Touching the butterfly

Not long after the conversation with one of the colleagues at FSD main office in Tajikistan, I walked into the meeting room where a collection of explosives is on display. That’s right: a collection of explosives is on display. No dummies, no fake ones. Real ones. Found, dismantled and collected by the deminers.

Here I am. Staring at a cupboard filled with anti-tank mines, small rockets, shells, granates and anti-personal mines. I’ve seen them on pictures, many times. I’ve studied their detonation mechanisms and the injuries they impose – so I could better treat the victims and train the local medics. But, in all honesty, I never saw this material in real life. I never touched one, and the hesitation to put my hands on that collection of explosives in front of me is paralysing. There’s nothing to worry about; they’ve been stripped and transported here. Another colleague who introduced me to the office earlier this week, took them from the shelves as if he grabbed a pack of sugar in the supermarket.

It feels counter-intuitive – wrong! – to pick up a butterfly. Yes, a butterfly: a highly explosive anti-infantry landmine, sometimes called a green parrat. Its shell made from plastic, hard to be found by metal detectors. Shaped like a toy – yes, like a toy – to attrackt and trap children to pick it up. Used by the Soviets – massively.

75 grams, enough to destroy a life

Standing here with a butterfly in my hand for the first time, I feel the urge to throw up. Working with mine victims – often heavily mutilated with ripped off limbs, sometimes perforated by fragments – never made me feel this way. When I treat them, a switch is turned in my internal system: I see a human being, a person, a man or a woman, a boy or a girl. I see a life damaged and I know it’s my task to do whatever I can to help restore what is left. But seeing – touching – these explosives triggers a completely different switch. What can you see in them, other than brutal weapons, silently waiting for (mostly) innocent and ignorant by-passers? What can you feel, other than pure anger?

Next time you see a butterfly in the garden, colorfully fluttering in the sunlight, think about this. Just hold on for a minute to realize what kind of world we live in, and be thankful for the safe ground you’re walking on every day.

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