The big 5 and the last blog

This is it folks….the end of the road, the final curtain…after 3 years of happily blogging about the trials and tribulations of my life in humanitarian mineclearance in Asia, Africa, Asia and back to Africa, I’m hanging up my blogging boots on the open world wide web.

Time now for Misshelen to ‘go underground’!

Just before I go…I’ve just been on holiday! Yes you did read that right, I’ve just taken a holiday – a short holiday but a holiday all the same.

I needed to escape Angola for a wee while and amazingly in all my time living in Mozambique I never made it to Kruger Park so took the opportunity to nip over for a quick break and some wild animal spotting.

An absolutely fantastic trip and highly recommended.

Want to see my holiday snaps??

Hippos are the coolest animals in the park! They submerge themselves under the water with just their searching eyes poking above the surface.

Just one of many beautiful waterholes in the park where you silently creep into a hide and watch the animals close up. In the bottom left of the picture is a ‘klipspringer’ (which means rock jumper in Afrikaans).

We watched this beautiful African antelope with its ‘salt and pepper’ coat perch on a rock watching the hippos lazing in the water.

We watched this family of elephants wade across the river with the mum giving her babies a shower as they went. You can tell the big elephant is a female as the females spent their lives in a tight knit group of mums, daughters, sisters and aunties where as the male elephants tend to live on their own. 

Thank goodness for camera zoom lenses – although mine paled in comparison to some of the super duper cameras we spotted in the park.

This is an African fish eagle flying high in the sky looking down into the vast expense of water for fish. Having spotted ‘lunch’ swimming in the water below, these eagles swoop down to catch their prey with their talons. Their distinctive cry is unmistakable and is said to be the sound of the spirit of Africa.

It’s breakfast time for this giraffe. It’s hard to get the scale of these animals from a photo but this one we spotted must have been nearly 4m tall!

These kudu antelope – with their distinctive long spiral horns and white stripes – are probably the most spectacular antelope in the park. Their horns can actually be used as musical instruments!

I do love a good tree – and Africa has them in abundance. The baobab tree is probably my favourite…well maybe the baobab and the marula!

These baobab trees are somethimes called the ‘tree of life’ or sometimes ‘the upside down tree’ because the roots of the tree are out of the ground on the branches and if you dig down into the ground under the tree you will find the leaves where the roots should be. ONLY JOKING!

Thanks world for reading my blog and for all your comments. Posts now are for family and friends.

So it’s over and out from Misshelen…

Turn left at the abandoned tank

When I was given directions the first time I visited this office, when they said ‘abandoned tank’ I didn’t realise they actually DID mean an armoured tank!

Excellent – more field time this week – well kind of…

I managed to make it out of my office yet again, to visit another of our provinces. Making it as far as the compound I then made the fatal error – instead of getting in my car and driving to the minefields – of switching on my computer to just ‘quickly’ check emails!

I never did make it to the minefield in the end but even so ‘a change is as good as a rest’ apparently and actually working in an office which is not my usual office does seem to make me a little more productive.

My original plan was to visit our road clearance teams. Actually I say ‘clearance’ but what we do a lot of here in Angola is ‘Road Threat Reduction’ which is not like mineclearance where we dig out every single metal signal from the ground but instead we drive down roads in a huge armoured truck dragging heavy trailers.

The concept is simple – a heavy weight on top of a landmine activates it so we drive over suspected roads with something very very heavy!

The problem we have had recently is actually getting these trailers onto some of the roads. We are just coming out of the rainy season during which bridges have collapsed and roads washed away meaning we simply can’t access where we need to get to.

So we have a back up plan…it involves a man and a wheelbarrow. I know I know…hugely technical!

This concept is more like our standard mineclearance but adapted for roads where the danger is from anti tank mines (so you can walk over these mines but the weight of a vehicle would set them off).

We send a man with a huge metal detector strapped to a wheelbarrow down the road and when the detector finds a metal signal in the ground a couple of deminers come and dig down to investigate whether it is a mine or not.

Simple but effective!

All this goes on in Bie province which is way out east from my usual home town. Bie is where we started our clearance in Angola, back in 1994. We stayed throughout the war and such is the enormity of the landmines problem that we are still clearing the province to this day.

What is now tarmac road, when we arrived in ’94 was a battle ground – with the middle of the street dividing Government troops one side, guerilla forces the other

Chatting with my staff here is fascinating. Most of them worked with us during the war and they describe the provincial capital being divided down the middle of the town with Government troops on one side of the street and the guerilla forces on the other. You can almost imagine a thick painted line down the centre of the road.

Our first emergency tasks when we arrived in ’94 were to create safe land for refugee camps to be built on. Visiting these sites now they are unrecognisable from the old photos adorning our office walls. Now they are markets, schools and hospitals!

With work still to be done it would be incredible to revisit in another 5 or 10 years time and see just how different again this town is.

1970’s family camping

Watching an amazing African sunrise is a jolly good reason to get up at dawn

Maybe happy memories being relived?

Maybe rose tinted spectacles!

Either way I feel like I’m back on a family camping holiday this weekend.

Deciding I was spending too much time in the office I headed out for a few days to one of our remote camps. Arriving at the camp I felt like I had turned into Mum..unpacking the coolbox into a little travel fridge, taking your boots off at the door to keep the mud out, heading off into the dead of the night clutching your torch and your loo roll, boiling up some water for a cuppa ‘old style’….

The smell of a burnt match and a gas cooker always takes me back to our retro family caravan and Mum making a cuppa as soon as the caravan was parked up.

The only thing which I’m sure didn’t happen on our camping holidays…or maybe I just blanked it out…was the COLD COLD shower. I say shower when I actually mean a big bucket of freezing water and a plastic jug! Gasping as the water splashed onto my head, it was so cold it literally took my breath and actually gave me an ice-cream headache!

I’m still chilly now, an hour later, sitting in bed, wearing all the clothes I could lay my hands on.

It was good to be back in the field today though. We visited one minefield which we are close to finishing clearance of. As I was briefed by our supervisor he told me that just last week a woman from the nearby village had turned up at our briefing shelter carrying an anti tank mine. Literally walking towards our supervisor holding this huge mine in her hands.

The black curved line on the top of the mine is where the woman hit with her hoe

She was urged to put it on the ground very slowly and very carefully, which she did. The supervisor edged closer and saw that the mine had a huge chunk out the top of it – this woman was one lucky lady. She had been cultivating her land and hit the top of this mine with her hoe, the chunk out the top was where she had stuck the mine. I dread to think what could have happened if she had struck it a few inches to the right.

My supervisor led me to where this woman had found the mine – I found myself walking straight into a village. Incredibly this lady had literally dug up an anti tank mine in her back garden. Within minutes of standing at the site we were surrounded by inquisitive children. If this woman had activated this landmine all these kids would have been within striking distance.

.                  Young girl stands hiding behind her newly built house

We spoke to the local leader of the village who explained to us that this community used to live a few miles away but the soil was not good for cultivating so they had moved their entire village to this new site – unbeknownst to them rebuilding their houses on a minefield.

Marking off the dangerous area we moved some of our deminers to start clearance and are now clearing inside and outside these houses. Three more mines have already been found!

Days like this certainly make my job feel oh so very real.

The community are amazingly still building new houses on this land – on the ground you can see red stones which mark the edge of the suspected area.