23 September 2011


“A rushed journey is a waste of time; you can see nothing. I am here by the grace of God; I must take advantage of it and examine nature carefully, for I shall never return to these waters again. Instinct tells me to let myself drift with the swift current. Reason stops me: for an explorer, hurrying through an unknown land is like running away from the enemy”. Jules Crevaux, French Naval Surgeon


Ten years ago, in 2001, I went down the Rio Negros in the Amazonas Region of Brazil and Venezuela. The experience was one that I had dreamed about since I first saw pictures of Toucan birds in childhood picture books. I still dream about it having been on this trip, for it  excited desires to travel to remote and wild regions that I probably should have fostered many years prior to this journey. 


Thinking of the 2 month long trip a decade ago rekindles the images that I preserve of the journey like leadership, loyalty and a love for the environment.


I am planning to go back in November of this year, for I need to savour nature in its most pristine atmosphere again. This time I am going to take around a dozen others who want to look at the region too.


The river Rio Negros, a tributary of the Rio Amazonas, beckons and I want to see as much of it as I can so my expedition is planned to leave from Manaus and travel to Sao Gabriel in the North West of Brazil. Then we cross into Venezuela and travel up to San Carlos along the Negros before heading into the Casiquiare and motoring by river boat to the Orinoco – one of the most magical of all rivers in the world, and certainly one of the more remote.


This Amazonas region of the world is still the provider of so much information on travel and geographical health that I am looking forward to it. A journey to South America is like none other; in colour, in nature though with considerable risk.


Primary Principles of the Mission Endeavour:






The journey will be around a month and wonder-filled. We currently are developing research topics for our trip. What an exciting occasion this will be. I hope that you will join us on our blog, as we travel into the diversity of traditional inhabitants, flora and fauna biodiversity, and exciting and mesmerizing new experiences.     



Amazon rain hints from afar away and beyond

Grey colours come timid to harsh, threatening

Colours and hues of a river’s edge and beauty

With that of its own. Beginning soft to beguile

Only to pound, smash, and stamp and rage

Accompanied by smashing thunder booming to

Follow flashing jags and belts of white or yellow

That stamps their mark over an expansive ceiling

Limited by vision and patience to watch, to wait

Until the distance is seen again with clear fresh.


Marc Shaw

Expedition Leader


It’s finally happening! And how appropriate too as this year will be the 10th Anniversary of the death of our great New Zealander, Sir Peter Blake.

We have now firmed up our itinerary and beaten down the costs to get a pretty good deal.

The journer in uncommon and has been specifically tailored to our requirement. There is a maximum limit of 12-14 spaces and it is intended that every one has an aim/project to complete whilst on the journey.

Worldwise Expeditions will select companions for the available spaces based on sense of character, project/aim and commitment.

At this stage the itinerary is mildly flexible so we are open to looking at incorporating your project requirements and situation.

We are really excited about this one!!! Please pass on to any family and friends that may be interested.



Contact Clare: clareshaw@worldwise.co.nz for more details


Sought from those interested in a month long intrepid expedition to Brazil in memory of

Sir Peter Blake on the 10th Anniversary of his death in Amazonas

Typical River housing - Near Manaus

“I was with Sir Peter Blake in 2001. I am going back to personally commemorate the journey I took with him 10 years ago. I hope that others will join me as I again explore the region and conduct various  research and artistic endeavours on the journey” Marc Shaw


  • A month long journey entirely by river boat from Manaus, up the Rio Negro towards a memorial site at the junction of the  Cassiquiari and Orinoco. This is an exciting adventure with limited spaces!
  • The expedition will travel through changing landscapes, small river populations, explore the beautiful wide spaces of the Amazonas region, and the people living on this most majestic of rivers
  • Extraordinary flora and fauna, animals and insects
  • Various aquatic species, fishing opportunities
  • An additional adventure includes venturing up to Rio Araca and Rio Demeni towards the spectacular ‘waterfalls region’. This is an area rarely seen by travellers which houses an impressive waterfall known as Cachoeira do El Dorado. Only recently discovered, this is a wild and remote area with little known about it and the expedition offers an option of trekking, forest survival camping and training
  • From Sao Gabriel, the last major town in Brazil, we transverse rapids into Cucuy and then into Venezuela, travelling through San Carlos, then up the legendary Casiquiare tributary to the Orinoco River – at the junction of which there is a Memorial to Sir Peter Blake

A unique outdoor adventure / Nature, Travel and Tropical Medicine at its best!



Marc Shaw with colleague Dr Monkey during his last venture to the Amazonas region

With ‘The Prof’ now safety back from Afghanistan, he is now contemplating his next journey. This one will be rather more isolated; deep in the jungles of the Amazonas in Brazil.

Marc Shaw was the Team Doctor on the ‘Sir Peter Blake Expedition’ to Amazonas in 2001. This was a voyage that had personal significance to Marc as it involved travel to a region long dreamt about – about since childhood, when he first recalled the romantic term ‘Amazonas’ and all that its images conjured. Sir Peter was tragically and shockingly murdered on this journey 10 years ago. Marc Shaw and his team is going back to the region, with some family and friends, to acknowledge the occasion and salute a great New Zealander. The Group will be called WORLDWISE EXPEDITIONS.

Francisco de Orellana was the Spanish adventurer who in 1541 accomplished the first descent of the River Amazon. Since this time, adventures and expeditioners have been intrigued by the Amazonas region of Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru. So much so that many have tried in many various ways to explore the River Amazon and its tributaries. The attraction is the largest river in the world; one accounting for approximately 1/5 of total world’s river flow.

Over the last 30 years there have been two significant expeditions into the region: firstly, in 1982 Jean Michael Cousteau led a large scale scientific exploration of the Amazon from its mouth to its origin. The “Cousteau Amazon Expedition” gave insights into the biology, environment and geology of the largest river system on earth. Secondly in 2001, New Zealander Sir Peter Blake went with a crew of 26 upon his yacht, Seamaster, into the Amazon basin. This journey was to be one of exploration and of education on what living was like in the region.

WORLDWISE EXPEDITIONS are going back into the region to investigate and research it, explore it and learn from their experiences. As Jules Crevaux, French Naval Surgeon in the Amazon, said “A rushed journey is a waste of time; you can see nothing. I am here by the grace of God; I must take advantage of it and examine nature carefully, for I shall never return to these waters again. Instinct tells me to let myself drift with the swift current. Reason stops me: for an explorer, hurrying through an unknown land is like running away from the enemy”.

WORLDWISE EXPEDITIONS is planning a journey to the Amazonas regions of Brazil and Venezuela, to visit the region explored with intrigue and fascination by early explorers such as: Alexander von Humboldt, AR Wallace, and also recently by the 1968 Geographical Magazine Hovercraft Expedition.

The Amazonas Region is exciting and mesmerizing: new images, new experiences, new animals and plants, and new cultures.  Going into this beautiful and remote region, Marc Shaw learned much about human nature in the Amazonas environment, about compassion and about himself and his medicine. ‘Completing such a journey made me so much richer than ever I could otherwise have dreamed of’, he writes.

Read more about this, on a regular basis until the Expedition commences and then join us from your computer here in New Zealand to explore the hinterlands of Brazil and Venezuela.

Back home in New Zealand

February 20, 2011

Home! The first thing that I notice is ‘the green of the pastures’ as I travel down to the Waikato. Great contrast to the brown and white of the Afghan earth with its snow, in winter. The trip south to my beloved Hamilton and family gave me time to reflect upon where I had been and what I had just done. Afghanistan as a doctor with the New Zealand Defence Forces. A year ago I would never have thought it possible that I would be ministering medicine in a war affected region, and in a country that has known centuries old conflict through the battles of Genghis Khan, Muhammad Babur and both the English and Russian Armies in the last one hundred years.


I had left Bamyan city in Bamyan Province on the 12th of January, and come via the military transport system in Afghanistan to the Middle East and then via a long flight back to Auckland. I can’t really remember what the flight home was like for I was still energised by the experiences of living at Kiwi Base with a whole bunch of New Zealand men and women with common cause. 18 hours in the air gave me a lot of time to think about those moments that would forever be remembered by me.

Firstly, the countryside that Kiwi Base was in. PT Hill overlooked the military encampment in the immediate distance. Further, was the Hill of Gholghola, where Genghis wrought such terrible violence that it became known as the ‘City of Screams’. Further still were the cliffs that overlooked Bamyan and which were now marked by the empty spaces of the Taliban vandalised Buddhas. I walked between the two of them over my last week in the region. I was showing my replacement Medical Officer, Jordan Baker, around the region. Showing him some of the sights for which the region is famous. On the way we had a pleasant guide who spoke little English, though through our interpreter he filled in the details of the history of Buddhism in the region and how important the region was as a crossroads to and from regions east and west. He pointed out another smaller third Buddha and then a fourth, or baby, Buddha – both also destroyed in the violence of early 2001.

Looking out from the cliff-face, snow covers the fields in the rivets of a late autumn ploughing. It has almost gone from most of the fields but does lie quite heavily higher up on the higher hills. Jordan is loving his first views of the region, for he has travelled little before and all this ‘newness’ is so energising to him. Me, I love showing him the various sights but at the same time admit to a great sadness that I am about to leave the town and its history.


At the small ‘female’ Buddha we are able to walk up and over it by way of steps that remain in the walls. There are three levels to our tour, each higher than the last and each with numerous caverns that housed priests through the ages – even the Taliban, in the early years of their occupation. Some of these caverns were citadels and many have the remains of paintings blackened by the fires of their destruction. Still others had smoke on the ceilings where the insides of the caves had been burnt out. Such destruction. It makes me pause in reflection and in sadness. Un-necessary. Certainly not the way to win ‘hearts and minds’ of the local Hazaran population.


Secondly, the people and the village of Bamyan. This was best felt by me when I got a few members of ‘the crew’ together, including Allan, Ra, Steve and a pleasant interpreter called Gee (which was short for some intricate Afghan name that seemed such a waste when ‘Gee’ explained him so much more admirably) and we walked on a ‘dismounted patrol’ into town to wander around the bazaar. Along narrow tracks that the locals use to pass over fields now brown due to the winter, but normally lush and green in the summer. The dust swirls still with every footprint on a dry, still day. In the distance the new snow is on the hills and the locals will be pleased again with the nurturing of the soil. Into town and along the dark side of the street, where the sun never seemed to reach in the winter months. So many shops open today.

It is Friday and the locals are all out doing their shopping – men and women, though never together unless they are family or married. Men sewing away at shoes brought to them for repair. A lot of shoe shops abound, mainly with second hand shoes and not occasionally many that are just single shoes – who wants them, I wonder. Clothes shops, with women inside under burkas doing the dealing with the men owners. Outside other men pushed wagons with sacks of coal. Boys run by with bananas for sale and still others came up to us to ask for ‘baksheesh’.


Steve had an endless supply of pens to give out to the kids. Men sitting in chairs or merely crouched beside the gutter partaking in chai, talking and watching folk just wander and meander. Men whose weathered faces, reflecting the harshness of living in this unforgiving land, appear to be carved out of leather: cheeks with valleys and vales, eyes hidden under an overlapping eyebrow bristling with honest hair and mouths often hidden in a bread that spreads with laughter. Their ‘Shemagh (Afghan Scarf)’ wrapped around their necks, over their faces and upon their heads seemingly part of their bodies, whilst around their midriffs were huge rugs to shelter from the cold.

Drifting by were the women also – in white or blue burkas. Still others without the over-face mask but with a scarf over their heads and around their faces, and perhaps an end of it held loosely to mask their mouths. No women were without some facial add-on; unlike the young girls enjoying their freedom whilst they could.


Orange sellers. Ever present mobile phone shops – a glut of them, with no one in them but there in all their glitzy glory. Material shops. Hardware shops every 5-6 shops, selling pots and pans and plastic jugs that are used to carry water for ablutions after toileting. We pass a potato naan shop stall. They look delicious and we all decide to buy one of these. This will be lunch – potato cut and placed on a thin pancake wafer. The potato is grated and placed in the middle of the mix, and then the three sided blend is rolled and put into a deep fry. Rather different and rather nice. One was enough and the cost was 10 cents for one.


Wander down by the river, and along the stalls in this region – fruit stalls, butchers shops with just the trachea and lungs remaining for sale and hanging from the corner of the shop – outside. A man selling nuts and dried fruit allows me to take his photo. Always photos to snap for the memory bank. Along another side street know locally as Titanic – shoes shops and kids toys, and … shoes. Ra was fixated by the shoes and so we went past many shops only to have him disappear as he would go and have a look. He never decided, he just liked to look at them and chat with the locals at the same time.


The sound of young music from stalls by the side of the road and from the nearby shops selling radios, music and all its paraphernalia. People would watch us pass but I do not recall seeing a malignantly disposed grimace – smiles and the right hand (always the right hand) drifting up to the heart with the salutation ‘salaam’… always the men, and young boys practising. Dear Lord, how I just loved to look and to reflect and to just wonder how these folk were living every day… in the rain and snow and bitter cold. Still the gnarled and crusted hands would come forward for me to shake – usually so gently, and with honest feeling. It would be hard not to be touched in some way.


Restaurants, up steep ladders and perched atop roofs of shops below, serving their only dish – kebabs, rice, sort-of meat soup, with slices of tomato, onion and a chilly on a side dish… they are dried around the edges indicating to me that they have been cut and prepared many hours before and the alert goes out quite strongly for me… DON’T EAT!!

In the street, cars with no exhaust-system spew out smoke and zoom along the road at a speed that makes the mouth drop in bewilderment. No seat belts and door handles that have been roped to the vehicle main frame indicates further to me DON’T DRIVE IN THIS ONE! Cops in their olive green suits drive by in their ford 4-pers pick-ups faster, for no good reason other than to drive fast and scare the locals. Kamaz truck belch and vomit benzene fumes, as they carry their wears through the distance of tar-seal, men in turbans perched on their roofs, their cargo or riding high in the cab. Small kids don’t even bother watching the sight of such massive movements anymore. They’re more interested in our baksheesh.


The third and final image of my deployment is of the men and women that I worked with. What an honour to have been with them. All ranks, high and low, showed me a respect that I was honoured to receive. Their military side as they talked of various missions. There serious side as they talked of their families back home and how much they meant to them. Their ribald side as they shared jokes, some spicy and some not, with me. They are well lead by their CO, Lt Col Fox, and they are well protected by all the various units that accrete to form the Company for this operation known as CRIB 17. I will miss each and every one of them.


The Medical team at Christmas From L to R: Leon Frampton-Leigh, The Doc, Kirk Blumers. In Front: Cat Brown



Finally, salutation to those in the medical team, each of whom needs a mention. Leon (the Nursing Officer) who worked so hard to develop a respectable and respectful RAP for us yet still smiled at the end of it. Blu, what can I not say about him! This guy was amazing. I loved his clear brain and his thinking, and the support he gave me. This gut IS ‘the stuff’. The medics, boy did their knowledge impress me: Cat (a star medic who needs to go to a higher level – poor thing, I have probably STILL spelt her name wrong), Kim (a gentleness with her that expressed her caring spirit), Mike (hardy and military in mind), and Holly (thrown in to so many situations, coming out richer for the experiences).


A final image for me and the last entry into my diary: ‘Wonderful autumnal views of the region and have noticed even in the least few days, the lack of leaves on the trees. Way in the distance were the snow capped hills looking down on us. Beautiful views!! Every morning, I see the sun tipping the hills. I take this to be my welcome to my day. This will be the essence of my memory. Now it is time for home and my family. This has been a ‘most great trip’ – and one that I was delighted to have been part of!!

A hospital visit was always going to be ‘on the cards’ for me. I wanted to go and see what facilities there were there, and also to see what (if anything) we could do to help. It’s easy, I know, to say that ‘we are keen to help’ from the rather exalted position that we are in – in Kiwi Base – because we have everything we can possibly need and on top of this there is always the capability of being able to ‘call in’ an aircraft to transport a really unwell case to the American Hospital at Bagram Air Force Base. Here, the local population do no have this facility and so we at KB are keen to provide whatever we can to assist the local medical and health services. As it is now getting extremely cold, with the temperature today at minus 15 degrees, this would appear to be an ideal time to visit and take some of the many bags of woollen gear and toys that folk from NZ have sent over here to present to the local patients and their, usually, mothers. Who better to visit the hospital with than the Padre,

Steve Clarke (Chief petty Officer) and Allan Kelly (administration Officer here at the camp). The three of us have been involved in a lot of visits to various schools and health clinics around this region and so it was with pleasure that we visited the Bamyan General Hospital. Having said that these three guys have been all very tolerant of my energies in wanting to dash off and see things. I have this sort of ‘places to go – people to see’ and ‘not here to foxtrot with spiders’ mentality. In the wagon and off we go to the hospital. Through the gates, part the vehicle and we walk to the director’s office. Well, Padre and Allan and I walked, but Steve is a navy man and he walked like he was on a shop in a storm, swirling from side to side in the corridors. A quick meeting with the Hospital Director, Sarjo Kanji (who is from The Gambia in Western Africa), and then it is ‘off’ to the paediatric wards to see the kids.

Son, Father, Padre, Doc, alan, Steve, Hospital Manager

Up the stairs we go – there are shoes lining the entry door as we go in. The management do not require us to take off our shoes, but I am rather embarrassed about this as the locals do and so, I feel, we should but Sarjo says ‘no need’ so we don’t. Through and under a rug hanging over the door, it is starting to get quite cold outside during the day now and the barriers to the weather are gradually going up in the community. The smell of the halls, as we go into the wards, is of smoke from the coal- fired heaters in all the rooms and wards. In to the ‘acute baby room’.

One of the nurses in the ward

Mothers are with their kiddies, and immediately they turn away – as is their custom when men walk into a room. We give dolls and knitted woollen booties out to the babies, wherever possible, or their mothers. Long time since I did this for my children so I struggle a bit to undo the bow around ‘the feet’ part of the booties – much mirth amongst my compatriots. The mothers accept the gifts in silence. Occasionally one or two smile and say ‘tashikor’ (thank you), but mainly they respond with an expressionless face and take the clothes or dolls and put them by their babies or children. Some cover up their faces and turn away from us. We expect this, as this is what happened the first day that I came into the hospital a few months ago. For all this, however, we realise that our gifts are indeed needed and valued.

'How do I put these on?'

In to the next ward and the same thing happens – we walk around the beds – 15, of which none are empt. A doctor is doing a ward round. He speaks English and does not mind us bustling through. I stop to chat with him. He was educated in Kabul, and he stops to tell me a little of the illnesses as we pause over a kiddie who has pneumonia, and malnutrition. The doc says that the main diseases are these two conditions, plus diarrhoea – the latter in summer and the former two in winter. Logical really. He is OK with us going around giving the children toys.

Mothers and their babies


Interpreter Baby whose mother died and Grandmother

I stop by the bed of a woman who has her face partially covered. I ask the doc what is wrong and why is the child in the ward. He says that the child’s mother died in childbirth (in Afghanistan the maternal mortality rate approximates 25%) from haemorrhage, and that the woman with the child in his  grandmother. The woman lives at Yakawlang which is a long way away – 4-6 hours due East by vehicle. She is so far away that there was no chance of preventing any calamity and this is obviously what occurred. Fortunately the child is a boy, says the doc, as girl children do not get much of a ‘look in’. I look at the child again, and he is very pale – probably he has anaemia due to his mother bleeding to death.

Ra giving a doll

Meeting the Paediatric Staff

We finish giving our gifts and feel the better for it. The ward-manager says to us how happy he is because of what we have done, so perhaps we did something good today. Whilst toys are rather a ‘little thing’ to give … I think that they meant something to us, also, in giving them on behalf of our country-folk back home in NZ.

Jason and Nate

January, 2011. It is a lovely day today. The ‘sun is sunning’ AND the ‘birds and birding’ AND the ‘cooks are cooking’. Nearly three months into our deployment here in Afghanistan and these guys still put out meal after stunning meal. I remain amazed at their ability to plan, prepare and cook up 300 meals at any one sitting per day. (Sgt) Jason Gillespie from Palmy North and (Cpl) Nate Turfrey (Hawke’s Bay) were quite upbeat about their roles when I went to see them, this morning, the beginning of January. I guess that they have to be, cos by now they have had to develop a daily routine that sees them get up at 0500 hours to start a day’s toil that will go through to 1900each night. Stuff that, says I! Minus 15 degree with a wind howling outside, I defy anyone to arise that early to bounce into the day’s work.

These guys have to, for their job is undoubtedly one of morale. Good food – good morale! It follows on a cold winter’s day doesn’t it? Still it puts a lot of pressure on the kitchen staff to perform, and they do… day after day, meal after meal. Their only rewards being either a grunt of some wayward appreciation from a hungry soldier or a purposeful memo of thanks for a notable meal that always gets a smile of appreciation from the ‘lads with the ladles’.

Lunch involves a variety of at least 7 meats together with veges and fresh salads. Food from all over the world comes to us on this mission: Germany, NZ (lamb – what else), Canada, US, Malaysia, and so on… and of course Australia.

Dinner time is the same, but with yet another ‘7 meats’ preparation. Christmas meal involved huge planning over the two days prior to the meal fest that we all totally enjoyed, as well as cooking regular meals for a regular day’s work in Kiwi Base.

Then on top of this, the guys have regular sentry and airfield security duties to undertake as part of their army deployment mission. Its hard work. I’d not want to do it, but the training that they receive from Joint Service Caterers in Waiouru prepares them for this task and they are the better for it. They are doing what all soldiers want to do, and that is work in theatre on an operation. What better one to work on then this one here in Bamyan? Not only do they get to do their job, but they are also training and working with local Afghanis teaching them our ways of ‘life, living and the magic of Kiwi Cooking’!!’


Women in Blue

January 10, 2011

Blue            and white

mask women hiding

Themselves from outside eyes viewing
Tranquil times

or tense, turbulent

Occasions that speak too honestly
Of that which happens at home?

Walking along tracks

time-worn, through fields,

Wending a way –
down, bazaar beckoning
Attractions displayed, for sale, in myriad forms
Along clear course
to meander,  to ponder,
Sometimes to purchase, mainly to wander
Silently – as an observer wonders, in silence.


December 8, 2010

Saturday was another bright and sparkling day outside, but seriously cold in the shade. The morning had registered minus 14 and I had just finished doing my daily walk of ‘one kilometre’ around the perimeter of the camp. Breakfast was my usual cereal and coffee and I was just settling down to do the day’s tasks. A knock on the door and the Colonel came to the RAP.

‘Would you like to come over to Nayak tomorrow morning, Doc? Going over there to check our FOB (Forward Operating Base) facilities and a good idea for you to do the same with our medical resources. Interested?’ Well, was I what? I had been in camp for some days now and was looking forward to ‘a look outside’ the gates.  Excitedly, I got my packing quickly done for the anticipated trip. All the goodies that I would require to take with me, but hopefully would not need. I say hopefully because although this area of Nayak, which is 4-5 hours over to the east of Kiwi Base is supposedly safe and secure, though we were not going to take any expectation of this as being definite. We knew from experience that Afghanistan is always a territory that we needed to assume could become dangerous, either geographically due to wind and snow trapping us … or from an equally ominous insurgents’ point of view.

The next morning, there I had it – my gear all laid out. I felt as though I had seriously missed something as this task was quick and complete. This was not like I would have done at home – fiddling around with equipment and trying to decide which was the ‘best shirt to take’ or which series of bandages were more appropriate. I had totally surprised myself by being ready and fully equipped with all that I may have needed: fully kitted out emergency medical response bag, my sleeping  bag, my camera pack and some warm clothes and huge big puffer jacket. It was going to be rather cold where we were going and I wanted to be well prepared for any cold weather eventuality.

0845 and I am ready. I drag all my baggage out to join the rest of the team. The Commanding Officer  smiled at me – ‘I see that you have not learned minimal packing is best have you Doc’, he commented on looking at what I thought was rather a compact set of gear. Just five sort-of-little-compact packs and baggage. ‘Next time we’ll get a special vehicle for you!’  He dipped his head and I took this to mean OK for this trip but not the next. Phew, I was lucky. Otherwise it would have meant that I take out my wool fleeced nightie and my possum skinned hot water bottle – just kidding! I would never carry either of these items on an army deployment, even though my Darling Wife suggested that I take them and my own cuddly pillow!!

Get together, we do and attend the trip’s briefing. This is to explain to all what we are expected to experience on the journey. Invariably it gives us in the patrol an idea of the terrain that we are going to go through and any risks that we need to be wary of: new roads, any snow… that sort of thing. A final check up on our numbers – 10 of us, each with different yet essential tasks for the journey – then we are away.

We are off and it feels so good to be going through the front gate and out into the local community. Through the town of Bamiyan and along its sole tar-sealed road and then past the two huge spaces where the Buddha’s on Bamiyan used to be until the Taliban destroyed them and then through and onto the mayhem of the country roads.

The scenery is unique and wonderful, and never fails to draw me to it. Dust and dirt fly as we pound the bumpy and thumpy roads. To the sides people are going about their normal days: donkeys taking produce to market or to sale, some carrying children but never women; women walking three or more steps behind their men folk. ignored and never acknowledged any salutation in friendship until they are permitted to; young kids waving to us with a sideways back and forth rocking movements; and small stalls beside us on the road with a couple of men tending them  and selling their product trying to make the day’s sales.

Ahead of our driving and in the interminable dust, the potholes of the road demand caution and a low threshold for swerving at any obstacle that may stumble into our route’s path.

To the sides of us the hills to the east of Bamyan town thrust up into the skyline. They are huge hills on either side of us down here in a valley. There are fewer people now as we wander further from the township. Ironically the road starts to get better, for contractors have begun tar sealing on the road between Bamiyan and Nayak, and have decided to start the road midway between the two towns. The logic of this tends to baffle me somewhat. Why not start at a major town and go out from it. Nah, cant figure that one out!

Through the cleft at the end of the first deep valley, and  the hills push higher and higher as I crouch below the window to look upwards. Shadows of the valley cut across the shafts of light that are able to penetrate deep into cold and bitter shadows. The road is gravel but is really very good and we are able to travel without physical discomfort, though dust still trails us and prevents us from opening the windows to breathe. Fine dust that gets into everything – eyes, clothes, machinery (the car inside is covered in a fine layer of particulate dust. I don’t breathe too deeply!

We occasion villages to either side of our travel 500 yards away, built into the hills. First the wall built of clay-mud brick, sometimes old and sometimes new and occasionally a mixture. This is probably a reflection of personal finances. The style is adobe-like. Red-brown clay that is reinforced with fibres of hay and twig. Kids swirl around the boundaries and women are seen to drift between their familiar inside and out as they tend to their duties.



Female children up until teenage tend to the washing of clothes and dishes down by a stream, if there is no nearby water pump.

Boys are helping with the donkeys or farming or gathering of wood. Men with their turbans swirled around their heads, often masked over their mouths and noses to cover from the dust, walk along the road with donkey or not, or tend to the shopping in the bazaars.

Bang, right in the middle of nowhere, we are driving on tar seal. About 10 kms of it. Bizarre though what a difference this makes to our travelling comfort. Just as I start to nod off in the warm comfort of our vehicle’s back seat, with a crash I am fully awake to the bumping and pitching of the rutted  road again. Back on the gravel. The dust swirls in front of our vehicle and thus-wise we travel through to the town of Nayak. Nestled in a pleasant valley, it is a safe area for us to travel to as the local population are doing for themselves so very much better now that they feel a security supplied in part by the NZ forces in the region.


(Left) Master Sgt Trevor Pittman (Centre) Dr Marc Shaw and (Right) Squadron Leader Steve Hall (NZ Air Force)

  • The time is around 2000 hours – our Malaysian Colleagues are having their celebration of EID which is the equivalent of our Christmas. Leon comes across to me and says that he has just had word of a serious injury to one of our American Colleagues. ‘A neck injury is coming in within a half hour’, he says. So, we prepare for the injury in the best way that we can. The patrol that the man is with is quite far away and we are not able to get too much detail from the initial radio contact. He arrives and we step into action: history of ‘was in a patrol vehicle travelling at 55 kms / hr, with the usual ‘in car’ prevention – seatbelts and the like. The vehicle crested a hump in the road and the patient sitting in the back of the vehicle whacked his head on its roof. Due to the unexpected nature of the impact, the patient’s head then slammed into the back of the seat in front and the side window on his left. He was pretty seriously knocked around, and the first response of the team on patrol was to stabilise his head so that no further injury could occur. For me, as the Doc, the serious part was that our man had developed reduced movement in his left hand and pain on the left side of his neck radiating down to the left arm. This was a pretty severe discomfort. Although he denied being knocked out, there was significant evidence that he had developed concussion. My concern was that our patient has sustained a fracture of the cervical spine in the neck.
  • Well, with such a diagnosis as a possibility, we then had to get our man to a higher medical facility for radiology and further neurological assessment. Now was the time for me, as the Doc, and for Leon, Blue and the other members of the medical team to ‘step up’ and prepare the case for evacuation to Bagram. It was time for me to report to the US Command about our patient, their soldier. I addressed them with the standard ‘we have a situation here…’ and then proceeded with the objective assessment of their warrior.  I then continued to tell them exactly what was going to happen and how it should pan out with their help in ordering a casevac. At this stage I got a bit ahead of myself and threw in a few newly learned acronyms by mistake but the US officers were very tolerant of my errors an then proceeded to throw in a few of their own. I was on slippery ice here – but fortunately no one noticed my improvisation, such was the intensity of the communication. An aircraft was ordered up and it was arriving quite soon.

  • Blue, Leon and I readied our patient for the flight by considering the further practical issues such as how the man would travel and with what medical support, pain relief, intravenous support and the like. Good pragmatic medical sense.
  • Then we get the word that the aircraft is overhead and whoosh, we hear it. I get around some guys to help me (Sqd Ldr Steve Hall, Allan Kelly and Master Sgt Trevor Pittman) and we truss our patient up in a blanket and with a ‘silver heat-retaining blanket’ around him. On a stretcher and spinal board he goes, and then onto our portable ambulance we transfer him down to the nearby airstrip where the plane has just landed, in the dark. Brilliant stuff!
  • Fortunately not a very cold night tonight. We wait on the airfield for the plane to come up to us. Meanwhile deployed on the field are our troops to secure and protect our airfield and the perimeter of the aircraft. THIS is very impressive – they have strategic points covered and are there waiting for my patient. We get the word from the Sgt-Major and drive off to the ‘airframe’ (Army talk for ‘an aircraft’) in the distance – we cannot see it at this time, just hear it! We travel with out headlights on and see before us dust rising but no plane – it is in the darkness. We are aware of something huge in front of us. An occasional speckle of LED lights presents itself to us. An about turn and then a quick reverse back to the down-ramp at the back of the plane. I look around and am so impressed with the professionalism that I see before me. In a perimeter around the craft and with hot aviation fuel odours in my nose, there are a number of persons, fully armed and with aviation helmets on, on either side of the ramp. They are guarding our presence. I grab my corner of the stretcher and up the ramp we go to deliver the patient. One of the medics comes over and I give him the update ‘We have a situation here …’ They are happy with my presentation, and with a quick ‘farewell’ to our patient I head back down the ramp to our vehicle. We drive off into the dark, with the aircraft quickly disappearing. Just the sounds of the props remain.
  • Back down the airfield just in front of the camp entrance we pause and wait for the plane to take off. Shortly after, it does – night-time take off and very impressive. The whole imagery of the evening with our patient and the transportation of him to the aircraft was something that will never leave me – VERY professional and absolutely exciting to be part of!