Instead of returning to Phnom Penh on Tuesday morning as planned, I stayed in Siem Reap to revise the script and go de-mining with Aki Ra. The first day we went to a nearby spot (40 min drive) to see people from the Cambodian military that Aki Ra had trained to demine. After having lunch in a shady spot with hot fried chickens I carried on my lap, we toured the surrounding areas. Many spots were marked off where mines remained exposed and ready to be disarmed. Many of the men working wanted their pictures taken with us. Quite a reversal of roles to have the locals want pictures of them with the tourists. However, I assume that when you are that far out of town and in the middle of a minefield, you are no longer a tourist. Aki Ra showed us the different type of mines common in the area and how to spot them.
We got back in the jeep and drove around to the other side of the reservoir and met a second group that Aki Ra was paying to demine. From what I was able to understand, a group of about 15 men were demining for a solid week for $100 total…about $6 per person per week.
Demining day #2 started when I awoke at 5:30am to get to the museum by 6:45 for an early departure.
Something a photo cannot capture:
Imagine the back of a small SUV with the seats taken out. Then picture six people sitting cross legged each with their own large backpack. Then picture that SUV bouncing down some of the worst roads imaginable…the kind that seems smooth for about two seconds than a massive pothole apears to swallow a tire and that padded seat you made out of your mosquito net and a wool hat has flown elsewhere just in time for your body to crash unpadded to the hard plastic wheel well! Lastly picture the above for four hours nonstop.
Well that’s one way to get people excited about walking through a mine field!
Stopped at at school outside the town of Malay, Cambodia in the afternoon. Turns out that Phil had purchased the land and had it built last year while demining with Aki Ra. He was returning with his mother (a high school teacher in the UK) to show her that the school had been named after her. The one room building was about the size of a large hotel room with no furniture but was PACKED with smiling and laughing women and children. We brought the kids a snack, took many photos, and they sang us a song in Khmer. Great work Phil!
We got back in the jeep and pushed on to a land mine field near the Thai border at Poipet. Within 15 minutes, Aki Ra had taught us all about the different kinds of mines and deactivated four mines in the process. The following are step by step pictures of his demining process:
Aki Ra then repeated the above process two more times quickly then uncovered a buried anti-tank mine. Here is a video:
After adding the anti-tank mine to the site’s display, Aki Ra found a mine that was too dangerous to deactivate and decided to explode it. Aki Ra tells us of his plan and we all walk about 50 meters from the site and wait for the explosion. Not knowing what to expect, we wait in suspense. Here is a video of the explosion taken with my still camera (pardon the shaky footage):
On the way back, we visited with Am, a friend of Aki Ra. Am had lost his leg while walking on his land. Over the following years, Am’s leg was replaced with a prosthetic and subsequently exploded six more times! Seven times Am has stepped on an active land mine and lost the same leg! Video clip to come with trailer.
Much more demining to come, happy Chinese New Year!