Machine Guns at Recess

It was dark when we realized the fourth little traveler had left his backpack at school. It’s a strange feeling doing the school run at 7pm. The feel of a school changes dramatically when it doesn’t have any children. The corridors become eery, it’s too quiet and empty. Playgrounds are barren and classrooms are lifeless.

The fourth little traveler left his brand new backpack in the car park and we went back to look for it. I swore under my breath as I shone my lights across the bare stretch of rubble we refer to as the school car park. How did I miss it? How did I not notice he didn’t have his backpack? I remembered the first little traveler carrying it out of the gate for him, and I remembered watching her pass it to him half way across the car park, but I couldn’t remember him putting it in the car.

I was distracted. I was thinking about something else.

There was a policeman standing outside of the school yesterday. There are always policeman outside of the school, but yesterday they changed their routine. Instead of sitting in the car at the corner, they stood at the gate. They were holding machine guns.

I walked straight past them without noticing.

I was walking along with a girlfriend, talking and holding hands with the smaller travelers while negotiating the traffic. It wasn’t until we caught up with another friend who asked if we knew why the police were at the gate, that I gave it a second thought.

As we continued to wander along towards our cars we thought about events that were on in Doha. There were events that would call for a heightened security, but there was nothing that matched machine guns at the gates.

“The TED event?” we all agreed it didn’t make sense.

“There’s something bigger though, it’s International, people flying in from everywhere…” no one could quite remember the details.

And then it came to a girlfriend of mine.

“Kabul. There were a number of attacks there today, I think mainly embassies and foreign offices.”

Mystery solved. The conversation moved on. There was a new restaurant opening. Did we want to take the children for a swim on Thursday? Are you still okay to take my child home on Wednesday when I go to the dentist? The usual stuff. And then we got in our cars and drove off.

What was coming out of my mouth was not matching what was going on in my head. In my head I was wondering if any children were hurt and how many people had lost a parent. I thought about a friend who’d just finished working in Afghanistan and was pleased she was safe in Australia.

As we drove past the man with the machine gun I wondered what he’d been told. Was he there to make me feel comfortable, or was he there because he knew something we didn’t.

And then I did what I always do. I stopped myself from thinking, because when you think too much about it your mind starts to wander. Should I start doing this? Should I stop doing that? And then they’ve won, because you’ve changed your life for them.

Our biggest causality was a backpack.

This morning the playground was bursting with children, the teachers stood outside sipping coffee and saying good morning to parents as they wandered by. The policeman was back at the corner, the backpack was waiting on a chair.

As I left the car park I thought terrible thoughts about evil people doing terrible things, and then I stopped myself.

If I change the way I live my life – they’ve won.

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  1. I can’t truly comment. I am just in awe of you. Your talent. And the life you are living. xx

  2. Anonymous says

    If we don’t think enough about it, then they really have won.

  3. I think you should keep thinking. I don’t think they win. If you stop thinking, machine guns at recess become normal. That should never be normal. No country should ever accept that is OK. Machine guns are confrontational. As many times as I’ve turned a corner in Indonesia, and a man has been sitting holding a machine gun, you know…in a fabric store, I can never get used to it. It stops me – I become transfixed – I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Last time I was there I wanted to leave the hotel at night to walk to the shop and they wouldn’t let me go unless machine gun man went with me.I didn’t go.

    • We moved to Indonesia not long after the riots and left just before the first Bali bombing. I was back in Jakarta only a couple of months ago and couldn’t believe the security situation. Every car being scanned at the hotel, every handbag etc. I’m with you, machine guns are not normal and I don’t ever want them to be a normal part of life. There is a fine line between effective security and what I think of as “theatre” security – the stuff that is there solely for appearance.

  4. I remember thinking about this topic long and hard after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, and I agree, you can’t change your life because of the ‘what -might-happens’ or else you’d never do anything or go anywhere. Now that we live in Seoul, with an unpredictable (and often aggressive) North Korea just a couple hundred kilometers away, we operate on the same principle. I would hate to look back at the end of my life and think that I had missed opportunities just because something bad might have happened.

  5. I agree. We live in an expat environment that is labelled unsafe, it is not as bad as the media portrays, but it is somewhere that we are on high alert pretty much 100% the time, our school has lock down procedures and guards and a guard dog. You do become used to it. I also try not to think about it too much as I don’t want to live in fear….I want to enjoy the good parts and not focus too much on the bad.

  6. Thanks for sharing yet another view of the expat life. Rarely do I even know about the ‘bad’ bit, let alone think about it.

    Can you imagine if I went to school pick up here in the Melbourne burbs and a machine gun man was at the gate, I would be crazy lady on fire getting my kids out of there, it is just a sight I can not imagine.

  7. I’m pretty glad I didn’t read this a week ago, I don’t know if I could have got on the plane! Now I’m here, hmmmm, I can see I’m in for a ride and a half! I can’t wait to get M into school so I can start meeting some people and building a network that will help me feel comfortable no matter what craziness is going on around me.

    • We saw machine guns at every turn when we were in Egypt & Jordan, scared me a fair bit. I hated the idea of mentioning to you before you left that chances were that’s what you’d see Sarah. It’s mind boggling the differences between here & the Middle East… Stay safe and find friends really quickly 🙂 Miss you sis xx

    • Hey Sarah, if its any consolation, I find Doha to be a really safe city to live in. Yes, there is a presence of security but I’ve never felt alarmed by anything. I think you’ll really enjoy your time here. Have you signed up for ANZA or Doha Mums as yet? I’ve sent you a DM re getting together for a coffee Kx

    • Thanks Kirsty, I got your DM, but it wouldn’t let me send one back! I’m going to Starbucks at landmark today for a Doha mums meetup, but I hadn’t heard about ANZA. Id love to catch up for a coffee, email me? Sarah at theallens dot id dot au 🙂

  8. Machine guns are part of everyday life here in Lovely Lagos. Our boys love all the guns which is probably not a great thing in most people’s eyes but they are so used to them being around that we don’t really give them much thought anymore. I try not to question why or what if and just go with the flow when it comes to Police and security here, otherwise I would live constantly in fear. S x

  9. You know, I kept thinking about it, too. If not Kabul, then what? VVIP with a screening for a child/prospective student? Hubby pointed out that they don’t usually travel with guys packing heat. And why wouldn’t the school send us a little note letting us know what the increased presence (gun with “guy who looks like he knows how to use it”) was about? And if it WAS because of Kabul, then what did that mean, exactly, that event X warranted increased security at place Z all of a sudden? You do have to play it kind of blase out loud and let the thoughts rumble around in your head. Of course I came home and read in detail (such that it was) about the day’s events and still drew more or less a blank about whether there was a connection or not and decided to stop thinking about it.

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