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As part of his job with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Bro Damien Donavan was posted to Afghanistan from August 2010 until July 2011.

For the first two months, he was located in TarinKowt (TK), a small backwater

where Australian military and government organisations work on building governance, bringing development and suppressing the insurgents.

 

Future time was split between TK and Kandahar Air Field (KAF) which was his best hope of finding masons. Afghanistan can be a dark place. It has been embroiled in conflict for most of its modern existence, has generations of children who have not known a childhood and with approx. 25% of children dying before they turn five.

As a mason one little ray of light when he arrived on KAF was a sign on the noticeboards at the main shopping area displaying the familiar square and compasses.

'A call led me to a small tea house which hosted a surprisingly vibrant masonic community, comprised mostly members from Canada, the Philippines, the USA, as well as some English, Dutch, some Turks and South Africans, and one Australian. The "chai" house was busy pretty much every night of the week with one meeting or another.

'I connected first with the Canada Lodge of Kandahar. These brethren initially met at least once a week; twice a month was a regular lodge meeting, plus every week there was a social get-together at the local Tim Horton's. This was just a well-appointed demountable, with no indoor seating – but at least the Canadians (and temporarily adopted Canadians) could get their daily fix of fresh-baked doughnuts,' Bro Donavan said.

Canada-Lodge-1'My first lodge meeting was on Thursday 16 December 2010 at Lodge Canada. The WM was away on leave due to a family tragedy, and the senior and junior wardens had flown out that afternoon. The normal lodge members were down to a handful, there were more visitors than members. Around the room we had about 20 brothers, comprised five nationalities, from at least 10 different lodges, and about six jurisdictions. It was an extremely interesting meeting. The Dutch IPM who took the chair for the night introduced us to the ritual of opening and closing in Holland. This was followed by a free discourse from all those gathered on the differences between the ritual of each of the jurisdictions, and the construction of broader masonry in those countries.'

This opened the first Canadian masonic lodge in Afghanistan and was the culmination of over five years of effort. Of course, there was the matter of having a Past Master available to actually rule and govern the lodge. As it turned out, the current Master, W Bro Rick Fulford of Brighton, Ontario, working as a civilian contractor at KAF, was on site and eagerly embraced the responsibility.

The lodge was designated Canada Lodge and operated under the Warrant of Trent Lodge #38 from Trenton, Ontario. The first meeting of Canada Lodge was held on 4 March 2010, and was attended by masons from both Canada and the United States with subsequent meetings being held on the first and third Thursdays of each month.

Under the initial letter of dispensation the lodge was allowed to open in the first degree using the ritual of the jurisdiction of the warrant under which it had its authority, namely Ontario. The lodge was established to allow brethren from any jurisdiction recognised by the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario to meet for the purpose of fraternity and to further masonic education – but not to confer degrees.

The dispensation allowed the Master to appoint his officers for each meeting, but from a lodge of the same jurisdiction. Due to the highly transient nature of the masonic population and the fact that few of the brethren were actually from that jurisdiction, this was simply not possible. For example, Bro Donavan filled the roles of Deacon or Junior Warden for most of his time in 2011.

The lodge was granted a dispensation to conduct first degree initiations in July 2010 after a petition was presented to the Grand Lodge committee of the GM and past GMs. New members were affiliated with Lodge Trent #38 and so applications were to be made through that lodge. There was an excellent relationship between this lodge and the Grand Lodge in Canada with the WM's request to initiate new candidates often taking less than a day to turn around!

While these initial arrangements were greatly welcomed there was much enthusiasm to be able to take the working of the lodge further. Following representations from the WM, and a great deal of support from higher up, on 18 May 2011, the WM received a letter advising that a dispensation to confer all three degrees had been granted.

Canada-Lodge-2'As already mentioned, the lodge was formed under the warrant of the Grand Lodge of Canada, Province of Ontario. Therefore the ritual is also from that jurisdiction. This ritual is very similar to ours, although there are a few differences, which often caused me to substitute the occasional word from our ritual, but this was actually part of what made the lodge so interesting. We had people from so many different countries and jurisdictions that we often heard little bits of foreign ritual substituted here and there, different methods of address and so on,' said Bro Donavan.

'While awaiting the approval to conduct initiations, the WM had been collecting names of good men who might be interested in Masonry, and so there was something of a backlog for first degrees. For the last six-week block I was there, we conducted three triple-firsts, a double first, and a single first; a level of intensity of which many lodges would be incredibly envious. I was also very privileged to be one of the deacons for the lodge's very first second degree on 18 July and delivered the second degree tracing board lecture.

'There was a great deal of enthusiasm in the lodge and we had all agreed that we would begin holding meetings weekly rather than just twice a month. This was partly to clear the backlog of candidates, but also because the brethren were just so keen to have this fraternal release, something to look forward to every week while working in this trying environment.

'One could understand this regularity of meetings. There were no long distances to drive, no family to go home to, a yearning to connect with some sort of family when yours is far away and, frankly, not much else to do at night. Even the original twice monthly meetings were something of an oddity for me and I was interested to learn that twice-monthly meetings were a regular occurrence in Canada and Holland.

'I have already noted the weekly coffee club meetings at Tim Horton's where brethren met outside the lodge. This also gave us a chance to meet potential new candidates and to see how well we liked each other. One tricky part of being in this environment is that a small number of locals do not necessary like us being there. So occasionally we received some deadly fireworks. When the alarms go off, everyone gets very friendly with the ground, but even then, the camaraderie goes on. Fortunately, in the time I was there, we didn't have any lodge meetings interrupted, although we had at least one at the conclusion of a meeting, giving new meaning to the term "there is an alarm!"

'In conclusion, this was a great masonic experience. I built great friendships, experienced a deep process of learning, and will have memories that will last my lifetime. The facilities there were truly basic. But the important thing was the brethren sharing in a common fraternity. As the Dutch PM of Lodge Canada said, the physical structure does not matter, what is important is the lodges we build within our hearts.'

This article is based on excerpts from a lecture delivered by Bro Donavan at Lodge Canberra on 24 October 2011.

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, Spring 2012, pages 28-29.

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