Wednesday, 1 April 2009

A favourite pair of boots

Around the time of the first Gulf War, in early 1991, several
container-loads of US and British military kit turned up in the
bazaars of Peshawar, in Northern Pakistan. Korean war-vintage flak
jackets, baggy US-issue cargo pants, water bottles, compasses - and a
consignment of British Army desert boots. As a young reporter for the
Daily Telegraph, with a beat covering mujahedeen-controlled
Afghanistan, I was always on the lookout for good walking kit. The
lightweight, high sided, canvas and suede boots fitted perfectly -
with a stitched tongue so dust and stones didn't get in, they dried
fast, packed small, and when worn with normal trousers looked much
like normal suede shoes.

These boots first saw action in Jaffna, covering the war in Sri
Lanka, in the summer of '91; they covered three "Falls of Kabul" - in
'92, to the muj; '95, to the Taliban; and '01, to the Coalition. They
climbed mountains in Tibet and Pakistan and Kosovo. They held me
steady under fire in Bosnia, and Somalia, and half a dozen other
summer-time wars of the nineties and noughties. They waded through
swamp and march in Eastern Congo and the Zambezi Valley. They shod me
to interviews with Benazir Bhutto, and Fidel Castro, and Ahmed Shah
Masoud, and the mad, bad Hitler Hunzvi during Zimbabwe's farm
invasions. They kept me upright in the opium fields of Nangahar, and
amidst the bones and scraps of clothing at a massacre site in Eastern

They were, in short, a favourite pair of boots.

They began to fall to pieces in the luggahs of northern Kenya, back
in January, near the beginning of the Jangano expedition. I had them
stitched together in Axum in Ethiopia, but by the time we reached the
Western desert they were, as it were, on their last legs. They are
now, it seems, irreperable - at least to me. I know Africa well
enough though, to know that nothing on this continent is irreperable.
So I will be leaving them here, in a glade of acacia trees under
mighty Mount Poi, a few kilometers from South Horr, where we have
camped the past two nights, confident that before the sound of our
engines has faded into silence after we leave tomorrow morning, some
Samburu warrior or passing goat herd will have picked them up, shaken
them out, sniffed them, and decided that as far as he is concerned,
they have at least another eighteen years of life left in them.

I wish him safe travels and a smooth road.


  1. Regarding Sri Lanka Long War:
    The war has gone on for around 25 years and whole generations of Tamils and Sinhalese have seen nothing but war & bloodshed. I believe that this war must end one way or the other. If Sri Lankan government can end it though fighting than so be it because in the long run the end of this war will be beneficial for the future Tamil as well as Sinhalese generations. It will be called genocide if Tamils stopped fighting and Sri Lanka was still killing them but we all know that this is not the case. So to stop this war Tamils will have to throw down their weapons and come to a peaceful and amicable political settlement by reaching a compromise on local autonomy for Tamil majority areas.

    By Sikander Hayat

  2. Guys - just catching up on your progress: terrific stuff!
    Less exotically, we have returned to the UK and putting down new roots in Winchester. House in chaos of boxes and unpacking.
    Wishing you all safe travels . . .
    Richard B-J