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!


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