Fifteen soldiers from the southern division of the marine parachute infantry guard the pharmacy, which is due to open for an hour. One soldier takes cover behind the wall of a three-sided concrete structure designed to hold a wheelie bin and sets up a machine gun on a tripod. He aims the gun along the road and pressing his eye to the telescopic sight makes a small adjustment. Nodding to an officer, he stands back and wipes the sweat from the rim of his red beret. Two floors above, snipers take up position. They too sight their guns along the road in the direction from which they believe trouble is most likely to come.
The pharmacy fails to open and the small crowd who have braved the heat stuff their sweat-stained prescriptions back into their pockets and wander off.
The soldiers cross the road and patrol through the ruined gardens and shattered buildings of our apartment complex. One of them digs a small bunch of coconuts out of the rubble and using his commando knife slices off the top. He digs the point through the white flesh and drinks deeply of the milk, passes it to his mates, and goes to work on another nut.
The soldiers’ gear is impressive: full battledress, combat boots, camouflage pants and combat jacket with too many pockets to count, flak jacket, cross belts and waist belts dripping with equipment – pistols, radios, cameras, knives, machetes, first aid pouch, satchels and holders. Each man carries a small machine gun hanging from a canvas sling across his chest. One carries the machine gun and tripod, another, the long sniper’s rifle with scope. Polished cap badges flash in the tropical midday sun. The poor bastards must be melting.