Keeping the peace
Updated: 2014-07-25 08:27
By Zhang Yan and Wang Qian (China Daily)
|The second batch of the China Peacekeeping Formed Police Unit deployed to Liberia conduct an exercise on May 4 in Langfang, Hebei province before departure for Liberia. The unit has 140 police officers and started their peacekeeping mission in June. Wang Jing / China Daily
On Dec 5 last year, Wen Peng tucked into a plate of sauteed Chinese cabbage.
It was a simple meal, but he can still remember relishing it vividly.
"I was very proud. The sweet taste of the vegetables helped salve the tough times there," Wen said.
The 30-year-old was part of 140 Chinese UN peacekeeping police officers deployed to Liberia on an eight-month mission starting last October.
There were minimal resources and the lack of a vegetable supply added to the hardships they had to endure.
Wen and 33 of his colleagues were soon tasked with setting up and maintaining a vegetable patch at their campsite, which was built on wasteland.
Many said they were given an impossible task.
"We had to do everything from scratch," Wen said. Liberia is covered with tropical rain forests that are hard to clear for growing crops, he said.
They spent half a month clearing weeds and tilling the soil. They experimented with about 5 kg of seed for one month.
Finally, they managed to reap their first harvest of Chinese cabbage.
"We harvested about 12 kg first. After that, Chinese cabbage could be picked every two or three days," Wen said.
They also planted sponge gourds, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and even fruit like watermelon and muskmelon.
The 1,000-square-meter patch yielded about 1,500 kg of vegetables during their stay, Wen said. He kept a notebook to track every harvest.
"Our vegetables were totally organic. We fertilized it with our own waste," Wen said. The smell and work were expectedly unpleasant, but the results more than made up for it, he said.
He has been home for more than a month, but Wen said he still misses the vegetable patch.
"It was like our very own backyard in Liberia," he said.
By Wang Qian
Shivering with fever and vomiting incessantly, Zou Benshuang knew he had caught malaria again.
It was the third time the Chinese United Nations peacekeeper had contracted the disease in his eight months in Liberia.
Zou, 32, recalled not even being able to raise his arm to ask for water at his bedside.
"Life there was really tough, but the experience is invaluable," the peacekeeping policeman said.
Although he had received six months of physical and psychological preparation in China for his deployment to Liberia, Zou was still shocked by the conditions during his first week there.
Basic necessities became a luxury. He had to eat instant noodles for all his meals and slept on beds made of wire netting.
Besides Zou, another 139 Chinese UN peacekeepers shared similarly unforgettable instances of facing natural adversaries and social instability during their eight-month stint in the West African country.
They formed the first group of the China Peacekeeping Formed Police Unit deployed to the country in October last year.
The officers are part of the growing role of Chinese personnel in the UN peacekeeping effort in the world's troubled and needy spots.
Liberia, one of the world's poorest countries, was still recovering from its 14-year civil war. Armed factions were embedded in large swaths of jungle.
The United Nations Mission in Liberia was established in 2003 to support the local peace process, and the first batch of China police officers was deployed there to help with safety and reconstruction.
Infrastructure like roads, telecommunications, schools and hospitals were expectedly inadequate in Liberia, said Peng Haiwei, the squad's adviser.
"The mission has been going on for a decade. The camp of the Chinese peacekeeping police in Greenville, capital of Sinoe county in Liberia, was basically a wasteland," he said.
Peacekeepers later spent 100 days to build 39 rooms and a 160-square-meter dining hall.
But clearing the wasteland was easy compared with the harsh weather and environment. Temperatures sometimes hit 44 C. Rainstorms went on for months. Life-threatening species like scorpions, spiders, snakes and malaria-carrying mosquitoes were common, he said.
The climate made it easy for diseases to spread. Plague and AIDS also threatened peacekeepers. The World Health Organization confirmed in March that Liberia was facing the deadly Ebola virus.
"We disinfected the camp every day and take protective and preventive medicine every half month," squad nurse Gao Zhiheng said.
Twenty-two people still contracted malaria, she said.
The armed factions hiding in the forests engage in criminal activities including drug and weapons smuggling, kidnapping and robbery targeting local villagers, said Xu Liang, the squad's deputy commander.
"There were no police posts covering the deep forest and there was no way for the villagers to report these crimes," he said.
Faced with civil war, the local police were also ill-equipped to fight crime and had to seek help from the foreign peacekeeping police.
Sun Wei, a senior officer from the Ministry of Public Security's International Cooperation Bureau, said the Chinese police unit included one command center, three combat teams and one logistics support team in Liberia. There were six army doctors and nurses to help the counties of Sinoe, Rivercess and Grand Kru.
"Because we didn't have judicial powers in Liberia, the main duties were to help local authorities cope with emergencies and to help ensure the safety of local people and infrastructure," he said.