Monday, 29 September 2014

People I've Met On The Road – Bryn

Those Who Stayed Behind
I met Bryn in 2009 while travelling on business in the Kurdish city of Erbil, in Northern Iraq. The Kurdistan region has a troubled history, lying as it does between the Iran border and the rest of Iraq. I was staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Erbil (or Arbil) where I had been contracted to visit telecommunications sites and train local engineers. Needing to visit some fairly out of the way places, I asked the hotel to arrange a taxi driver for me who would be available for whole days at a time. They did better than this, they found me one who spoke English. I won't say perfect English. We were introduced by Aziz my very helpful hotel manager.

"So where is it you need to go today like?" asked Bryn.

"I have three sites I need to visit today," I told him.

I handed Bryn a list of locations provided by the company who had commissioned me to do the work.

"I've looked on a map," I said, "I think the first three have been grouped on the west side of Erbil."

"Oh I see. Yeah that's no problem I know these. We'll box off the nearest one first if that suits you?"

"Yes any order's fine by me," I replied.  "So where in Wales are you from?"

"That obvious is it?" laughed Bryn. "I suppose my name would give it away though... I'm from the south just near to Ebbw Vale. Abertillery, I don't suppose you've heard of it?"

"I have actually. I once went to the Wetherspoons there for lunch when I was driving down the valley."

"Ooh Christ! The Pontlottyn, that must have been quite an experience," said Bryn. "You must have been desperate like!"

"Actually I was, yes," I replied. "So what would bring a man from Abertillery to Erbil, if you don't mind me asking?"

The Pontlottyn in Abertillery, South Wales (in better days)

Site Visits – In The Line Of Duty
The road was potholed and we were constantly engulfed by the clouds of dust thrown up by old trucks that roared past us as we made our way into the rocky desert land to the west of the city. Purple-tinged mountains I knew to form the border with Turkey loomed in the distance. It wasn't that Bryn was reluctant to tell me how he got here so much as the road conditions that hampered our conversation. A roadblock ahead appeared out of the dust and brought us to an abrupt halt. Bryn seemed unsurprised. I was not bothered by it either. I was not pressed for time and it was easier to speak once we had stopped.

"So I come here with the military, see," said Bryn. "I'm taking a risk tellin' you this mind 'cos they don't know I'm here like. Technically I'm a deserter, see. No straight up! That's how it is, now. You don't work for the government or nothin' do you, Mark?"

I told him I did not.

"That's good because otherwise I'd have to kill you like. No, just having a laugh with you now. I don't tell no-one normally like. Being honest, I got no family to speak of, but I can't tell my mates back home or no-one, otherwise that'd be me, banged up as a deserter for a few years. Then there's the risk I might end up used as an hostage. You can see me on TV like, can't you, wearing an orange boiler suit, you know what I mean?"

I did know what he meant.

"So can I ask, how did you come to be a deserter then, Bryn?" I said cautiously.

"We was all down in Basra us lot. Welsh boys. It was nasty by anyone's standards. I'm not a wuss but they was killing us boys with roadside bombs and to be fair we could do bugger all about it. Half a dozen of my good mates was killed in my first tour, three in the second and then four more in the last one. I don't mind telling you I was only too glad when they sent a group of us up north here – to work covert like. SF – Special Forces. I was chose on account of I speaks a bit of the lingo like and 'cos I got the dark skin. Never thought in my life before that that'd be to my advantage but there you are!"

Bryn swerved hard to avoid a mangey dog in the road. The dog made no effort to avoid the car. It just stood and looked at us. Bryn cursed at it.

"Oh that's right you bugger, never mind my bloody tyres!"

For the first time at that moment I noticed a long scar, part hidden by Bryn's short hair. I assumed it to be a war injury but decided not to ask. Yes I could see with his skin he could easily be taken for a local, although he looked to me to be more likely of North African descent.

"Well I won't lie to you," continued Bryn, "it seemed alright up here for a while – cushty you might even say. We settled in well. But then we goes and gets ourselves ambushed in the hills like. Someone must have grassed us – obvious. I think there was two of us out of the seven what got away like. I dunno what happened to Mutton, the other one, but I lay low here in Erbil, on account of I had a lady-friend, see?"

"Jeezus! So when did this all happen, Bryn?"

"Oh blimey, it must be well over a year now, easy. All our boys have gone home now 'course, the buggers. I'm the bloke who got proper left behind."

"So do you think they're still looking for you?" I asked. "I mean I suppose the ones who got killed were repatriated?"

"Yeah you'd think so," he replied. "I mean stands to reason, that's usually what happens. Someone phones the local cops and says they found some bodies. Foreigners. They counts 'em and makes a few inquiries about any that's missing like. Informers and what have you. The Army don't tend to make a big thing about it though, right? The missing ones I means. Bad for morale, that's it. Oh yeah they makes their enquiries but it's all hush hush like, see what I mean? But that suits me Mark, look. Iraq's not the kind of place they'd really wanna come snooping around asking questions. We got our fingers burned here see. Fortunate thing for me though is I'm settled. I got no desire to go back home, no way. Abertillery's a bit of a shit hole, to be blunt, and as I say I got no family to speak of. An uncle who's in a home, that's all. End of message Like. I got a kid here now. He's coming up a year, little Hamid. He won't be doing no Army, that I can tell you!"

Bryn removed a photograph from his wallet and was handing it to me when all of a sudden there was a knock on the window. The checkpoint patrol. I eyed their machine guns as Bryn lowered the window and the man spoke to him in Arabic.

"Hello. You are from where? Your passport?" said the man, bending to look in at me.

I handed him my passport, which he studied carefully and then returned.

"Canter-bury," he said. "Very nice cathedral. Enjoy my country."

I smiled and thanked him, taken aback by his geographical wisdom.

Roasted Carp is especially popular during Ramadan

Carpe Diem
The rest of the week was a surprising pleasure. Bryn took me to a few local restaurants that I would never have found on my own. A place that served only carp. Big golden fish roasted over bricks in the bomb-damaged car-park. On my last day he invited me to his home to meet his wife and son. It was a lovely evening but I left feeling really quite surreal. The thought had stayed with me – how many more men like Bryn might there be left behind?  

If you would like to read the bestselling travel book 'Long Road, Hard Lessons' by Mark Swain, you can find this along with his two collections of short stories on Amazon, Smashwords etc. 
In the UK his books can also be found in all Waterstones Bookstores.

1 comment:

  1. Quite the story and very well told Mark.The lives some people lead are beyond comprehension.