A real firefight
It warmed our water, our food, our bodies and our souls
Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- They took the fire from us tonight.
It was nothing really special. Just an old rusted 55-gallon drum sawed in half and placed in the middle courtyard of the airport. But it was the center of what little social life we have here and now it's gone.
I was sitting staring into the flames thinking of home when a shout from the darkness said, "Put that fire out now!"
There were some other words said which I couldn't hear over the incessant drone of the generator in the courtyard. Its chugging rumble removes some of the romance. Sadly I hefted the 5-gallon water jug and ceremoniously poured it on the fire. I swear I could hear a faint soft bugle blowing taps in the distance.
But flames can be stubborn things. Just when I thought they were out they'd spring into action again. More shouts, more berating. I went through this verbal firefight three times before my water power won the battle. The fire was dead. Just to be sure, they took the firewood and cardboard. My ammunition.
It's not that the flames were giving us away in the dark of night. The terminal is lit up like a Christmas tree. And the nearby detention center glows like the short-term parking lot at O'Hare. Ah well, it's out.
It was our only source of heat. It warmed our water, our food, our bodies and our souls. There's not much to do here when the day is done. A big night is someone playing a DVD movie on a laptop under the open stars ... next to our fire.
Let there be ...
Each day before sunset and the grip of the cold, we'd set out, foraging for firewood. We'd often return with wooden pallets scrounged from the area at which all the military cargo flows in. We'd hurl them onto the cement to break them into pieces suitable for burning. Sometimes we'd kick, curse, pry and jump on them, so desperate was our quest for fire.
Once the fire was lit, we'd sit around it in plastic lawn chairs or those collapsible newfangled ones made of steel and nylon, so popular these days. We'd talk of where we've been, where we're going next, of those no longer with us. The sort of talk that has gone on 'round fires since it was first discovered.
"Our fire was a danger, a risk," the officer said when he told us to carry it away. We'd never been careless. Oh well, OK, there was the time we threw the tiny empty bottle of Tabasco sauce into the flames to see what might happen. Kid stuff. Sometimes we'd take the powdered drink mix that comes in our military MREs and sprinkle it in the blaze. It would sparkle. It would entertain and divert us from thoughts of where we are.
We lost this firefight. Tomorrow we'll gather around the small blue propane tank with a heating element on top. We'll light it, but it just won't be the same. I mean come on, who ever heard of a good propane tank song?
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