Covering the final days of ISIS in Syria required venturing further and further away from civilization. As coalition aircraft and US-backed Syrian forces pushed the terrorists toward a small pocket of land jutting into the Euphrates River, they left behind giant swathes of destruction: cratered roads, airstruck homes, and rubble and debris as far as the eye could see.
Which meant, of course, that there was nowhere to stay within a reasonable travel distance to the front. We alternated between sleeping in an abandoned oil field, squatting in a rubble-strewn but still standing house, and sleeping rough outdoors in the destruction just a mile from the front, kept awake all night by the thumps and booms of airstrikes.
But no matter where we spent the night, every morning was made so much brighter with a morning ritual: fresh-brewed nescafe… and front line porridge, courtesy of our colleague, Karl Taylor. Warm, sweet, and hearty, it was both comforting and nourishing enough to get us to dinner time. Stick-to-your-ribs morning grub.
The key piece of equipment was a gas canister with a mounted cooker ring – it meant we could survive on more than tinned tuna and nuts. There’s so much you can do with a pot, water, and canned food. In the absence of creature comforts (like electricity, wifi, heat, a roof), it allowed us to feel at home.
After the first dawn coffee, Karl would mix up a batch of Coffeemate and water.
Once it came to a boil, he’d pour in an entire canister of oats, stir constantly until it thickened up, and then dish it out.
That’s when the fun started. Depending on what we had at hand, we could customize our bowls in any number of ways.
Banana and honey? Check:
When the fresh fruit ran out… dried strawberries and hazelnuts:
Then a riff on everyone’s favorite sandwich… dried berries, a scoop of peanut butter, and honey:
Honey, hazelnuts, and plump bits of dried fig:
And finally, roasted pistachios, more dried strawberries, and honey:
The days on the frontline were dusty, dangerous and long; and the nights sleepless, chilly and loud.
But the brief window between ending the night and beginning the day was full of warmth, sustenance, and camaraderie… The dose of comfort we needed to keep going.
(To experience the porridge under fire yourself, click below)