Monday, 18 February 2019

Life in Syria - a post from David

As Mum mentioned in her previous post, I am now based in Syria and she has been harassing me to write a blog post about my experiences.  Apologies if this is a bit 'off the reservation' from normal; please feel free to disregard and ignore.

I am based in North East Syria and my job requires me to have oversight over this region, plus the Eastern region of Iraq (Nineveh, Mosul, etc.).  North East Syria was the capital of the ISIS Caliphate until it was liberated and though there remain pockets of fighters, it is relatively peaceful compared to two years ago. 
There has been a lot of destruction in the last year or so, partly as a result of the occupation by ISIS and partly from the aerial campaign waged by coalition forces to evict them.  The shelling and bombing has rendered much of the urban areas in Raqqa, Tabqa and Deir ez Zoor extremely dangerous with destroyed buildings and infrastructure and for the most part there are few schools or medical facilities, etc. and often the roads are impassable.  In addition there is a lot of UXO (unexploded ordinance) remaining in the form of landmines that were laid and booby-trapped by ISIS as they fled.  The photos are not of the best quality but it is still a volatile place and pictures are often very challenging to take! 


One of the major challenges is actually getting to North East Syria.  It is a 'no  fly' zone so air travel after Iraq is not an option.  The border north with Turkey is closed and hostile, so no joy there.  To the south is Assad-controlled regime territory, actively at war with North East Syria so no chance of getting in from that side and to the West is Aleppo, so badly shelled it is now impassable.  The only option is to cross the Tigris from Iraq: sadly there was no bridge so that was job number one - build a bridge to cross the Tigris river!

My team, putting the finishing touches to the bridge, built with US Army 'building blocks' to create a floating pontoon - we completed this in July and since then, approximately 1.8 million people have crossed, with around 400,000 trucks bringing in humanitarian supplies.

It's not all doom and gloom though. There is a lot of beauty and hope here too, despite the ravages of the war.

A view from North East Syria across to the mountains of Turkey and Iraq at sunset.

People are traumatised but resilient and occasionally things go well and you can see a real difference in the lives of the population. To date we have successfully rebuilt over 400kms of roads, rebuilt three hospitals, opened over 100 new schools and established safe places and centres for women and children traumatised by the war.  In addition, today we reached our 12 month target of 2 million tonnes of food aid distributed - after just 7 months, which is great.
We also established 8 camps for displaced families with heating, sanitation and food as well as classes and training centres.

Kids in school - Hassakeh February 2019

Learning to play again - Deir ez Zoor (Displaced orphaned children) Feb.2019

And finally - Ahmed with a smile to warm your heart, proud to show his wonderful drawing.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Catching up with Christmas

Son No. 2, who previously worked in Afghanistan, now works in Syria and came home to Cornwall for 3 weeks R & R; he and his wife booked a house in Crantock for the first week where we  (myself, son, daughter-in-law and teenage grandson) all spent a wonderfully relaxing holiday in the week leading up to Christmas.  
The house was very spacious and comfortable and had a lovely decorated Christmas tree in the lounge at the side of that most essential of holiday comforts - the log-burner. 

Best of all it had the most wonderful view from the front windows; it was mesmerising to sit looking out over Crantock Bay to watch the ever-changing sea.

In the evenings, we took Benji down to Crantock beach to enjoy a chase around before settling down for the evening.  We wrapped up well because it was quite nippy, only to be expected in the week before Christmas, but very enjoyable.
The biggest surprise was how steep the sand dunes were, compared to last summer, when it was a relatively easy climb from the car park with all the beach paraphernalia and a scramble down the other side.  Not any more - grappling hooks are needed!!! 
I was most relieved to find, a few hundred yards along the beach, another exit, completely flat, which leads directly into the car park.  My choice of access on future visits, methinks.

Across the River Gannel, the lights of the houses built on the hillside of Pentire Point East.  Lovely houses with lots of glass, but we agreed that we would prefer to be facing out to sea rather than overlooking the beach! 

 We couldn't resist a wander around Crantock village as it seemed that every building had Christmas decorations; not just businesses but private houses as well - and trees, fences, everything!  Those lights put many a town centre to shame.

One memorable evening we trundled down to one of the village pubs where it seemed that all the locals (and their dogs) congregated in one small room. We bought our drinks and found ourselves sitting in the adjoining room, a bit like spare things at a wedding. My grandson was glancing at a pool table; nobody near it, so he asked his Dad if he fancied a game.  He did -  so we moved across to watch the fun.  Somehow, I was coaxed into playing the winner - HA!!!!  Never been on a pool table in my life, but Hey Ho . . . 
Well, it was warm work, and I think I partook of the white wine rather a lot - but the more I drank, the more my game improved - or so it seemed to me.  I was thoroughly enjoying myself and the wine kept flowing.  Oh what fun! I'm pretty sure I invented some rare but excellent ways of supporting the cue but my son, daughter-in-law and grandson were trying to teach me the 'proper' methods.  There's no fun in 'proper', is there?
Anyway, my memory fades a bit after the pool games and I don't remember much about heading back to our holiday home - or even going to bed.  But I do remember it was a Good Evening! 

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Cotehele in late October

Remember the teaser photo after a couple of posts back? I was referring to a little outing one sunny, mild afternoon in October to a place not far away from home - Cotehele (pronounced coat -eel).

So here's a snapshot of the rest of that afternoon (at last!)

Expecting a quiet amble along the woodland path, I was somewhat surprised to find that lots of people had had the same idea and the car parks were almost full.

But there are many paths that crisscross this huge estate so it was possible to get away from the madding crowd and listen to the birdsong.

While I rested on a handy seat, Benji did his usual trick of 'guarding' the path from all-comers; he sits there, watching them approach, then refuses to budge so that they have to take avoiding action and go around him.  Once they have passed, he gets up and wanders around again.  Little monkey!

Now Zac always took the opportunity to get a drink from this underground stream which surfaces at the side of the path, but Benji refuses to get his feet wet so he misses out.

My eye was caught by the sight of a mast floating along above the reeds . . . 

. . . . so we made our way to Cotehele Quay for a clearer view.

Considering the time of year, river traffic was busier than I've seen in a long time, with craft coming along in both directions.

However, 'Shamrock', the Tamar sailing barge, owned by The National Trust, was sheltered by a huge tarpaulin cover, undergoing maintenance and restoration.  I found a handy spyhole and poked my camera inside.  There's a website devoted to the 'Shamrock' -

And so another visit to Cotehele ended; we made our way back to the car, hoping to get away before everyone else had the same idea.  We did!!!

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Godrevy and the seals

Don't faint!  Two posts within an hour - but actually this was part of the same holiday.
Godrevy wasn't far away and that lighthouse was in my sights and calling my name, so off we went for another sunny, hot afternoon.  Lovely walks along the cliff path, an ice cream to share and other dogs to meet and greet. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

This was the image that encouraged me to buy a cornet, which we both enjoyed. Mmmmm . .