So many walls divide us out here.

We wear helmets and flak jackets, we flail in our most basic attempts to converse, are clumsy with age old traditions, and judge the world with westernised eyes and ideals. They – Afghans – forgive our faults, laugh at our apologies, proffer their hospitality, and disguise their suspicions. It is a collision of cultures, barely survived by a precarious goodwill and constant effort.

Sometimes though, these walls disintegrate of their own accord. Three days ago on a visit of the neighbouring district of Now Zad, I strolled past the front gates of the base – an intimidating confusion of watch-towers, machine-gun posts and boom gates. I was mildly bemused to see four local children no older than seven or eight approach the heavily armed sentry. The guard’s stern features creased into a grin as they waved and smiled. He motioned them through, and I decided to follow, wondering how on earth these children had just managed to infiltrate our camp.

They picked their way past the armoured trucks and crates of equipment to our office, where they were warmly greeted by a waiting officer. Choosing their favourite cushions, they took a seat and spent the next hour receiving English lessons from two burley marines, laughing at one another grappling with the strange language. Throughout it all they whispered and wriggled and clapped, eating popcorn and sweetbread. Their father joined us at some point with more greetings. Gifts were exchanged – adding to an air of festivity. As the evening ended, there was more hugging and much waving goodbye, and the family noisily made their way back home. The Taliban would never have allowed such frivolity.

It may sound banal, but when life is pervaded by threats and fortifications, such a moment was a glimpse of normality that is all too easily forgotten. I had watched all of this stunned and fascinated (maybe I’ve been out here too long). But it was as if all the walls and the wire, the guns and the gates hadn’t existed. We had simply treated each other with humanity – and in that moment the war had suddenly become irrelevant.