthday. We go to the MOD and head out to a check post behind it to shoot women soldiers at work. I take photographs’ and we walk to the checkpoint down past the pre-fabricated walls and bougainvillea. Our security team is taking no chances, as the area is full
of militants. We have been seen several times at the MOD as well. The MOD (based on what the contractors tell me) is probably very corrupt. I think the security for entering the MOD is lax. One man being frisked with a sheaf of documents freaks out when I take his picture. He is terrified and is almost in tears. I cut off his face in the photograph to protect him from potential reprisals. (Pg. 44)

We shoot the Iraqi women manning the check post for 20 minutes and leave (Pg. 45). “It’s long enough and if you stay longer you might be attacked”. Only 20 minutes and so much preparation and protection. They search people coming into the Ministry of Defense (Pg. 48). I don’t think much of the searching. There are so many layers of procedure and bureaucracy here with the excuses and side steps that ostensible fear allows an administration to use against reporters. In my conversations with people back home, I talk about “danger” but the truth is that I don’t know how real it is. I don’t know anything, but I trust the people I am with. And now, even that is under jeopardy. The fog of war is lies.

19th October
We wake up early and pick up Major Kraft who drives us to the prison, which is where Saddam was held before being executed. It’s a huge structure that’s been marked by shells. Litter blows about everywhere. Since government officials and the police are possibly affiliated with various militias, we enter with seven men, armed to the teeth. We meet the warden and we are taken through dark corridors with windowless rooms (Pg. 46) to a pre fabricated walled courtyard where prisoners sit about (Pg. 50). A lot do not want their faces shown as they might get into trouble with their families and militias. Some claim to be innocents. Some have bullet wounds. Later I ask Mr. Brown about these prisoners (Pg. 49) and he says that some of these men are guilty of horrific crimes, some are “fanatics” and some are “innocent” (Pg. 28-29). I see their rooms. They are dark and windowless with no light fittings. It is very hot inside a cell.

On the way to the airport, from our armoured land cruiser, past the same wreckages’ and through the bulletproof glass, I notice that the fields are in full bloom (Pg. 51).

I do a time lapse at the building Joshua once controlled with his child soldiers. He wears his Levis cap and plays with some kids. Senegalese the former child soldier whose legs Joshua had shot off looks stoned as usual (Pg. 58). It was here, in this building and close to where he plays with kids now that Joshua once held off a siege of ECOMOG troops. He talks about how he trained children to jump
down whole flights of stairs and how he would beat those that could not do so. He killed a baby right there where he talks to some children. And ate its heart.

We have to leave after awhile as a UN truck arrives and makes a racket. It has come to load signs which have been piled up against the building. They’re about peace and reconciliation. Here in Africa wounds are being acknowledged. The intention is that they wont express themselves later if they are confessed and hopefully forgiven. Later we go to the beach and Joshua and Senegalese are interviewed.
Joshua apologizes. He recounts the story of how the general shot him in his legs and how he begged him not to. Senegalese forgives him (Pg. 64). Later I look at my photographs and Joshua looks smaller than the impression he gives me, than he actually is physically.

13th November
We meet Joshua and his youngest child soldier Bobby. “His gun used to drag!” says Joshua and they laugh. He puts up posters by a busy road advertizing his church and we head to a slum called Xolalli, which means, “Where death is better than life”(Pg. 60). Joshua warns us that the people here are very smart and will rob us and to be very careful. Many are heroin addicts. I take one camera and leave the backpack with my passport behind. We walk into Xolalli and the corrugated ceilings of the barrack like buildings have been sold off to pay for drugs and maybe food, says Joshua (Pg. 68). We walk into the building into a room where men smoke heroin. Joshua goes into a tirade against himself. He says that when they were boys he had forced them to kill for him. “This one I forced him to fight, this one I forced him, FORCED him to fight.”

Joshua says “I am sorry. I was not the person I am now, then I did not know what I was doing.” She calms down and puts her head in her hands as Joshua begs (Pg. 63). Men silently surround us. I take a photograph. Finally, she places her hand on his shoulder as he touches her feet and leaves. I feel like I have witnessed something immense. Joshua tells the story of how he killed her brother and then ate his heart because he spoke French as one of the factions the general fought against then spoke French. Kun would later say “There can be no true healing for either side without confession and then forgiveness.”

We visit his old quarters where the general would live with his child soldiers. So many hundreds were tortured to death in this room. He tells us how he shot Senegalese Johnson again, in this room. How he begged to be spared and was shot in the legs. How he dragged him to the bathroom to die. He tells us how Bishop Kun Kun came into this room. How he wondered how brave a man Kun was. How he watched Kun closely when Kun told him that he would pray with him as he was waiting for Kun to make a move to harm him. I take pictures of the general. I am alone with him in this room. The stains on the wall look like ghosts. He looks like Jesus to me. A most unlikely Jesus. But a Jesus nonetheless. (Pg. 66) We leave and he puts up posters on the wall outside the room he once murdered within (Pg. 65).

I return to Xolalli with Joshua and the rice. People are fighting and screaming. (Pg. 74)                         One tall guy warns me not to take photographs. Guys come up to me and ask for money aggressively. Women are given food first and the lady whose brother Joshua had killed, comes to the front of the line shoving and screaming. Women fight. I am hemmed in. One man gets stabbed but I don’t see it. I talk my way out of some situations. I stay close to the general but he has problems of his own being inundated with people. He pauses in the middle of the chaos and is silent (Pg. 72).