Unbelievably I’ve somehow managed to avoid major accident and injury since being out here!

Anyone who has been to Asia and taken a road trip on the typically potholed roads with maniac drivers will understand my surprise I’ve so far stayed out of harms way!

Oh yes, and I currently spend most of my days in and out of minefields!!

Anyhow, today my guardian angel was obviously taking a wee nap…

In one of our field locations we all live in a rather ramshakle (but oh so authentic!!) wooden house, sleeping upstairs, living downstairs. The problem with this arrangement is getting from one to the other…the problem being the stairs!

For some utterly unknown reason (Cambodians rarely need a reason to do something!) the 3rd to last stair was somehow ‘forgotten’ about during construction – not missing, not broken, just never actually built…you can see what’s coming…

A combination of trousers too long for me and desperate for the loo…before I knew it I was taking a nose dive down the stairs in full view of not only my co-workers but also the entire camp of deminers who stay directly opposite our wee house!

I am now the not-so-proud owner of a cracking bruise on my leg…must think of a suitably heroic and dramatic story to accompany it for the next time we have story telling round the dinner table.


p.p.s Totally unrelated photos on this post…this is me blowing up my very first landmine for real!! Thought I’d post them here…well…just because really!


Coz i’m free…to do what I want…

1st day off today!!!

We finished work at lunchtime so all took much delight in shedding our standard issue ‘uniforms’, donning our own togs and having a normal Saturday afternoon…chilling out, reading, long lunch – that kind of thing. We then took even more delight in having a ‘normal’ Saturday night out on the town!

I think heads were a little…shall we say…’fuzzy’ the following morning!

In any event as usually happens when you are up at the crack of dawn every morning for days on end, my body clock had me awake with the cockrels and never one for a long lie in I decided to make the most of the day off.

So off I headed with Kola to play ‘tourist;’ for the day and visit Angkor Wat…seen as how we only live about 7kms away from it, it would be a crime to not make it before I leave Cambodia.

Angkor Wat is definitely impressive, it wasn’t over run with tourists either which made it all very calm and serene! however after we’d spent a ee while there we went to Angkor Thom, another temple complex behind Angkor Wat…I have to say that I most definitely preferred this place.

Playing tourist for the day we wandered round cameras slung around our necks, took rickshaws everywhere wearing our shorts and flip flops (even though it was drizzling for most of the day!)

Having a day off has made me realize how much we needed a day off. Its all too easy to just keep going and going out here – there is so much to do and see and learn…always something on a reading list to plough through or a new machine to master…hey come on…even the big G only worked 6 out of his 7 days!!

What do you mean ‘health and safety’?

I saw a very amusing sight today –  en route to a minefied we passed a new road under construction. Well, I say ‘passed’, what actually happened was we drove straight through it. Construction over here is not quite the same as we know it in the UK!

I mean, why close a road to bring in the JCB diggers when you can simply share the road with them! At one point we were literally weaving between one guy moving soil about with a huge digger and a steam roller type machine flattening the road not more than 2 metres in front of us.

A health and safety officer would have a hernia over here – not a hard hat in sight and flip flops the footwear of choice. The guys in the picture above look like they are standing a metre away from the digger – thats because they are!

Another thing making me chuckle was the Cambodian version of cats eyes (try explaining cats eyes to a non english speaking Cambodian – no, no, no not ACTUAL eyes of a cat etc etc).

Anyhow, it appears it is the sole responsibility of one plucky lass to walk down the centre of the highway clutching a bunch of pink plastic tied in little tufts, to mark the centre of the road she then ‘plants’ one of these tufts into the middle of the road as the lorries and other paraphenalia of road vehicles fly past her in both directions.

Well, the rainy season is well and truly upon us out here and as such everyone pretty much doubles their estimated journey time to anywhere! On our way back to Siem Reap we encountered first hand experience of why they do just that!

The traffic ahead of us slowed to a halt and as we pulled up behind the truck ahead of us our driver shouted out the window to ask what was going on. Apparently the road ahead had collapsed in the rain. Basically – because they don’t close the roads when they are fixing them they have to create temporary ‘diversions’ around the part of the road they are working on…all sounds like a good idea, no?

Unfortunately these temporary diversions are probably a little more ‘temporary’ than they should be. This one happened to be over a river (they were building a new bridge) so the diversion was a pile of flattened sand built up over the river.

When it rains out here it REALLY rains, the heavens had opened and had simply washed the temporary ‘sand’ bridge away downstream! So you think the gaffer would stand there and say ‘ok so its rainy season, this might just happen again if we’re not careful’…but oh no, this is Cambodia so we took out places alongside the other drivers and passengers and watched them meticulously rebuild their sand bridge over the now bulging river.

As we got on our way I couldn’t help but wonder just how long it would be before they were stopping traffic, rolling out the sand lorry and rebuilding the bridge again…and again..and again! The rainy season lasts until September…!

History, anthropology and memories!

I’m quite conscious that although I’m currently living in a country steeped in such a mass volume of history, troubles and turmoil, I’ve yet to write very much about my experiences so far, about the country and its people.

This is partly because I’ve genuinely had no time off since I’ve arrived and so haven’t even made it to Angkor Wat yet (I live 7 kms away from it!) and partly because as a rule most people know a wee bit about Cambodia’s past in one way or another – pretty much everyone has heard of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot and the Killing Fields.

The incredible thing for me is the exposure I’m getting away from the usual tourist trail – the Cambodians I’m getting to meet through working out here, hearing their story, about their past and how their lives have been affected.

When I’m out in the field I’m working in an area which runs the length of the Cambodian-Thai border, it’s basically where the highest density of mines were laid (hence why we’re working there!). The tragic irony of the area is that the very people now involved in clearing the mines were the same people conscripted to lay them in the first place – I can’t help but think what a terrible waste of human time and effort.

Being fortunate enough to work alongside these guys, they seem comfortable talking about the past – many having lived in refugee camps just over the border for years during the fighting and some having been Khmer Rouge soldiers. They are incredible people and testament to the endurance capability of the human race!

They also have an awesome sense of humour and I’ve been regaled with many a hilarious story around the dinner table of monkeys for dinner and coconut eating chickens!

My current translator said to me today ‘when you leave Cambodia and go home you will remember this day and want to come back here’!

Picture this – I’m stood in a minefield keeping an eye on the guys demining (the picture above is a deminer hard at work – they stand like this checking the ground for 8 hours a day in 30 degree heat!) and we all stop for a 10 minute break.

Now they find the whole tall blonde female ‘barang’ thing strange at the best of times but i think they are genuinely baffled as to why I would choose to do this job! ‘Barang’ by the way is the catch all term for any white foreigner in Cambodia!

Next to me sheltering from the baking heat in the shade of the leafiest tree we could find was the minefield officer and there were 3 or 4 deminers all within earshot. I was having an interesting attempt at rather stilted conversation with the field officer – he spoke Khmer and I spoke back in english – amazingly there was actually some degree of comprehension on both sides!

In an attempt to impress and amaze (!) I started to recite my newly memorised numbers in Khmer…muy, pee, buy, boon, pram…the deminers were absolutely killing themselves laughing – whether at my terrible accent or just the fact that a barang was speaking their mother tongue I’ll never know.

In any event it broke the ice and I even got a shy ‘thank you’ in english from one of the guys later in the day!

My translator is right though – its moments like that you randomly recall at the most unexpected times one day in the distant future. I guarantee when i do it will certainly put a wee smile on my face!

Dumb blonde no more

I passed my test! Yippee! Apparently its the first of many so I probably shouldn’t get too excited.

So now we know all about mines, we get to blow them up! Off back out into the field for a couple of weeks to learn all about destroying mines when the deminders dig them up…this was going to be fun!

Field conditions are actually ok – we thought we would be roughing it more than we actually are. Some of the deminers live in such remote accommodation its a case of slinging a hammock up and washing from water in the nearest well.

We at least get beds..of sorts!

We also have plenty to keep us busy – studying mostly and sleeping is a favoured activity! But I also manage to squeeze a bit of exercise in when I can. As much as running is my sport of choice its far too attention seeking in the back of beyond. I end up being ‘accompanied’ by several small children who think its hilarious to see a white girl running ‘just for fun’ and run alongside me!

I have taken to using water bottles as arm weights, my bedroom floor is fine for sit ups and the other day Kola and I managed to rustle up enough ‘kit’ to create a little circuits workout in the patch of grass behind the field office!

We also all decided we needed at least a little bit of time out so a chess set was purchased and many an hour has been spent prising coconut flesh out of hard coconut shells with pen knives!

Sierra Tango, over & out

2 new things to report…I can now fit and successfully use a high frequency radio…I can also dismantle, change and re assemble a brake disc protector plate on a TD5 Landrover – without the wheel subsequently falling off during its first test drive out the garage

(until a few days ago that bit about brake discs, TD5’s etc wuld have made no sense to me either for those of you reading this and feeling a little lost!).

I was also allowed – in fact encouraged –  to drive a rather large clunky truck they use to ferry all the workers around in. I was being ‘supervised’ by a reluctant Cambodian who not surprisingly sweated profously throughout the entire experience!

He told me I was a ‘strong lady’ however I fear a little was lost in translation  and what he actually meant was “if you don’t mind lady, can you please attempt to FIND rather than grind the gears of my precious vehicle”.

Taking a test tomorrow – name and describe the inner workings of 20 landmines…I am scared! I know I know them (kind of) but never one to perform particularly well under test conditions (unlike big sister Saz) I will unfailingly stutter and splutter my way through this.

p.s I am acutely aware words without photos can be an extremely dull experience however i am experiencing some fairly significant ‘technical problems’ at the moment uploading pictures. I promise to fix this as soon as Bill Gates gets back to me.

Hola amigo…

Sometimes on a long haul flight all you want to do is squeeze yourself into your cattle class seat, attempt to arrange your limbs in the position of least discomfort (and probability of getting deep vein thrombosis!) and pass the time away with some chick-lit or the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

Sometimes though its just better to talk the flight away – and thats when all you wish for is a semi-interesting next door neighbour fellow passenger. And so ladies and gents on my latest of long haul flight (post wedding) it happens’that I got just that!

A Cuban sax player currently making music in Paris and en route to Laos for a wee holiday. Rather amusingly (for me) and probably unfortunately (for them) our sole common language was….spanish!

Amazing what great conversations you can have during 10 hours in a confined space with just one another for company and lots of gesticulating…no doubt much to the amusement of the rest of our fellow travellers!

Heading back from the quick trip back for the wedding, I guess this is actually me now heading ‘home’! I wonder whether it will ever feel normal to be a visitor to the UK rather than a resident? I doubt I have missed much in my absence from work apart from excessive volumes of rice and some classroom sessions but it certainly feels like i was away for longer than 4 days.

I do often believe that ignorance can be bliss though and now I know what I’ve let myself in for with this job I feel more anxious about the sheer size of task ahead of me over the coming months than I did when I arrived fresh off the plane a few weeks ago arriving for the first time with no a clue what was ahead.

The great thing is that this is my life now and this type of work, travel, living out of a bag malarky has been ‘me’ for coming up on a decade now and I fully know any apprehension will be out the window the second I step off the plane, smell the air, feel the heat and refocus my mind on the task in hand.