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In 2006, Christie Blatchford and I set out to show Canadians what the Afghan mission really looked like – and she showed me what she was truly made of

Louie Palu, left, takes a picture of Christie Blatchford, second from right, and other Canadian journalists in Afghanistan's Helmand province on April 2, 2006. Mr. Palu and Ms. Blatchford were reporting on the Afghan mission for The Globe and Mail.Photography by Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

Louie Palu is a documentary photographer and filmmaker.

It’s hard to believe Christie Blatchford has left us. I’d think death would have been afraid of the Christie I knew.

On our way to Afghanistan in 2006, we got stuck in the New Delhi airport on what was a more-than-10-hour layover between flights. There was no WiFi back then to kill time, so you just stared at the floor. It was mind-numbing. Exhausted and fuming, Christie began lashing out at whoever was responsible for booking our flight. That day she broke the letter-F key on her phone. Adding to her misery, she came back from the restroom holding a dripping passport, which had fallen from her back pocket when she tried to sit on the toilet. That made her laugh again.

The quotable Christie Blatchford: Snapshots from her decades-long career in journalism

Veteran journalist Christie Blatchford was known for her work ethic and wit

We arrived in Kabul and hit the ground running. Everyday she wept over the extreme poverty of the children, her face buried in her hands. She nearly gave away all our money meant for reporting to children on the street. When our local guide, or “fixer,” suggested that she had to cover up and wear a burka, her response was, “Fuck off, I am not wearing that.” In the end, she compromised by wearing a blanket over her shoulders, which she stopped using after just one day. Everyday we were confronted by hellish scenes – maimed children missing limbs, poverty and tragedy beyond what almost everyone reading this, including her critics, would be willing to witness in person or could even imagine.

Ms. Blatchford and Mr. Palu stand beside Moh Asef, an armed guard at the lodge where they stayed in Kabul in 2006.

It was then I experienced one of the defining moments of my life with her. We were in Kandahar when a suicide bombing took place. The only way we could cover it was to leave the safety of the military unit in which we were embedded and travel in the city on our own. It’s very difficult to put in words what this experience was like.

There were body parts everywhere, and Christie whispered in my ear she had never seen anything like it. Having been there, I can tell you the things you see and smell last inside you for a lifetime. There are not very many people who remain focused on the scene, go back and file a story, wake up the next day and do it all over again. Or go to a hospital – with the smell of rotting and burned flesh from wounded children – then pack your backpack weighing nearly 100 pounds for a three-day patrol into an insurgent-held mountain range.

Which makes me wonder how Christie managed and processed all the tragedy she covered over her career. I guess we’ll never know. I can say from experience that there are critics who push invented theories about covering war, and then there is the reality on the ground.

Christie was the reality on the ground. Some of it was ugly. She faced those realities better than anyone. It doesn’t matter if you liked her reporting; you knew what was going on in the darkest places around the world because of journalists like her.

After she died, everyone called me, sharing stories about her love of the troops. Yes, she did really love soldiers. But when we planned all our reporting in the field, she made sure there was equal time set aside for covering Afghan civilians, because it was important to her to know why we were there. That was Christie. She wanted to show – and help readers understand – the world, in all its complicated beauty.

Our Afghan mission: A visual guide

Chaman-e-Hzari playing field, Kabul, March 10: Boys play soccer next to a stadium where the Taliban once held executions. Ms. Blatchford remarked on the soccer game, and others like it, in her first dispatch from Afghanistan.

There must have been a hundred different, impromptu football (soccer, we call it) games under way yesterday in the warm spring sun. ... In other words, a good number of the many ordinary pleasures the Taliban deemed sins – their number was legion – were being indulged a hair’s breadth away from the place where people were stoned to death five years ago for doing the same things.

Kandahar Air Field, March 31: Soldiers stand outside their tents in the dark after scrambling out of bed in response to loud explosions, believed to be mortar or rocket attacks. It was the second such attack by militants that week.

Mir Bazaar school, Kandahar, March 27: Sisters Salda, 11, and Yalda, 13, talk with The Globe about their education at a private co-educational English school. Both told Ms. Blatchford they planned to be doctors, like their mother.

Southern Afghanistan, March 18: Private Chad Baitley and Corporal Lance Hopps of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) 1st Battalion patrol through rugged terrain on the first day of Operation Sola Kowel, or 'peacemaker' in Pashto.

Those formidable hills have an endearing playful aspect to them. It’s as though, centuries ago, a call went out for all the rocks, stones and pebbles of the planet to gather in this part of Afghanistan, and here they continue to strike poses and giggle at the sight of the awkward humans who come to best them.

Kandahar Air Field, March 13: Michel Desilets cuts Corporal Shawn Crowder's hair in a shipping container converted into a barbershop. A native of Shawinigan, Que., Mr. Desilets was on his second rotation as a civilian barber with the Afghan mission. 'I appreciate my life,” he told Ms. Blatchford, 'but this is one of the best gifts I've ever had.'

Highway 1, Helmand province, April 2: Mr. Palu relaxes on the road surrounded by members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry C Company. There were minefields on each side of the road.

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