“The women surely could look the other way if they happened to see my legs”
Jan Anderlund went to Jerusalem in 1981 to work as an observer, UNMO, for the UN mission UNTSO. He lived, in addition to Jerusalem, in Damascus and Nahariya, and did service in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Like Erik Lindholm, also appearing in this exhibition, he has written a book about his experiences, and it is named “The Observer”. In his account, Jan not only describes his own experiences and feelings, he also gives examples of his colleagues’ and acquaintances’ relations in different situations, as well as the local population's perspectives and cultural bases. Below follow several examples from Jan's book, illustrating this.
Jan's Norwegian mentor
“My first ‘mentor’ in Damascus, during a couple of days in the beginning, was a Norwegian from Kristiansand in Norway. He was married and had a wife and two children back home in Norway. He had worked in Lebanon and Beirut before and he had had some nasty experiences there. He invited me to have dinner at his apartment one night. The apartment was situated in the central part of Damascus, not far from the souk, which is the local market. He lived at the top floor with a huge terrace and a nice view over the city centre. It was a very hot and warm summer night and we had dinner on the terrace. After a while he asked if he could play a cassette tape with music, which he had received the same day from his wife. Sure, I said, and he put the tape in a big boom box, i.e. a magnificent huge radio, purchased, of course, in Lebanon. In Lebanon you could buy the latest stuff and all of the technology on the market. It should be said that it was very difficult, as well as expensive, to call home, so the way to communicate was by writing letters and sending cassette tapes with the regular mail. It was obviously a very important event for the recipient of the letters and cassette tapes. The method was to send them via Austria or Vienna, and post them via their battalion's address, Ausbatt. Their mail delivery was safe and rather fast. It took three to four days for a letter to reach Syria from Norway or Sweden.
The emotions overwhelmed him, and in tears he told me about his longing for the family, and we listened to his wife’s loving messages to him on the tape. Gunshots could be heard down in the street, and we walked to the edge of the terrace and peered down. Down there we saw how someone had been shot and killed, some others were running for their lives, and they were shot and killed as well. We couldn’t do anything about it, so we sat down, took a glass of wine, and pondered what had happened. The events triggered several memories for my Norwegian colleague, from his service in Beirut and he talked for hours about his experiences. One memory was of when he sat at an outdoor café in Beirut and had a cup of coffee. Suddenly, a large Mercedes stopped in the street, right by the café. From nowhere two men come up to the Mercedes, and tore the driver out of the car. One of the men shot him to death in the stomach/torso with a shotgun, then they got into the car, drove away and disappeared. This event had put haunting images in the mind of my mentor, and he felt like he had to talk through it, over and over again. It took all night. Early in the morning, when it began to brighten, we decided to sleep out on the terrace in the shadow, since it was too hot indoors. The next day was very warm, the air quivered in the heat, and we ate breakfast in silence. We went to Mac house to get the situation report of the day and noted that the street had been cleaned from the shooting the night before. The bodies were gone.
Two days later, my mentor was very emotional and gave me a giant hug. With tears in his eyes, he thanked me for listening to him and expressed that his friendship for me would last for the rest of our lives. I did the same. His service in Damascus was over and now he was going to move to the other side of the border, and stay in Israel for a short while before he could check out, and be on his way back home to his beloved family. More words weren't needed, we understood each other fully anyway. Such a feeling, agreement, and deep understanding can only occur, and is only existing in that way between men. It is deeply touching, and in my life, I have understood that women never understand this kind of feeling. Our gazes locked, we shook hands, hugged again, and he went into the waiting car. We waved at each other one last time before the car started and drove away with him to Israel, via Quneitra to Tiberias in Israel.”
The injured boy
“Afterwards I wondered what would become of the injured boy. My team-mate and I talked about it, of course without getting any answers. Everything was just guesswork, anyway. The next morning, again around 7 a.m., we heard noise outside the gate to the street. I look and see a group of children standing there. This goes through my mind, damn, now everyone will want Coca-Cola, it was a mistake to give them Cola yesterday. An adult stand in front of them. The boys point at me and the adult shouts 'Mister, we want to thank you for your help yesterday!’, I walk towards the gate, the grown-up seems to be the teacher in the village school and he knows some English. We shake hands and greet each other through the gate bars. He says, ‘We want to show our gratitude to you, for helping that boy yesterday.’ The boy stands by his side, smiling like sunshine, despite his bandaged, and probably very hurting leg, and says shukran several times, i.e. thank you in Arabic. The teacher continues, ‘We want to show you our respect and thank you by singing a song we have rehearsed! Is this OK?’ I nod, somewhat astonished, and answer that of course I would appreciate a song. They sing, and I am filled with warmth, admiration, and gratefulness to this school class, showing that what little I did meant something to them, and that I made a difference by bandaging the large wound on his leg.”
“They sing the song once again, I stand straight, click my heels, salute and thank them very much. The teacher expresses his friendship but reminds me hesitantly that I should wear a track suit to cover my legs, otherwise the women can see too much of my legs when I am running along some tiny road, outside the OP, in the outer areas of the village. If I only did that, the men in the village would try to avoid shooting at me and help defend me from the wild dogs, that often attacked me when I was out running. It was an elegant gesture and an offer to me. They had seen the wild dogs attacking me several times, once or twice a shepherd had helped by defending me with his staff and by throwing stones at them with me. In fact, we were standing back to back, shouting and throwing stones at the dogs, as much as we could, and in the end, we managed to scare them away. I stood silent for a while before I answered, considering my answer. In the end I said I would think about it. Then I continued, ‘It will be too hot for me to cover my legs as well, I think, do you understand that?’ I asked him. ‘Sure’, he answered, he could understand that, since I was a Westerner with another religion and culture. Maybe he could explain my point of view to the villagers! The women surely could look the other way if they happened to see my legs, I pointed out hesitantly. ‘OK’, he says, I will tell them what you think. We shook hands in confirmation, and then he says, ‘Now we have to go back to the school and continue our classes. This has been a lesson for my students as well! Thank you very much and know that my students won’t come and beg you for Coca-Cola, of that you can be sure. No one ever came and begged me, at least not for soft drinks, after this.”
Jan gets advice on child procreation
“I started to prepare for buying a rug in the souk, and it would take a while.First, you find a rug merchant that you think is OK, then you went into his shop, sat down, talked, and told him who you are, your name, where you came from, your family, if you had any children, and above all if you had any sons. If you had no sons you got knowledgeable and forceful advice on how to perform the intercourse with force, to get a boy the next time. He spoke about his own family, his shop, his business and life at large. You were served strong Arabic coffee, often with a little whiskey, and spiced with cardamom. You couldn’t be hasty, it took several hours, or at least half a day each time.”
The value of a girl’s life
“When you drove along the road to the Quneitra Cross passage, you passed a small village where Palestinians lived. They were real fatalists and traffic on the road by their village was always unpredictable, or it might, in a way, be better to call it predictable. They could walk out in front of a car with the assured attitude that Allah would protect them. Once, when an Austrian UN car drove in front of my car, the accident happened. A young girl, 14-15 years of age, walked right in front of his car and he ran her over. The driver stopped and went out of the car to see what had happened. I stopped my UN car as well, opened the door, went out of the car, took a couple of steps, and yelled to the Austrian to get back in and drive away, NOW! But, but we must help, he yelled back at me. During the few minutes after the crash and collision, people had gathered around his car to get revenge, and now we had to hurry. Drive away from here! I yelled at him. He looked at me, hesitated but got back in the car and drove away, with me in tow.”
“It may be noted that for our own safety, our standard instruction in cases like this, was to drive away from the site of the accident. This was a vendetta, no less. The Austrian drove to Ausbatt Staff Office, with me in tow. He went directly to the Battalion Commander and reported the incident. The alarm sounded, and everybody went to their prepared fire positions. The armoured track vehicles were grouped on each side of the Ausbatt driveway. After a couple of hours, an armed group of around 30 people arrived, led by the girl’s father. He, and some relatives, were invited to talk to the Battalion Commander and his team. After lengthy negotiations it ended in an agreement were the father got the worth of purchasing two sheep, plus a sum of money, worth around 25,000 Swedish kronor, as compensation for the terrible accident, which the girl herself had caused. The father seemed to be satisfied and said: ‘Well, it was a girl, if it had been a boy, the price for an agreement would have been something else!’. Men/boys were, as can be read from his comment, of a higher value than girls in these cases, as far as can be seen and understood.”