Monday, March 31, 2008

The Shame of it All

I’ve kept my postings pretty light. The funny things that have happened, and nice people I’m dealing with.

Today I’m just mad. More than mad, I am furious.

About 2 months ago, when I returned from my January trip, I asked people to contact their Senators, Representatives and MPs and ask for letters of support for Cambodian Self Help Demining. Foreign support, especially from politicians, means a great deal over here, a great deal. I cannot begin to tell you how important it is. It tells the local bureaucracy that they are being watched. That the rest of the world not only knows but cares about what happens in their country. It gives transparency to the process.

Here’s the letter we asked our politicians to sign:

To: Cambodian Mine Action and Victims Assistance Authority
Subject: Aki Ra and Cambodian Self Help Demining

I have recently become aware of the work of Aki Ra in clearing landmines and making Cambodia a safer place for its citizens. This work is of critical value in a world today where too few individuals are willing to place their lives on the line to help their neighbors live a better life.

I urge you to as quickly as possible allow Aki Ra's new NGO, Cambodian Self Help Demining, to become a registered demining company in Cambodia and to give it full certification, meeting all national and international standards set for other demining NGOs.

Thank you for all the CMAA is and has done to make Cambodia safe for its people.


What a controversial document!

Let me just tell you what we heard back from 4 American politicians.

My congresswoman is Rep. Mary Bono-Mack. I don’t agree with all her positions, but she’s been pretty good for the district. I asked her to sign this letter. She sent us a letter endorsing the Landmine Museum and the work of the Canadian government! Huh?? The Museum was registered as an NGO in 2004 and got certified last year. What we got was totally worthless, off point and a waste of her and my time. I sent another letter to Rep. Bono-Mack’s office asking her to sign the letter. Not a word has come back.

My Senators are Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. I sent them both a request and have not even had the courtesy of a reply from either. Oh yeah – I donated to Sen. Boxer’s campaign. She certainly gets in touch with me when she needs something.

Some of our donors are from Maine. Senator Collins was contacted and asked for a letter of support. Nope, out of my district. Uh….I thought she was a Senator? Maybe I’m wrong, but don’t they vote on things outside their districts? Like wars and foreign aid and stuff?

We’ve got 2 letters from MPs in the UK and been promised more. But squat from the US.

I am flatly ashamed. We’ve had literally dozens of people write their representatives and senators and ask for this simple letter that will do nothing more than save lives. There’s a lot of cheap shots I can take right now, and frankly they are well deserved. But I’ll leave them to you.

We read all the time that the American political system doesn’t work. Well I’m pretty sure that if I were donating thousands or millions of dollars, these politicians would be all over me like white on rice. I won’t call them representatives any more, ‘cause they sure don’t represent me.

When it looked like the Museum wouldn't get built the Canadian Ambassador stepped in as did the Prime Minister. I have been totally unable to reach anyone at the US Embassy. A bit annoying? Yeah...a bit.

Maybe we can shame them into supporting Ai Ra.
I am certainly ashamed of them.

I’ll try and be more ‘upbeat’ next time.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Big Box Deliveries in Cambodia

As you know, I’m over here to work on Aki Ra’s demining program. We need a place to keep all of his equipment so we bought a container. You know, the kind you see being hauled down the street behind a truck. The ones that get delivered on container ships to the harbors.

In the US you can buy these things for a few hundred bucks. That’s because we import a whole bunch more than we export. So the number of containers in the US just grows and grows. Over here they have an export surplus, vis a vis containers, and they cost a bit more. We paid a goodly amount for one, had it outfitted with lockers and a steel crate weighing several hundred kilos for storage of valuable items and had it shipped from Phnom Penh.

Building the crate was pretty neat. The company that did it is called DTW, and they employ a lot of handicapped workers, some of them landmine victims. Very nice.

The container got shipped from Phnom Penh up here the other day. The trucker left around 8am. Now a bus, as you know if you’ve read my earlier postings, can take anywhere from 4-6 hours, 8 at the most to reach to Siem Reap.

It arrived at 5pm. Ah - Khmer time. The temperature was about 90 degrees (30c) and the humidity was at 75%.

Don’t know what took the guy so long, but at least it was still light out when he got there.

The gate of the compound where we store the container is 3 meters wide. The bus was 3 meters wide. Who was gonna win that battle? A brick fence or a 2 ton truck? I have to give it to the driver though, he was really good. The bus made it through the gate with about 2 cm (less than an inch) on either side. That was after we cut the branch off a tree that was hanging into the road.

Well, we missed the buildings by less than ½ meter, only ran over one real small palm tree (don’t worry, there are plenty left), and delivered the prize next door to Aki Ra and Hourt’s house.

There was a crane on the truck and they got the container ‘planted’ with no problem. It was on the ground maybe 30 seconds when Chet and Boreak, both landmine victims, had scaled the sides and were jumping up and down on the roof. Hey, I was impressed.

Once they got down, they asked me what it was for. I told them it was for boys who didn’t follow the rules. Both gave me sideways look until I started to laugh.

We got back to Siem Reap a bit after dark and that in itself is a story to tell. The road we were is, let’s say, less than adequate. That’s in the daytime. After dark it is simply scary. People drive on either side, cut across opposing traffic, and blow their freakin’ horns every time they pass you. Sort of like Boston.

We made it back in one piece so I took our Tuk Tuk driver, general fix-it man, and good friend, Sim Sau to dinner. We eat off the menu. Sau goes to the kitchen and orders special. It’s also twice the size we get. Hmmmm…………

Today Aki Ra and I worked some more on the registration and certification process. It takes a lot longer over here to get things done than it does at home.

I don’t think I’ll have the certs done before my visa runs out, so it looks like I will be back here in a couple of months.

I hope you all got a chance to see the ‘Bomber and Roy” story. I’ve been in close contact with them both and it is really hoppin’ ‘Down Under’. They are getting a lot of emails, as are we. The show is being shown again tonite and Sunday, I believe. I have not been able to watch it yet, although it is on-line. The internet connections here are just too slow. I did read the transcript though. These guys are truly amazing.

All for now. More later


Monday, March 24, 2008

Bomber and Roy

Whatever you are doing right now stop. Go to this website:

Australian TV did a show about Bomber and Roy, 2 Australian Vietnam Vets who have done amazing work helping Aki Ra over the past few years clearing landmines in Cambodia.

They are my heroes.

If I can do half what they have done to help Aki Ra I will die a happy man.

You can access the the entire program there. It is awesome!!!!



Sunday, March 23, 2008

Update from the Jungle

23 March 2008

Don’t eat the Mexican food.

I don’t think I have to explain to any of you what I mean by that. Whether it was the way they made the enchiladas or the fact that I’d been eating chicken and rice for a week, the dinner and I did not much get along.

Oh yeah, also make sure you have plenty of tp in your room. ‘Nuff said.

Sorry it’s been so long since I posted, but last week was a lot busier than I had expected it to be, with meetings with Aki Ra, trips to Phnom Penh, meetings with government officials and contractors and then paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.

Monday I went out to the Museum and had some meetings with the people there. It was very good and we went over a lot of things that need to be done. As I mentioned earlier, they ran into a really bad mouse problem. The mice even started eating the money they keep in a drawer for petty cash. Then last week they ate the copier. Well, not the whole thing, but enough of the wire inside so that it doesn’t work any more. They were going to try and get it fixed, but it’s one of those HP ‘all in ones’ that cost about $150 (even here) and the cost and time to fix it isn’t worth the effort.

And everyone thinks the mouse traps are ‘very dangerous’. Now, these are folks who run a landmine museum and have cleared a whole bunch of mines and UXOs. I found that amusing. But if you’ve never put together a mouse trap and had one snap on your finger, you know what they mean. So we had a little class in mouse trap setting. Just hope none of the kids start looking in desk drawers for candy. Nasty surprise.

Aki Ra and I flew into Phnom Penh Wednesday for a few meetings and boy what a difference to Siem Reap. Crowded, traffic, dusty and impersonal. We had a couple of good meals and my $30/nite hotel had a huge room and internet access so I was able to get a lot of work done, all except the blog.

The weather over here just gets hotter and hotter. It’s Sunday afternoon at 1pm right now and the weather is already over 90 degrees and the humidity is at 63%, so it is ripe. I’ve gone down 2 notches on my belt and if I don’t tuck my shirt in, 3. Svelt I am not, but I do seem to be losing some kilos.

The people here are very nice, both the barangs (foreigners like me) and the Khmers. I made some good friends in the NGO community over the last few months so I run into a lot of them around town and it’s nice to be able to sit down with friends and have coke or a quick meal. If I get really hungry for a home cooked meal I can set up a meeting at the Museum for late morning or early afternoon and catch lunch. Always great, and always more than I can eat. And if you know me, that’s a lot.

It’s Easter Sunday today. Since almost the entire country is Buddhist there isn’t much to see regarding Easter except that several of the shops are selling chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs. I cannot imaging buying chocolate bunnies in this weather. You better eat everything quick, ‘cause I don’t think anything would make it back to the guest house.

There are a few Christian churches here and they are having Easter services today, although I haven’t seen much about it. Just seems like a day in Siem Reap. Sunday is the only day folks have off, but since this is primarily a tourist town, everything is pretty much the same as any other day.

Next week we work on all the certification papers.

More to come


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another Jingle from the Jungle

15 March 2008

It didn’t rain today.

It didn’t need to. The temp is 86 and the humidity is 75%. But if you’re riding in a tuk tuk at 30mph on hiway 6 you are plenty cool. Your shirt and the breeze become an instant swamp cooler (evaporative cooler to the un-desert among you). Just close your eyes and enjoy the breeze. Besides, you don’t want to open your eyes when you are driving 30mph on that road.

I made one serious mistake when I packed. A lot of my shirts are white. And the dirt in Cambodia is red. And it blows all over the place, and I sweat. So I have red tinted shirts. Rather than send them out for cleaning every day, I bought a bucket for a dollar and I wash them out in the shower at night, hang them on the line in my bath and I’m all set to go.

Yesterday I worked on organizational plans for the new NGO and had some meetings with some folks here in town.

There is something I especially want to do before I leave. On the Mekong River, north of Phnom Penh is a town called Kratie. That’s where you can find the Mekong River Dolphins. At one time it was estimated that there were only around 80 left, then a ban on fishing with nets was put in place and the population has sprung back to over 150. The government has emplaced controls to protect them. Half of the 72 River Guards hired in 2006 are local villagers. The balance are policemen, soldiers, military policemen (didn’t teach me that in MP School) and fishery officers.

They are similar to the pink dolphins in the Amazon, which I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, except that they are gray. It takes about 2 days to get to reach Kratie. The only way to get there is by bus (oh boy). There used to be boats from Phnom Penh but with the improved road conditions in Cambodia the ferries have disappeared. However, if you are adventurous enough, you might be able to find a rice barge in Kampong Cham sailing north and hitch a ride.

I’m going to see if there is any way I can get there before I leave. I’ll probably have to go out of PP, but I might be able to get there through Kampong Thom. (You’re gonna need a map of Cambodia for this blog).

I went up to Aki Ra’s Landmine Museum this morning and had a look around. A lot has changed since I was here a mere 5 weeks ago. They have big signs up on the road in front of the Museum. They were really needed, as you could zip right past it otherwise. And they’ve started putting up some pictures of the history of the KR and the ensuing 20 years of war, which spawned most of the landmine problem. There are also stories on many of the kids who live at the Museum. Very moving. And they present a very personal touch to the Museum. Something you don’t always find.

Well, it is Saturday night in Siem Reap and I am going to have Mexican food for dinner. Hey, you think they don’t have Mexican food in Kampuchea? Will go very well with the spring rolls I had for lunch.

And check out this great travel site:
It's a great place to get travel plans and run by a good friend of the Fund, James Trotta. And hey, he liked my bus story.


Ps: I’m trying to keep this blog a bit lite as I don’t want to weigh everyone down with stories about explosions and death. But I AM here to help Aki Ra get Cambodian Self Help Demining registered and certified with the government. It is work that really needs to be done and will save countless lives.

So if have a couple of minutes left, go to: and click on the PayPal Button.

Instant Karma

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Back on the Far Side

Well, as many of you know, I’ve headed back to Cambodia to work with Aki Ra for a while. My, oh my, what a change from January.

I’ve spent a little bit of time in saunas, I just didn’t think I’d be spending the next 4-8 weeks there. When I got off the plane in Phnom Penh on Sunday it was like walking into one. Temperature was in the hi 80s (that’s about 25C to anyone outside the USA) and the humidity was pushing 75%. But, hey, the sky was blue and the streets were clear. When I was here in January Aki Ra had to build a fire when we camped out in the jungle and we could see our breath in the morning.

But I do need to drop a few kilos, so I guess this isn’t all that bad. For those uninitiated, a kilo is 2.5 pounds, so that will give you all a nice little giggle. At my expense. But I am just too frickin’ old to worry about people laughing at me.

I had a bunch of meetings in Phnom Penh and they all went pretty well. As you know, Aki Ra is starting a new NGO (non-governmental organization) called Cambodian Self Help Demining (CSHD). I’ll be here working with him to secure his certification by the Cambodian Mine Action and Victims Assistance Authority (CMAA), who oversees all the demining in the country. This could take a while, so I am prepared to stay until the end of April to see it through. I’ll come back if need be.

Rather than spend the money and all the time at the airport to fly from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, I decided to take the bus for $7. It was only supposed to be 4.5 hour ride and the countryside is really pretty and I had a good book to keep me company.

Once again I learned the meaning of Khmer Time…..

About an hour and a half out of Phnom Penh, on the open and scenic highway, while whiling away the time in my book, I just about had a heart attack when an oncoming bus side-swiped us. We were each traveling about 60 mph so it certainly got our attention. We lost the drivers side mirror, got some really nice 'tattoos' on the chasis, and the bus did a neat little snake on the road. I actually though someone had taken a shot at us. That’s what is sounded like. We pulled over to the side and the driver set out inspecting the bus. Nothing else fell off so we resumed our little trek.

For about 25 yards when one of the side windows shattered and about 7 little girls went off like a roman candle. Hey, they got my attention.

So we stopped again, and the driver and his assistant (yep, we had an assistant… I guess for just this sort of situation) taped up the window with a big roll of clear duct tape. That took about 30 minutes (don’t even go there) and then we stated off again on our little trek.

For another 25 yards when the shattered window fell into the bus in about a gazillion pieces , and the girls hit octaves I had no idea the human voice could reach.

So we stopped again and the driver and his assistant knocked out the rest of the window, scraped up the pieces and off we went.

They did say that the bus was air conditioned, so I guess I got my moneys worth.

About 10 minutes later we made a ‘potty stop’. (If you even have to ask me why we made a potty stop I will slap you the next time we meet.) The girls were first in line.

Eventually we got to Siem Reap. We were due about 12pm. We arrived around 3pm. My friend Sao who operates Tuk Tuks for Peace (see links) had been waiting for me since noon. What a great guy. We grabbed my bags and headed for the Green Town Guest House ( It’s really nice. I have a corner room with 2 windows, cable TV, AC, a ceiling fan and hot water in my bath. And I pay $10 a day. Breakfast is not included. That costs me an extra $2.50. Pretty neat.

So today I had meetings with Aki Ra and we worked on details of (CSHD). We hope to have it registered and certified this month. The sooner the better.

I’ve heard from a few of you, and I really do appreciate the emails and phone calls. I’ve posted my mobile number here on the blog, so feel free to give me a call (12 hours ahead of PDT. If it’s noon in California, it’s 2am here.). If you Skype I have it open whenever I am on line.

I’ll post to the blog regularly and I’ll have some emails coming your way soon.

Thanks for all the support.

Babu in the Jungle