Wednesday, January 17, 2007

These are the people in my neighbourhood

When you live in a place like this there are some very special types of people that you come across. One of the maddest groups of people I've ever met is also one of the groups I respect the most. There is a particular breed of person, almost all men, whose job it is to look for, find and destroy unexploded land mines (both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines) and other unexploded ordinance (UXOs) like rocket propelled grenades. It's "crazy work" as they say, but it is incredibly important work. This country is riddled with land mines and UXOs. In the western region (covering the four provinces of Herat, Badghis, Farah and Ghor) in 2006 there were 25 fatalities caused by land mines or UXOs, and 113 people were injured. Those injuries can be horrific. The anti-personnel mines are cruelly designed to maim and inflict terrible damage to the human body. The anti-tank mines, not surprising, are designed to inflict damage to a tank, so it is not hard to imagine how dangerous they are to humans. Today I heard from an UNMACA official that he was recently talking to a Mujahadeen fighter in Herat province who told him that he had personally laid 1000 anti-personnel mines in Khosan district of Herat. The United Nations Mine Action Coordination Agency and its predecessors have been working to survey and clear mine fields and battle fields since the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1989. This morning I went to briefing on their work in our region. In that time they have cleared 55 million square metres of mine fields and 18 million square metres of battle fields. They have found and destroyed 802 anti-tank mines, 13,553 anti-personnel mines and nearly 1 million UXOs. In the past year they have conducted mine awareness education for 153,000 people from high risk mine areas and have cleared about 3 million square metres each of mine field and battle field. So, yes, they are doing incredibly important work. But can you imagine what this job must be like? Not only is it dangerous (since 1989 there have been 87 accidents while clearing or destroying mines) but it requires what seems to me to be inhuman levels of concentration and fastidiousness. When they survey mine fields they do it inch by painstaking inch. If they get sloppy or bored for an instant it could result in their death, or a terrible injury. I met these guys from time to time, and I have the feeling that a disproportionate number of them come from New Zealand. But wherever they come from they are likely to be hard-cases. One guy, who I think is decidedly cool, goes by the name Ru - he is Maori, from a town not far from my home town. He is not so big by our standards, but here in Afghanistan his size is pretty impressive. He dresses in a black shalwar chamez (the long shirt and pant suit preferred by most men here), and has a 'fauxhawk' (a la David Beckham, but somehow it looks a little different on a big Polynesian guy in Afghanistan) and a decent sized beard. If his appearance isn't enough to make people nervous then his sense of humour probably will. Of course he makes me laugh uncontrollably, but then I'm a Kiwi girl from Tokoroa and that lets me into the small club of people who understand what Ru is talking about most of the time. He's probably a pretty typical deminer - I think he likes to appear rough around the edges and possibly a little bit mad. He is doing "crazy work". He's one of many who are doing what in my opinion is the work of heroes. This is my tribute to them. PS: Last night I got on the treadmill in the bunker for 40 minutes with my iPod on shuffle to provide the stimulation that was lacking in the scenery, went home and cut lovely pictures and words out of my one and only magazine to use in a collage of positivity (I wanted to do something creative and fun and it worked!), then danced around my room to bad pop music. I slept! Very well, even. This morning I woke with a little bit of energy and so I managed a baby yoga session (15 mins) and a bit of sitting still (my name for meditating, I find this label less intimidating). It has helped, as have all your kind, wise and loving comments. One day at a time. PSS: Just to prove that nothing is completely random, here are some of the songs that my iPod shuffle offered me last night while on the treadmill:
  • Keep on Pushing by The Black Seeds;
  • Colour Me Life by Katchafire;
  • You've Got a Friend by Carole King; and
  • I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm by Bille Holiday.


My Marrakech said...

yes, the deminers are incredible. I am also amazed by the people who act as human shields (the peace brigades, etc.)

So glad to hear you are feeling beter!

Alexandra G said...

I'm amazed and grateful that such courageous, caring souls exist. I honestly would be too afraid to be a deminer. And what do you say to someone who has just told you he laid 1000 mines personally??

Paris Parfait said...

So glad you're feeling a bit better today. Thanks for this wonderful tribute to tough/tender guys like Ru, who do such incredibly difficult, dangerous yet important work. In Jordan there are huge swathes of land near the Dead Sea that were mined (i.e. in the '67 War) and the maps of the mines were lost. So occasionally you come across signs that warn of landmines in the area. It just boggles the mind (no pun intended) to think of all the thousands and thousands of land mines still out there, after various wars and conflicts. I wish the world would wake up and ban their use forever. My hat's off to Ru and his colleagues!

AnnieElf said...

We read of landmines in the popular media but it is information like this that really tells the story and comments from writers like Paris Parfait (i.e. Dead Sea) that really shed light on the truth of the situation. Bravo to Ru and all the men like him.

Regina Clare Jane said...

Yay for you, Frida! So glad you were able to move about and find some time for just you!
Incredible story about those incredible men- thank you for sharing! I am learning something new every day from you! Love the Billie Holiday song!

luzie said...

Your post about the deminers reminded me of the excellent yet upsetting movie Turtles Can Fly which I saw a couple of weeks ago.
I also have the highest respect for people like Ru and the others who are continuously working to reduce the deadly risk that comes with mines.

Glad to hear you're feeling a bit better. Thinking of you.

susanna said...

I can't imagine the patience and sheer courage/madness the deminers must have. They truly are heroes. Reading this post, I couldn't help but think of the film, The English Patient. Come to think of it, Frida, you DO look like Juliette Binoche... Next time you meet Ru, you'll have to take his photo to show us.

Glad to hear that you are feeling better. I'll have to check out your music selection on itunes or myspace.