Friday 21 March 2014 by Alison Wishart. No comments
Opinion, views and commentary, Personal Stories, salsa, Cuban shuffle, wobble, fraternising, gym

Day 12 - Mud and dust and salsa

It rained in Tarin Kot for 36 hours straight and all the dust turned to pale brown mud. G1 wanted to go sliding in it - there's something about the rules and regimentation of an army base that just makes you want to muck up. All I wanted was a hot bubble bath to warm myself up. There was no chance of this, so I went to the gym instead.

I did my workout in a war zone. The soundtrack of helicopters (helos) and hercs landing and taking off drowned out the music from my MP3 player. It felt surreal to be doing pilates while people are out there fighting and dying.

I feel very conspicuous in the gym, being the only civilian (ie. not military) female.  But I've learnt not to feel self-conscious, as the men are only interested in looking in the wall to wall mirrors at their huge muscles as they lift huge weights.

Later in the evening, I discovered the black Americans were Dj-ing a salsa party. They do this every Saturday night to try and inject a bit of levity and variety into the base.

Poster advertising Saturday night salsa
Poster advertising Saturday night salsa

People still played ping-pong and pool and watched sport on the big TVs but a handful of people were learning "the Wobble" and the "Cuban Shuffle". Their "camos" (camouflage uniforms) became dance costumes as they 'marched' to a Latin beat.

Dancing "the Wobble" at Multinational Base Tarin Kowt
Doing "the wobble" at TK

Fraternising is striclty prohibited on military bases.  This means that on new year's eve, people shake hands at the stroke of midnight instead of hugging and kissing each other. Dancing is about as close as you'll get to sanctioned physical contact. 

CFN Struan Law and LCpl Tesca Cattell dance in the recreational area
Two Aussie soldiers (left) and an American couple (right) dance in the recreational area.

The dance world still resists feminism and equality: it is expected and accepted that men ask women to dance and lead the moves. Perhaps on a military base, it would be polite if men could remove their pistols when they ask a girl for a dance.

Dancing salsa with 'T' who leads the linguists on TK
Dancing salsa with 'T' who leads the linguists on TK

I danced salsa, merengue and bachata with 'T', which cheered me up immensely.  Now, if I can only find a soldier who can tango....

Twelve months ago I went to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) with the Australian War Memorial. I was working on an oral history-photographic project. The core part of the project was interviewing and photographing 19 currently serving members of the ADF - from the army, navy and airforce - before, during and after their deployment in 2013 to the MEAO.  In another 12 months time, you should be able to see the results of this work in an exhibition which will travel around Australia.

These blog posts were written while I was in the MEAO but were not uploaded to the AWM website at that time.

I am planning to upload one blog post each day, exactly 12 months on from the actual day I was on deployment. We left Canberra on 12 March 2013.