‘Fizz’ is no longer the sweet bubbly nectar from France

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.



  1. Joan said,

    June 25, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    love all your stories when you are a house manager[ dont work spend all day at home} its the highlight of your day. all too dangerous for me , danger to me is fighting with the oap’s in Tesco for the bargain of the day, now that is dangerous youy dont mess with a twirly , oh dear i am nearly one myself.
    well all weddings for this year are over now what fun we had in usa . Every day was an adventure not your type of adventure ,but really gritty up at 7am type of adventure. we did so much felt as though we were away for a month. Les and paul are so funny they just couldn’t help being american their accent has a lot to be desired, but even Richard caught the american accent bug he was quite good. Lucy was fab she was so good even though she probably didnt know whether it was feeding time or sleeping time.
    We did it was usually coffee time , after a ten minute walk usually. It was so hot in Washington 106 degrees we only walked about ten yards before wehad to sit down , elliot would always say do you think we can make it to the next bench, lets try shall we. We did but yes another sit down before moving on.
    You probably heard about elliots best man speech he surprised us all even himself still cant believe it was him it looked like him and sounded like him but cant be sure it was actually him , think it was an alien dressed as elliot it was so good and so funny.
    The wedding was really good sorry you werent there. your dad and paul were very funny on dance floor dont know what school of dancing they went too ,but , its unique thats for sure.
    Men in pain with ants in their pants is not far from their moves, lots of leg twitching and singing along to band but with made up words not the right ones.
    Well hope you are ok you certainly look well , just going back to my house manager duties , empty dish washer, hmm oh yes load tge dish washer well thats more than enough in one day lots of love Joanx

  2. December 11, 2010 at 9:53 am

    […] remember my first day in a minefield like it was […]

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