Written late October 2009
It could be any town. Small, a little quaint, quiet with an air of discernable tension that is nonetheless not quantifiable into any particular threat.
Our team makes its way cautiously down the gravel street between buildings, many of them deserted. We’re in a cease-fire zone between two warring factions, a country split north and south by the economic and political domination of one minority by another. We’ve heard reports of ethnic cleansing. In the distance, we hear occasional peals of artillery fire landing in what is supposed to be a demilitarized zone.
We’re an assessment team meeting with our local counterpart in the town, here to find out what the refugees camped here require. We’re crossing an open plaza at one end of the town. Ahead, our contact is standing outside our local office, dressed in our NGO’s livery, easily identifiable among a small crowd of locals. He calls us over with a friendly wave.
To the left, a hundred yards away, an impromptu market has sprung up, a crowd of townsfolk milling around beneath a ragged banner that reads Duty Free.
The small knot of companions standing outside the office greet us with enthusiasm. They know we are here to help. We shake hands and try to introduce ourselves, but we don’t speak their language, and they speak little English. But smiles cross language boundaries. We are caught up in the moment.
A blast thumps across the marketplace, pressing itself against the ears. There is no warning. It is followed only by chaos.