Danger!! Mines!!

When I took the job in Cambodia I didn’t know about land mines before. I have no idea of war except from the stories my parents told us when we were young and it was a kind of novelty because the story was told in a very light context to drill lessons about life to our young minds.

In Cambodia it’s different, you meet people and hear stories as if it just happened or for some it’s still happening, that it affects me and freezes me at the same time, others were knocked out they have to leave. I didn’t realize it will have that effect on me, I thought working in tertiary public hospital in my country prepared me to what I will see in another.

The history of Cambodia is heart wrenching … it was the Asian version of the holocaust  where the strong overpower the weak and they killed all those they perceived to challenge them – the intellectuals, the religious and the rich. They claimed they were creating a utopian egalitarian country was a farce, instead they created a wounded country that until I left in 2005 was still facing the consequence of the past and still claims 3 victims every day due to land mines mostly farmers and children. I hope now that has changed.

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Universal Sign for Landmines This sign littered the countryside of Cambodia that when you pass through you should not stray off the cleared road

The Pol Pot regime called them their perfect soldier … they lie and wait patiently for their victims, waiting to mime not kill their enemies – no they are not that bad, they don’t kill people OR SO THEY CLAIM, but miming people are worst and the consequence of it multiplied ten, hundred folds.

I have no recent information how much of the country has been demined but the effort has been huge to clear the country of those pesky little pretentious contraptions and reclaim arable lands and roads for the people to use, for the children to play. Cambodia was first among those country in the past but I don’t know now, a lot of effort has been done, even Angelina Jolie pitched in giving attention to the work of mine groups in demining.

The long term consequence of living in a country littered with land mines are having people with disability due to it … it achieved it’s purpose – it mimed many people during the war making them dependent on others and live miserable lives for most. Remember too that only a fraction of the victims are soldiers, most of the people I met are regular villagers, fathers, mothers, grandparents, innocent children, all of them just wanted to go back to the lives taken from them and yet got blown off and rendered disabled.

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Young man on wheelchair. He has spinal cord injury because shrapnel lodges in his back when he stepped on a mine in his village.

Meeting them, working with them makes it all too real to say “I am just here to work” … it really grew on me and it affected me without me knowing but still I have to compartmentalize my feelings to get on going everyday. I remember we had one volunteer physiotherapist from Oslo, she’s in her last year of school and wanted to experience working in countries like Cambodia and experience life in developing countries she said. Everyday that we were together I have to pull her out of her cubicle because she’s always making a scene in front of her client – she was crying every time she sees a child with paralyzed legs because of Polio or a person with no legs or women bringing children born with some form of congenital deformities. It was hard for her and the realization that she’s living in a glass cage (her words not mine) made it all the worst, she only stayed for two weeks instead of four and I haven’t heard from her after. Another was a guy, another physio from another western country, he stayed for two months instead of just one, he liked it so much that he said he will stop working in his hospital and seek out work like mine. He said he realized his work in the hospitals in his country was not as fulfilling as working in “our” setting – he said he started to hate treating neck pains and whinny clients when he can treat those that really needs them and with less paper work.

This kind of work affects you … moves you. It even grows on you and like I said in the past my 6 months plan became 6 years and counting in other places.

I have so much respect to the people I met while working in this sector and those people whose lives were changed by war in their countries who rose above their limitations and become champions on their own and helping other people with disabilities like them.

Right now there are 41 countries at war and always the victims are the innocents … the mothers, fathers, grandparents and most especially the children. Cambodia took very long time to heal I hope other countries realize this and stop fighting altogether.

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