On the Road With the French Foreign Legion by Ruth Mclean – New York Times
GAO, Mali — Six rifles, in my line of sight. Eleven bodies, only one (mine) female. Eleven flak jackets and helmets, slowly absorbing sweat. Eleven camp beds, mosquito nets and backpacks, hooked behind dark green seats alongside some wooden crates of ammunition. Thousands of baby wipes, as our next shower would be many days away.
This was a squad in a fearsome desert battle group trundling through the Malian steppe — soldiers of the legendary French Foreign Legion, which welcomes recruits from anywhere in the world.
They were a small part of Operation Barkhane — France’s mission to fight a terrorist insurgency in the vast stretch of land south of the Sahara known as the Sahel — in the belly of a tank-like infantry fighting vehicle.
A photographer and I were along for the ride with the soldiers, our legs entangled in polite negotiations with each other.
Rudimentary hygiene. Casual human proximity. This was the pre-coronavirus era. After a long reporting trip, during which a few coronavirus cases began to be reported in countries across Africa, I arrived home and opened my notebooks to find a time capsule, portraits of a bygone time full of body contact and shared surfaces…