In my new world it’s spelt ‘phys’ and involves running faster than I generally care to run along a dusty road in 30 degree heat! I’m also learning not 1 but 2 new languages…Cambodian Khmer and the less commonly known ‘TLA’ (three letter acronyms).
Practically the British army ‘mother tongue’, old habits obviously die hard and for my first 2 weeks in Cambodia I could decipher more of what the Cambodians were saying than my ex-military co-workers!
Language difficulties aside (!) I am truly living a life like nothing I’ve even come close to experiencing before now. Ok, so I’m working for an international development charity which is not particularly new for me but in practice the last few weeks…well…rather large and incredibly steep learning curve comes close. So here goes a slightly condensed version of my time so far in Cambodia…
Without exception, everyone in the organisation has ‘come through the ranks’, all starting with time in the field. So for the last few weeks its been the turn of myself and my fellow ‘boot-campers’, as we’re so termed, to do our time in the field working alongside the deminers.
Now I’m not talking a la Lady Di, I mean me on my hands and knees scratching through the dirt on the hunt for landmines. This has literally meant 8 hours a day of hard labour, starting obscenely early in the morning, hitting the sack by 8pm and clean nails becoming a mere distant memory!
In fact the work has been so physical I’ve resorted to eating 3 meals a day to get the energy I’ve needed to keep me going. I’m not talking picking at a few mouthfuls of rice either, I mean 3 hearty meals. Yes me – 3 hearty meals a day.
But it’s not just been physically tough, it’s been an utterly unbelieveable mental showdown too. The whole idea being that actually experiencing first hand what the field workers experience every working day we can empathise better as managers.
I don’t think we will be forgetting our time as deminers any time soon…empathy doesn’t even come close to how I feel towards these guys. Humbled, amazement and sheer unadulterated respect would be closer to the truth.
Consider this – for 8 hours a days these men stare at the ground with the heavy weight of their body armour and protective visors weighing down on them. With meticulous care they listen for the slightest tweet of their detector then ever so carefully they burrow down into the ground – often rain sodden clay mud or sun parched soil hardened like concrete – to identify what signal they’ve picked up…frustratingly often just a minute sliver of metal! All the time patiently resisting the never ending temptation to hurry up their searching or to ignore the quieter of the signals.
I was shocked to hear some of these guys have been doing this job for 20 years. 20 years! Of what has to be one of the most mundane, fiddly jobs going. Well, the master plan of the powers-that-be worked a treat – us boot campers were ready to pack it in by about day 3!
However, we perserved and now, joyfully, with tanned forearms and stiff backs we’ve passed our rite of passage.