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The conversation was starting to go round in circles, so I stopped responding and just acknowledged what the officer was saying. I gripped the phone tightly. I was starting to feel irritated as the officer spoke, “So you want to demonstrate next Tuesday. That’s less than five days’ warning… so I will forward the application form for you to fill out.”
I repeated myself politely: “I’m not asking for authorisation, I’m informing you that there will be a ‘Naming the Dead’ ceremony to mark the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan.”
There was a silence as we were at loggerheads. The officer seemed to accept the scenario: “Okay, can I have your name?” “Sure, Maya Anne Evans.”
There was a burst of laughter. “Oh hello, Maya, it’s me! PC Roger Smith!” We both laughed as we realised who the other was, I was once arrested by PC Roger Smith. “Yeah, I’m fine, thanks. So you’re doing a Naming the Dead ceremony. OK, let me write this down so I get it right.”
There was a genuine mutual acknowledgement of the other person’s situation. The tension dissolved in a second as I sensed feelings of respect for what we were doing.
There happened to be seven of us standing opposite Downing Street for seven hours marking the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan on the seventh of October.
There was little police intervention despite it being an “unauthorised protest”. The sombre rain soaked our sheets of paper with names of Afghans and British soldiers killed as a result of the war. Susan was reading the names of Afghans; Sue read the British soldiers while I rang a bell and held the loudhailer pointed towards Downing Street. Susan later commented how hard it had been reading the names of Afghans as they were on separate sheets, accompanied by a photo of the person, and how, when and where they were killed. Whole families, neighbourhoods, had been obliterated in the blink of an eye.
Susan noticed there were a number of suicides of British soldiers.
One incident sticks out as curious. Information obtained from the Ministry of Defence website sketches a day when, during a barbecue at a military base, one soldier was shot and killed by another, who then killed himself.
The British soldiers on the ground are mainly young, mainly from poor backgrounds. What must it be like for them being in a different country? Do you become filled with disillusionment when you find yourself killing civilians or do you become more ardent that the war is just and full of hate for the enemy? Either way I would want out.
The seven hours passed quickly though there were moments of fatigue. I became more aware of human fragility. I had only stood for seven hours, yet all I wanted to do was sit down.
There’s nothing like feeling a bit of hardship to make you thankful for your own comfortable existence.