Home > War Journalism > Maggots



By Joseph Kassabian


After six years in the military and multiple deployments, you start to think you’ve seen everything, and then Kandahar swoops in and surprises you again. This story needs a disclaimer, if your easily disturbed, or squeamish I recommend you don’t read it. Everything in this story is true.


Kandahar, Afghanistan. Second squad set on another every day, routine patrol out to our Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoints that are scattered out in villages and on the sides of dusty, badly maintained roads, the idea is putting ANP in this checkpoints would mean they intermingle with the locals and foster pro-government attitudes, instead they are just huge targets and everyone hates them. It was a short walk to our first checkpoint that day, ‘the cell phone checkpoint’, a position that is built with a handful of sandbags and a plastic lawn chair perched on a dirt road framed on both sides by open air sewage canals. The ANP relax and do nothing sitting in the shade on their flamboyantly colored lawn chairs while we, laden with forty-plus pounds of gear, do all their work for them.

It was at this Cell Phone Checkpoint that ‘Alpha’, ‘Shot’, a medic named ‘Sal’, and I were pulling security to the east, watching the road for incoming cars, and like always once cars saw we were there, they stopped coming, and kids gathered around us. The kids laughed and giggled, screaming the few English words they knew at us, ‘Pen!’ ‘What is your name?’ ‘Fuck you!’, over and over again. A kid with a bleeding foot ran up, bare foot, to where Sal was and started begging. Sal, being a generally good person, took his medical bag off his back and started rummaging through it; he pulled out some anti-bacterial cream and gauze, applied the cream and wrapped up the bloody foot, the kid smiled and ran off back down the dirt road. We all patted each other on the back for helping the locals and went back to searching the few cars that came down the road.

About an hour later a young girl walked up to us, a baby in her arms wrapped in a blanket. We could see the baby’s head was oddly shaved bald. The young girl walked right up to Sal, after seeing him take care of the other kid, and unwrapped the baby in her arms. The young girl pointed at a horrible sore on the baby’s head. We all recoiled in horror at what we saw. An open, infected red patch of skin, oozed with white puss, we couldn’t figure out what it was, but there were small brown dots in the open sore. Sal and I, trying to maintain our composure, took a closer look. The small brown dots wiggled. “Holy fucking shit!” Alpha cursed. “What the fuck is that!” I found myself screaming. Sal and Shot stared in silent horror.

“there’s maggots in her fucking head” Sal quietly said to the three of us, he was elbow deep in his medical bag, looking for something. “What can we do for her?” I asked, my eyes locked on the sore like in a staring contest. Sal rifled through the gauze, looking for something else, I reached in his bag and pulled out a alcohol preparation pad. Sal knew what I was suggesting just by seeing me grab it. “Dude she’s got to be one, maybe two years old. That’s going to hurt like a bitch.” I shrugged, grabbing more pads. “She has fucking maggots in her head, how much more pain can we inflict on her?” Alpha, a father of three, looked at the girl like it was his own “We have to do something man.” Sal and I put rubber gloves on, and the young girl handed Shot the baby to hold during the procedure. Sal spread the sore out, to get a better look, the maggots, fat and squirming, made him recoil again, I opened a alcohol pad and handed it to Sal, he started gently rubbing the sore with the pad. The baby’s screams made us flitch, the maggots weren’t dislodging as easy as we hoped they would.

Sal started gouging at the sore, puss was forced out, and finally he start pulling the maggots from their disgusting new home. The girl trashed, screamed, and cried, Shot held on tightly, Sal kept digging away. He threw away a pad, it was stained red, white, and yellow with infection, I gave him another one, he kept digging. Finally after about twenty minutes, Sal leaned back, exhaled, and threw the last pad away “I think that’s the last of them” he rubbed some anti-bacterial cream into the newly cleaned sore, which now resembled a bloody hole and wrapped gauze around it to keep the ever buzzing flies out. The little girl who brought us the baby glared at us like we were the devil and ran away with the baby, once again wrapped up in her arms.

Sal later explained to us what he thought happened. The baby at one point had a common skin rash known as ‘cradle cap’ but the horrible unsanitary conditions in Afghanistan, the total lack of medical care in most of the country, and the neglect of the parents that is exceedingly common, led to what we saw that day. Sal also said the chance of the sore getting infected once again was almost a certainty give the conditions of the village the girl was from. Almost every patrol we see horrible medical conditions, broken bones that have healed horribly out of place and at sickening angles, open clefs of various types, and in one case a child who was a burn victim over a year ago who’s skin still weeps with infection. Unfortunately, as much as we would like to help everyone in need, it’s impossible. The sheer lack of caring and compassion the government of Afghanistan has for their own people is sickening. The Afghan government gets fat and rich off uncounted billions in aid while little girls like the one we took care of are so neglected maggots live in her fucking head.

  1. January 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Oh my God, Joseph, how terrible that must have been. My son-in-law did a tour there so I’ve heard some horror stories, but the ones which you would expect; explosive caused injuries and shots etc. The scene you describe just brings the horror and the reality to the front. I bet you have images in your mind that you can never let go of. x

  2. SSG F
    January 20, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Wow Dude. I Believe it, But still Wow.

  3. Sandi
    February 4, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    This is horrific! Not just for you “Our Fighters of Freedom” Home and Abroad that our going through the thought that what Great Things you do will return. But also that the Afghan New Government will not change what their own people are suffering from!
    Joe please remember, your writingcontinues to give,
    people,a true great whatisactuallygoing onover there!

  4. Sandi
    February 4, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    That is supposed to say…Please take solice in the fact you do a great service not only to the American people but to the Afganies as well.

    On a personal note:
    Please continue until the day you leave. Your amazing writing gives me solice as well. In my humble opinion, your writing continues to improve with every post. 🙂

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