A couple of village men arrived on a moto. They turned out to be the work crew, and we set off into the grass along a double-rutted trail, into Thailand. The first thing we saw was a crater about ten by twenty feet across and eight feet deep (NB this pretty large blast radius for when we encounter an undetected one in the middle of the road and in the middle of the night in the SUV). It was from an anti-tank mine. The double-rutted trail became a single-rut trail, wide enough for one person. Five hundred meters down the line two sticks about knee height appeared with red string wound around them, the string leading further along the trail. We were told not to walk outside the string'd area, because it hadn't been demined yet. At first we were sort of comically (in retrospect), hyperbolically careful, and walked rigidly in each other's footsteps.
We walked by a pile of mines stacked up against a little tree. These were the first mines we saw. They were squat cylinders about four inches high and seven inches diameter, with a little knob sticking out the side. There was about fifty of them. We each of us white guys took several pictures.
Down the trail another few minutes was the end of the line—where the little knee-height sticks closed up and formed a cul-de-sac beyond which was uncleared territory, which, judging by the density of little dug-out holes within this little end-zone, was packed pretty tightly with unexploded mines, a fact Akira confirmed when we nervously and excitedly asked him about it.
One of the guys broke out his metal detector and started pushing it through the grass at the edge of the red string, and found a mine in about half a second. Akira quickly got to work, getting down on his knees and jabbing at the area with a rusty scithe. Jon's camera started rolling and we all backed up a little. As he was prodding the dirt and flipping up chunks of it, Akira answered our questions such as 'holy frig jeez hell is that really a live mine?' and 'how did you find it so quickly?' Yes it was a live mine, and aside from the fact that there were simply tons of them in the ground, in certain areas they were also consistently spaced at about a meter apart. In addition to any observer being able to see this pattern for themselves, Akira knew this because he'd laid them.
We watched and took pictures and filmed as Akira dug out the dirt around the now-partly-visible mine with his hands. He told us it was the same kind of mine as the fifty or so we'd just seen stacked up on the path on our way in. The dirt around it that was too tightly packed for his hands he jabbed with the scithe, hard, and to us, seemingly haphazardly and incautiously. Within about a minute he'd cleared the mine sufficiently to prise it out with the flat edge of the scithe. He held it up to us to show us.
“Oh yeah.” We're all kind of exchanging nervous glances and chuckly smiles, like, this is so cool!
“So it's still live, is it Akira?”
“Yes. Now, like this.”
And he takes a new-looking pair of pliers to the little knob on the side, gently but firmly twists it until it gives, and unscrews it off. It's just on a regular, non-booby-trapped, non-explosive screw thread. Like a pickle jar. The knob comes off and, with a manoeuvre I don't quite catch, he extracts a little cylinder from inside the body of the mine.
“What's that, Akira?” — Jon or me.
Ben answers, “That's gonna be the detonator, isn't it Akira?”
“So that's the thing that makes the whole thing explode eh?” Jon says.
I ask how it actually causes the explosion, but Akira seems to not really understand or care about the question. Ben, who has taken a course in explosives at some point, speculates about a mechanism involving a little pin.
Akira then takes the metal detector himself while instructing one of the village men where to hack the long grass away. Again, the grass-hacking with the rusty scithe seems totally incautious to us, almost striking the ground, and pulling up large swaths of vegetation by the roots in precisely the locations that the metal detector beeps the loudest.
A little area is cleared away and Akira efficiently slices away all the top layers of dirt and debris that cover this second mine, to expose a rusty brown-green corner sticking out of the earth about eight inches below the surface.
Akira says over his shoulder to Ben: “You?”
« Older Maynard L. Parker was an architectural photographe... | DRM as a cloud of poison gas.... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt