A Travellerspoint blog

If at first you don't succeed then skydiving is not for you.

Written in June 2011

The Vice President’s wife or, more to the point, one of the Vice Presidents wives owns a plot of land out the back of Juba. Well owns may be a bit of a stretch, as it appears that all someone in the Government has to do is declare a piece of land his and it is so. Who said running a military dictatorship doesn’t have its perks?? South Sudan might be running under the illusion of a freely elected leadership; however the ruling party are all Military Officers and tend to govern in this manner. Want to travel from your rather large compound to the airport?? No worries just get the army to close all the roads so you can get there without all the hassle of traffic. To be fair though they have just come through 20 odd years of war and the mistrust runs very deep here, so I guess a little healthy paranoia can be excusable.

Speaking of the Army closing roads I had a rather fun encounter with this. I had left my accommodation in order to get to the office to pay my deminers. After driving through at least 5 intersections I started to take notice that there were an awful lot of soldiers out this particular morning, far more than usual. I barely had time to ponder the reasons for this increase in activity when I was abruptly stopped at the next intersection. Normally I will drive through such things with a casual wave and an “It’s all right mate, I’m Australian.” however this particular soldier seemed a little more aggressive than usual and was actually pointing his AK-47 (they actually use the rather less robust Chinese rip-off but nobody knows that one) at me.
“Go back!” I was told rather sternly.
“I’m trying to get to work mate, what’s going on??” I enquired rather politely. Nothing brings out the polite in me like having the wrong end of a weapon pointed in my direction.
“Go back!” came the reply, a little more forcefully this time.

I wasn’t really expecting a lucid response. Most of the Sudanese in the lower ranks of the Army don’t speak English and as my Sudanese Arabic is limited to “Hello, thank you, good morning, how are you, stop and white man” I felt that the conversation could deteriorate quite rapidly. So I turned my vehicle around and started heading back to my accommodation. This was where I ran into problems, as the 5 or so intersections I had travelled through before without trouble were now all closed and manned by rather pissed off looking soldiers.

“Go back!” I was told, once I reached the next checkpoint. I tried crudely explaining that the soldier at the checkpoint 50m behind me had told me that exact same thing and I was now trying to get back home like a good boy.
“Go back!”, again a little more menacing this time. Juniour ranking soldiers rarely know what is going on, especially in this part of the world and I am sure they had been told that nobody was to come through their particular intersection, no matter what. So I turned around and went back to the first soldier I encountered.

“Go back!” only this time rather pissed off. I tried explaining my predicament in the only way westerners know how to talk to people that don’t converse in English. By speaking slower, louder and using rather amusing but pointless hand gestures.
“Go back!” so I did. In fact I parked half way between the two checkpoints and started to ponder my next move. I was just considering taking a quick nap in the car until whatever the hell the road was closed for had finished happening when there was a tap on my window.

“You can’t stay here, move!” once again reinforced by pointing a gun at me. I would be quite happy to oblige these people without the threat of having part of my head removed by a high velocity bullet, but it obviously gets the job done because people rarely argue. So I was now stuck between two checkpoints and not allowed to sit in the middle. This I felt would need drastic action so I headed back towards my accommodation again, reached the checkpoint and got out of the car.

If you are ever in South Sudan and get stopped at a randomly set up checkpoint manned by pissed off soldiers in the early morning, my advice to you is to stay in the vehicle. I swear these boys reacted as if I had just rolled out of my window and started popping caps into asses like a Bruce Willis movie. It was time, I felt, to turn on the charm.
“It’s all right mate, I’m Australian. I just need to get back to my accommodation and we can put this whole mess behind us.” I said, with my best I’m really not here to mess you up smile plastered across my face and my hands raised. I then squatted down, ignored the ever increasing number of weapons and shouting Sudanese surrounding me and tried drawing a map in the dirt to explain my dilemma. Fortunately an Officer was amongst this group and wandered over casually with a rather large grin on his face.
“Good morning” he said in flawless English “You are not allowed to pass through the checkpoints. You need to stay in your house”.
“That’s great mate” I replied, thankful to talk to the only person who wasn’t actively wondering if they would get into trouble, or a promotion, for shooting me in the line of duty. “But I am trying to get back to my house now. I just need to get there and I’ll stay put I promise.”
“Where are you staying” he inquired.
“The Bedouins, it’s just down the road on the corner.”
“OK my friend, you may pass through, please hurry and have a nice day.”
So I was through, I was really happy with this outcome until I hit the next checkpoint a further 50m down the road,
“Go back!”

I took my the best part of an hour to travel the 250m back to where I was staying, I ended up going back to the Officer who had let me through the first time and asking him to help me to get the rest of the way back. He found this quite funny and was rather enjoying being the man who helped the stupid white boy get home. I bought him a beer for that one. And the reason for the road closure?? They wanted to search all the foreigners in town to make sure we didn’t have any weapons on us. As I said the mistrust runs rather deep between North and South Sudan and the government was worried that the North had planted a western assassin in town to take out key party members during the independence celebrations.

Any way this plot of land owned by the Vice President’s wife was being used as cultivated land. She had decided she would spend some time planting different crops to see what would work best for this part of the world. This is actually a commendably sensible approach to agriculture and one that should be taken up everywhere. I have never been able to understand why they plant rice in Australia, for example, the driest continent on Earth.

So things were going along swimmingly until the tractor being used to plough the field struck and detonated an Anti-Tank Mine. These are the bigger cousins to the Landmine and operate on the same principle. When enough pressure is exerted onto either the pressure plate or tilt rod, the device functions and creates all kinds of mayhem to the unlucky vehicle currently attempting to traverse its position. Now these mines are designed to take out and disable tanks and other heavily armoured vehicles, so you can imagine the damage it would do to a tractor. (Incidentally it takes about 95kg of pressure to activate some AT mines so if you are a heavy individual, or are carrying a rather large pack then you could be in for a bad day). This particular driver was incredibly lucky in that the front wheel of the tractor functioned the mine, so the majority of the blast was taken by the engine. He managed to live, and keep all his parts intact, but I have no idea just what state he got to hospital in. I was then tasked with destroying another AT mine that was uncovered but hadn’t functioned. Normally we would defuse these and keep then for their excellent explosive fill found on the insides, however we had been told to destroy it. So I wandered out, fitted my charge, came back to a safe area and made it disappear in a rapidly expanding ball of destruction. Nice and easy.

We later found out the reason why we needed to destroy this particular mine. For it seems they were hell bent on proceeding with the ploughing of this land before the rains really kicked in. The only minor inconvenience they were encountering was these pesky AT mines. As we had discovered two of them in a line we could safely assume that there was a line of AT mines in this particular patch of ground. (I am sure I have told you before, but my job is not rocket science!) We therefore wanted to start doing some exploring to ascertain if there was any more threat to the local population in this field. As this was going to delay the ladies plans, they put another tractor into the field in order to continue ploughing whilst we weren’t there. This second tractor however was not so lucky and detonated a mine with his back wheel. This caused the explosion to travel up through the seat on which the driver was sitting and scatter parts of him over a rather large area. This second tractor was discovered the next day by Uran who had been given the job of investigating the area.

Now while the clean-up of this job was less than fun, the local authorities were far more concerned with retrieving the remains of the tractor and continuing with the work. It was pointed out that now they had lost two tractors and one man that maybe they should put a halt to proceedings until Uran could declare the area safe.
“No way” came the reply. “There are only 6 mines in this area and we have already found three so it is safe. We must keep working.” It took high level meetings to convince the VP’s wife to put a halt to things. She was convinced that no more accidents would happen and that she should be allowed to continue. I believe Derek suggested that if she was that confident perhaps she could drive the next tractor through the field. She relented at that.

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Russian TM-46 Anti-Tank Mine

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What happens when you drive a tractor over one.

At the last count I think Uran had found 26 AT mines in that area. All destroyed in a big explosion to prove a point to the locals.
This shit is dangerous.

Posted by Dangermouse 02:16 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

How to make an impression

Originally written in April 2011

It’s funny how your perception can be altered by only getting a small piece of the information. Politicians have known this for years obviously, and I was quite taken by the concept in the last couple of weeks here in Juba. For quite a while whilst driving around, I saw school children from different schools making their way to and from their chosen seat of learning. The thing was that all the boys I saw were dressed in a quite striking pink. Not the metrosexual, yes I’m possibly gay but I kind of like chicks as well or at the very least I like to keep my options open light salmon, but a decent 1980’s bright fluro retina burning like I just looked at the sun too long kind of pink. This is really a quite striking colour and included the socks. Lord knows who thought this would be an appropriate thing for any decent human being to wear, let alone young men going through puberty who have enough to deal with. I could only assume it was some NGO’s sense of humour, as the adjacent school was dressed in blue, cool unassuming blue. And they were all girls. I kept myself quietly amused every day on my way to work observing this and did so for almost an entire week before I realised that they weren’t single sex schools at all. Both schools were in fact mixed and I had merely only seen the boys in pink and the girls in blue. Well you can imagine my disappointment to discover this, a bit like the first time you realise that Santa doesn’t deliver all your presents (he in fact only delivers a couple, the rest are bought by your parents, and it makes a lot more sense that way as it would greatly decrease the total time required to visit all the places he needs to.), or that the tooth fairy had no real concept of the pressures of inflation on the value of local currency. (What she thinks you can buy with 20c these days I don’t know.)

I had seen photos of people carrying items on their heads before, National Geographic is useful for a lot more than giving teenage boys their first glimpses of boobs after all, however it’s not until you actually see it that it finally appears real. And the Sudanese carry almost everything exclusively on their heads. I have passed areas around water pumps where up to 4 local ladies were struggling to heave a quite large container of water onto a compatriots head before she casually walked off down the street. God only knows how it gets removed at the other end, as the local men, like men almost everywhere, are quite too busy pursuing manly pursuits like being in the Army, getting drunk and sleeping under trees, or hanging around in large groups with motorcycles to actually bother to help with household chores. These water containers must be at least 20 litres which is quite a decent weight when you consider they carry it perched on top of their heads and quite often don’t use their hands to steady it. They must have extraordinary balance, extremely strong muscles and absolutely chronic neck and back problems before they turn 30. Quite possibly the most amusing thing I have seen carried this way is a rather smart looking suitcase. This particular lady was on her way to the airport and carrying her luggage on her head in the local manner. This case, however, was the type with wheels and a handle that extends. I was travelling with one of my local deminers at the time and we stopped to offer her a lift, which was politely declined. (I can’t blame her really, if I was off to the airport and a rather beaten up dirty landcruiser with a foreigner wearing a beard and a large hat pulled up, I would be inclined to say no as well.) After I pointed out that she could wheel her bag along she gave me a rather confused look so I offered to show her. I do believe that she could not have been more shocked when I extended the handle and pulled it behind me. She appeared quite taken with this concept and carried on her way quietly chatting to herself, stopping occasionally to retract and extend the handle. I’m sure it will be quite the talking point at her next social gathering. These wheel things are quite useful after all.

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This week I was handed some grenades at work by the local Army. This is not an unusual event as we occasionally get given things they no longer require so that they don’t have to get rid of them themselves. Of the four grenades I was given I could identify only three of them. The other one was somewhat of a mystery. It was a light grey colour, made of plastic and quite light. I removed the fuse to check the contents and it was a type of powder. So, somewhat bewildered I put it aside and took it back to the office so that others with far more experience than I could try and identify it for me. Once my work was completed for the day I approached Fabrice, our spotter, and asked him for his opinion. Fabrice can generally identify anything you show him by looking at it, it’s really quite an amazing skill rather like the EOD equivalent of wine tasting or those rather annoying individuals who can tell you what key a piece of music is in just by listening to it. This particular grenade however had him stumped so he did as I had, removed the fuse and looked inside. After this he poured a little bit of the powdery substance out and examined it in his palm. After stating he had no idea, the grenade was handed to Derek, and then Stephan (quite possibly the funniest German I have ever met and someone whose adventures could take up a whole book. My favourite quote of his has to be when I showed him a picture of a hand grenade I had found.
“Oh yes” he said quite seriously “That’s an American HE grenade, very dangerous. They used those on grandpa.”)
Both men sampled the insides of the grenade and gave me a rather non committal I don’t know shrug before handing it back. I returned to my accommodation to write my report and Al came over to examine the mystery item. He also left puzzled and after I put the grenade down I wiped the sweat off my face and sat in front of my computer.

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The device in question. In hindsight it's obvious.

CS Gas is a rather annoying substance, quite often used for crowd control. It is also known by the nickname of tear gas and to be affected by it is rather like cutting up a whole batch of chillis and then rubbing them all over your face. It’s a rather nasty feeling and burns for quite a while causing the eyes to tear up, hence the name. As my eyes, nose, mouth and generally the entire portion of my face started to burn I came to the quite sudden realisation that this could quite possibly be a tear gas grenade. As I emerged from my container, buoyed by my sudden knowledge increase and a rather urgent desire to find a fast running tap and some soap, I was joined by the rest of the gang. I had managed to infect my entire ops management staff with CS gas and they were all rather enjoying the experience. At least I assume they were as I was madly attempting to wash the stuff off and see just how long I could hold my head under water, and is breathing really all that necessary anyway??
“I think that may be a CS Grenade” I stated through squinted burning eyes, once again assuming my secret identity of Captain Obvious.
“Ummmm yeah I think you could call that a positive ID” replied Al, replacing my head with his in the sink.

Well at least I am making an impression. Now I have a CS grenade waiting for someone, I wonder if the church next door will keep drumming at 0600 every Sunday if I lob that over the fence. Stay tuned.

Posted by Dangermouse 23:39 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

Exotic diseases and the "Shower of Death"

Originally written in April 2011

I was fortunate enough to catch typhoid and malaria at the same time recently, though fortunate may be a little of an over exaggeration. It came on rather suddenly as well, and really caught me quite by surprise. At lunch time I was fine, and still a little chuffed over the days successful demolition. I have been running a 100% record of late, that being every time I set up an explosive shot and pull the trigger it goes bang like I expected it to. Chris on the other hand hasn’t been so fortunate, and I have been taking great pleasure in letting him know this. So much so, that I have renamed him “Miss Fire”. Not a particularly well thought out nickname I must admit but it does keep me amused. So after another successful day of blowing shit up and bragging about it, I started the rather enthralling afternoon ritual of returning explosives and filling in paperwork. However the paperwork festivities had to be postponed as on the return journey form the explosives storage area my stomach gave a sudden jolt, as if someone stuck a huge fork in my belly and started twirling my insides like some sort of spaghetti. It was really quite sudden and rather intense.

So after a rather brisk drive back to my accommodation, I proceeded to almost physically destroy the toilet and quietly thank god that there was a can of air freshener in there. It took quite a lot of flushing to get it all to go down, and the smell was really quite out of this world. It is hard to describe the utterly disgusting, dry wretch inducing odour that was permeating the air, and refusing to be either dispersed or covered by the almost full can of air freshener that I sprayed vainly into the air. I felt quite sorry for the poor unsuspecting man who had to use the facilities after me. Rather like coming out of a game of Russian roulette having pulled the trigger five times then handing over to the next competitor, you just know it’s going to end badly. So after a forced smile and a “Terribly sorry, better hold your breath” shrug of my shoulders I left him to it and entered the shower.

I knew something was really wrong the moment I got under the water, as I couldn’t make the shower hot enough. Now the shower I was using wasn’t really what I would call hot to begin with, but they were capable of giving you a mild burn if you weren’t careful. On this day it didn’t bother me, and as soon as I got out I felt freezing cold. The only thing that would warm me up was to get back under the hot water.
“That’s not good” I said aloud rather worriedly, only to hear a groan from the other side of the door. Mr Roulette was obviously lined up for a shower after me, and was now probably wondering what I had done to ruin this experience for him as well. I wrapped myself up in my towel, nodded a knowing, still sorry, look to Mr. Roulette, and proceeded back to my accommodation where I placed myself under the air conditioner in a vain attempt to cool down. I knew that while I may have felt like I was freezing; I was in fact more likely to be running a rather high temperature.

Chris by this stage had dropped by to go through the numbers of what we had done that day, and found me shivering rather uncontrollably.
“Geez mate you don’t look to good” he said rather obviously.
“It’s Karma” I said, rather pointedly. “Karma’s come to bite me for being so bloody good at dems.”
“Nah” said Chris with a grin, “It’s more just that being a convict you’re not hard enough to kill this kind of thing off by yourself.”
(It has always amazed me how the English love the whole convict aspect of Australian development. I have always maintained that if the Poms were smarter they would have left the prisoners in England and moved to Australia themselves. It was, anyway, a moot point as Chris caught Typhoid himself a week later. Karma anyone?)

Blood testing revealed the dynamic duo, typhoid and malaria. Typhoid is ingesting food or water that has been infected by feces. Not an altogether pleasant mental image, especially when you are going through the list of places you had eaten recently. The truth is though that it could be in the food, on the plates or even the hands of the people serving you. It is, unfortunately, rather hard to avoid in some parts of the world. To his credit Andy, the owner of the hotel I was staying at, went on a cleaning blitz with his kitchen after I told him in passing that I had Typhoid. He was determined to make sure that it wasn’t from his place and I must commend him for that.
Malaria is equally hard to avoid, you can take all the preventative medication in the world but it only lowers the chances of getting the disease. Once again it is a hazard of being in certain parts of the world. To catch both together is a real treat, though not as much fun as I had hoped. I had been told great stories of really good hallucination spells, mad sweats and near delirium. I felt this could be rather entertaining and a possible happy side effect of either the disease or the medication. Unfortunately all I did was feel like crap for 4 days and then it cleared up. I actually felt a little disappointed by the whole experience, though I’m in no real hurry to try again.

More notes on the oddities of living in Sudan. For a start they have no street lights. This may not seem like a big deal at first but it does take a little getting used to. My night vision is not the best either these days and trying to pick out very black Africans against a very black road can be an interesting experience. The upside to all this is that businesses that operate at night, mainly bars and motels, tend to decorate themselves in Christmas style lighting in order to attract customers. Some of these displays are quite elaborate as well, and would give some people quite a lot of competition in the annual “who had the largest electricity bill – you can see my house from space” Christmas displays back home. This tends to give the town a, quite accidental, somewhat festive atmosphere which is really quite charming.

What is not so charming are the personal habits of some of, if not most of the locals. For a start they are some of the most dedicated nose pickers I have yet to meet. I can somewhat appreciate this, especially when it is dry and the dust cloud hovers over the city like a Los Angeles fog, however sometimes it seems like the only time some of the natives don’t have their fingers in their nostrils is when they come over to shake your hand. More often than not the fingers are removed, hand shakes are exchanged and the offending digits are replaced again, without so much as a courtesy wipe on the pants first. I have unfortunately on more than one occasion been left with a slightly crusty gift. Perhaps it is a cultural thing??

The other extremely confronting habit is going to the toilet. There is no seemingly nice way to put this so I will just have to say it straight. If someone is transiting from A to B and feels the sudden urge to release a number two back into the wild, there appears to be nothing wrong with just stopping what you are doing, dropping your pants and letting nature take its course. Middle of the road – no problem, anything resembling a building that nobody currently inhabits – go for it, in a minefield – well just adding to the existing dangers really. I have even seen them defecating in grave yards. I assume it is so the worms get distracted. I have been told also, on good authority, that in some villages it is seen as a status of how manly you are by just how big a crap you can leave on the path leading up to your front door. I’d like to see them take up that in Vaucluse. Just the other day I was filling up my car at the local outlet when I wandered around the other side to find a gentleman urinating on my back tyre. He just smiled said hello and attempted to shake my hand. Now I can put up with the boogers, just, but that is stretching the friendship a little too far.

The Sudanese also have the tradition of holding hands. Apparently it is a sign of friendship, and not at all strange for men to wander along together hand in hand. Being from the west and, lets be honest, someone with serious personal space issues, this is somewhat hard to comprehend for me. I can count on one hand the number of people who are allowed to hold my hand; actually it really just takes one finger. Otherwise I am really not a fan of hugging, or for that matter any sort of bodily contact. So this custom can be somewhat strange to me. My brother in law on the other hand would probably fit right in here. In fact he could be a little too touchy, even for the Sudanese. I wonder how they feel about leg humping??

I have moved into the work compound now and out of my container at the Bedouin resort. Though resort is probably a little too complementary a word. I have moved into a Tukul and now have my own shower and toilet. Will the luxuries never end?? I even have a mirror now that I can see myself in, though the results are far from satisfactory. I lost a bit of weight with the typhoid and work so need to eat a bit more. I also have air-conditioning that does a valiant job of attempting to cool down my living space.

The shower is an interesting affair. It has to be the first time I have seen a shower head and tap with wiring attached. Now I am a big fan of electricity, I would have a hard time imagining my life without it and would definitely find my Playstation less than entertaining were it not for our electrical marvel. I am not, however, a big fan of experiencing electricity’s wonders whilst standing naked in a large puddle of water. For every time I turn on my shower I get a series of rather disturbing electric shocks. The worst ones were when I tried stupidly to move the shower head to direct the water to somewhere near where I was able to stand. The water was gushing straight back at the wall just below the head, so I reached up to move it my way and POW.
Now I have received electric shocks before by a few things, and this was in no way fatal (obviously) but still rather unnerving. After jumping out of my now dubbed “Shower Of Death” I casually asked the previous occupant if he had ever had a similar problem.
“Occasionally”, he said thoughtfully “But only if you put your hands near the shower head. You’re best to keep clear of that.”
I pointed out that this was information that may have been useful before I just committed myself to acting like a giant lightning rod. It doesn’t just happen in mine either, everyone had the same problem. It would appear that nothing was wired up to earth (sorry but my understanding of electricity extends to I flick the switch and stuff works) so all the showers are quite capable of giving you a nasty surprise. It is probably best summed up by a message Kido left in his accommodation for the person who was to stay there while he was on leave.

- My stuff is in a bag under my bed, please don’t touch it.
- I have cleaned out the fridge and would appreciate it left in the same state.
- Don’t rub anything off the whiteboard.
- You will get shocked by the shower. Stop bitching and take it like a man.

Only in Africa.

Posted by Dangermouse 23:29 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

BLINKY gets his name

Originally written in March 2011

This tale may seem a little different from the others, and I did ponder whether to tell it at all. However it is because of this tale that it had to be told, a kind of Never Ending Story infinity symbol with two snakes biting each other on the tail. A gentle reminder that not only does life seem to go on forever, but can also be a right pain in the arse. I mean really, did the author even consider this possibility of meaning to his creation?? Anyway, this particular tale took place a couple of weeks ago and went exactly like this……

It was a day like any other day really. After a morning workout, long hot shower and nutritious breakfast of cereals, fruits and all the essentials to get me through the day, I walked outside to greet the new day. The Sun was slowly appearing over the horizon like a giant bald man peering over a fence, the air was clean and clear and I though to myself “This is going to be a magical day.”

OK so maybe not exactly. The air is rarely clean for example, the water rarely hot in the mornings, and I value my sleep too much to get up early to exercise these days. In fact I have become rather suspicious of people who do exercise in the mornings now. They are, in my book, now in the same category as door to door religious salesmen. Too happy, too polite and just too weird to be classed as regular human beings. Now I’m not saying that Mary and Peter standing on your doorstep smiling way too much and chatting about the wonders of finding Christ are from outer space, or that the young man running effortlessly past your house while you scratch yourself idly and wonder where the hell your paper is came from a different planet. I’m just saying it is quite possible, and we should be cautious.

Work went as most work days did, find explosive ordnance, identify explosive ordnance, decide whether before mentioned explosive ordnance is safe to move, then move explosive ordnance. Now if that description doesn’t make you want to go out and immediately do a course to join the exciting world of bomb disposal then I’m not sure anything will. Add to this, mind you, that you get to wear Body Armour and a Visor. Did I hear anyone say sexy?? James Bond can keep the tux, this has chick magnet written all over it. I posted a photo of myself proudly wearing my kit and trying to make it look like I wasn’t constantly on the brink of passing out from heat exhaustion on the internet recently. On Facebook to be precise, social media does have its uses after all. I gives me a chance to keep in touch with my friends and family, let them know what I had for lunch today and just how hot I think Milla Jovovich is (quite if you must know). The popular consensus from Facebook, including from my lovely wife, is that I look like the Tin Man. Honestly, the Tin Man?? I don’t really see the resemblance myself, I’m a million times better looking that him and I’m not silver.

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"All the gear, no idea" me dressed to impress.

Anyway we were clearing through a large stockpile of vary large bullets, mortars and grenades when I found a 30mm VOG with a thick string tied to it leading underneath the pile. This is a bad sign, as the string could indicate a booby trap. The basic premise is that humans love shiny objects. Anything we deem as attractive or valuable we are immediately attracted to. My wife is rather shiny to me for example, so are Ducati motorcycles. Anyway during a conflict it is not uncommon for combatants to attach booby traps to shiny objects in the hope of killing a few people. The idea is you pick up the item in question, and it sets off another item like a grenade, or a grenade on top of an anti-tank mine. The trick is to find out what the string is attached to, and defeat the whole thing. So I knelt down next to the item and began carefully investigating where the string was leading.

The only problem with my course of action was that I didn’t immediately remove all my Sudanese de-miners from the area. They had a charming, though somewhat suicidal, habit of identifying dangerous objects by pointing it out, then picking it up and giving it to me. If I was rapidly dying from a terminal disease I would positively encourage this kind of behaviour, however I do prefer to err on the side of caution and as such had forbidden them to pick up anything unless I said they could. This did take some getting used to for them, and a little practice, but they did have the idea. I had also told them that if I was investigating anything, they had to remain at least 50m from me as a safety distance. On todays occasion my deminer (I shall call him Bloody Lucky I’m Not Killing You – or Blinky for short) decided to ignore both these rules. Before I knew what was happening he had walked over, told me “It’s OK it’s safe” then casually picked up the VOG with the string attached.

Time funnily enough doesn’t stand still but does seem to slow down an awful lot. I have heard the scientific explanation for this. That the adrenalin kicks in, the brain concentrates all its efforts on taking in as much information about the present danger as possible and therefore makes everything appear to move slower. In the 2 seconds this took it felt like I could have made a cup of tea and watched a couple episodes of How I Met Your Mother. (Willow by the way is equally hot) as I watched the string and waited for the inevitable……When that didn’t happen time then goes into overdrive, as in one swift motion I sprang up and raced for the nearest cover dragging a rather bewildered Blinky behind me. The Road Runner would have been impressed with the speed with which I moved.

After throwing Blinky behind a building and following close behind him I got onto the radio and told both my 2 I/C and Chris (another expat EOD man working on my site) that I had a possible booby trap that had possibly been pulled and could possibly go off any second and could they all please stop what they were doing and find suitable cover now. Blinky by this stage was getting the idea that he had done something monumentally stupid, and was looking suitably embarrassed, but to be fair it wasn’t totally his fault. I should have stopped all work as soon as I suspected a booby trap and cleared everyone out before investigating it. This does not excuse his actions however, and I spent the next 5 minutes explaining just how disappointed I was, and how much trouble he would be in with both my wife and my mother if he got me blown to pieces. I told him that they would both hunt him down to the ends of the earth and make his life a living hell for what he had done.
After all this he looked at me thoughtfully for a moment then smiled;
“But I would have been killed in the explosion as well so they wouldn’t be able to find me”. He’s not as dumb as he seems Blinky.

I waited for half an hour before going back to the stockpile to resume my search, just in case the possible device malfunctioned or was on a delayed timer. This time there was nobody around but me, and I picked carefully through the pile following the string. In the end I found nothing, it was just a piece of string tied to a VOG. Why it was there is any ones guess, but there was nothing sinister about it.

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The stockpile of AP rounds where we found the VOG with the string attached.

So why did this warrant telling. This is a dangerous job, sometimes very dangerous, and these tales very often have a bad ending. People die every year removing UXO, in fact we lost a colleague working for another company just recently in Sudan, and this incident caused me to think a little about my life. I have, at some point or other I’m sure committed most, if not all of the 7 deadly sins that Mary and Peter told me about. Now I don’t put any stock in religion, I don’t honestly believe that God holds us to the bible, but that he judges us on our actions. So I am trying to become a better person, for myself, and that includes telling the stories that aren’t as nice. My lovely wife, after all, deserves to know about what is happening in my life and I will stop hiding things from her that may upset her. Unless, of course, she were to ask me if she looks fat. Some things even God wouldn’t expect you to do. He does frown on suicide after all.

So that’s my story for now, just another boring day in the life of an exceedingly handsome, brave and daring EOD tech. Still it was the most exciting thing to happen to me since Brad and Angelina invited me to a movie. No really that happened...... honestly. OK to be fair I went to the movies to see Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

I may be prone to exaggeration occasionally, but this story I promise you is true.

Posted by Dangermouse 10:00 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

The rise of Miss Fire

Originally written in March 2011

It can’t be said that the local population aren’t making the most out of life. If fact they seem to have embraced capitalism with a kind of vigor not seen since Charlie Sheen discovered porn. There is very little you can do in Sudan without being asked for money. Prior to this my wife was the most rampant capitalist I knew, she would sell her bus seat to exhausted passengers for example, however I fear she has a lot to learn from the Sudanese.

I was taking a photo of a large boulder as a reference point for an EOD job the other day. It wasn’t a particularly artistic photo, the lighting was all wrong and the rule of thirds was being blatantly ignored, but was a work requirement and therefore a quick snap was taken. Now this boulder had a couple of local women sitting in front of it, quite busily breaking large rocks into smaller ones (incidentally, and laughably ironically, there is a large group of children doing this exact thing right out the front of the UNICEF compound in Juba.) No sooner had the camera been lowered from my eye than they had, by some kind of voodoo I’m sure, covered the 50 or so meters that separated us and were standing next to me demanding money for taking their photo. I tried explaining that I was taking photos of the rock, and their participation was quite inconsequential. They would, however, have none of that. I must have been photographing then as they were quite clearly in front of the camera and therefore must be paid for posing. They must value their personal copyright quite highly, Tyra would have been proud. Another ex-pat told me that he had struck a vulture one day whilst driving along. After alighting from his car to check the damage he was immediately accosted by a local who appeared as if by magic demanding money for the brutal slaying of his favourite scavenger.

That is the other thing that can be quite startling about the local population; they appear from out of nowhere. One moment you can be standing in what you thought was a completely clear area, whilst fitting explosives for example, only to turn around to find 2 spectators inquisitively peering over your shoulder. They appear to find roads and tracks somewhat of an inconvenience and tend to just walk from place to place in as straight a line as possible, And they blend in quite astonishingly with the local landscape, regardless of how outrageous their clothing may be, which makes it rather difficult to spot them when you need to. They also seem to have the ability to cover very large distances quite quickly which is a real surprise as I have never seen anyone move at any faster than a light stroll.

This week we started doing demolitions of ordnance that we have deemed too unsafe to move. This generally means that we have to either blow it up exactly where it is, or carry it carefully to another area to detonate it there. I have discovered that the locals tend to laugh and giggle every time we blow something up. And I mean really giggle. If I could post a video on here you would get an idea of how hilarious the Sudanese find explosives. For anyone who hasn’t blown anything up using high explosive, and I’m guessing that’s a lot of you, it is a rather satisfying experience. The ground shakes, you can feel the pressure wave as the explosive force rushes past you on its ever decreasing velocity out from the main site, and the smell is something that only EOD techs could really appreciate.

I am working on the site with another EOD tech named Chris. Now I am from the school of starting slowly and working up to larger detonations once we are happy with our situation and the depth of the pit. Chris on the other hand is from the school of “Let’s see if we can recreate the Hiroshima bomb” school of demolition. I am sure that nothing short of a thermonuclear explosion would satisfy him. It’s not uncommon for large clumps of earth to come raining down on our once safe firing position because Chris thought he’d see just how many things he could squeeze into his pit. Unfortunately he is also rather unlucky when it comes to dems. In fact he has had more misfires than anyone I have ever met. A misfire is where you set up a demolition and then it doesn’t work for one reason or another. It could be a bad detonator, a break in the firing cable, or a number of other things. This means that you then have to wait for at least 10 mins and then go carefully back up to your detonation site and try and identify the problem. Chris always seems to misfire just on lunch time, or if anyone important is watching, or if it is a day that ends in ‘Y”.

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Chris "Miss Fire" with his finger on the button. DO NOT let this man any where near nuclear weapons.

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Explosions

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More Explosions

The rains have started which can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it tends to wash out the festivities at the seemingly infinite disco’s that surround my sleeping quarters. The Sudanese, it seems, love to party like its 1999 and do so with some commitment every night of the week. To become a DJ here it also appears that one needs not own too much music at all. One fortunate night I was treated quite ironically to Kylie Minogue warbling “I should be so lucky” on loop for a good 4 hours at one million decibels. The Sudanese, like Spinal Tap, have amps that go up to 11.

The down side of the rain is the frogs. What could be worse than 4 straight hours of everyone’s favourite budgie?? The multitude of frogs that appear just after it rains. It is quite extraordinary and I have no real explanation where they have come from. It’s as if they have all been happily sitting at home watching The Amazing Race on Frogtel when they all decide they need to talk about it to each other in the rain. You never see or hear a frog until it rains. Even then you only hear them that night and never the following night unless, of course, it happens to rain again. And they are loud, exceptionally loud. Awesomely, fantastically, supercalafragalisticexpialladociously loud. I almost wished for Kylie back............ almost.

I am really in Africa. This statement might come as a bit of a surprise considering I have been here for a month now. This revelation hit me last night and actually made me stop and consider the ramifications of it for a while. I am in Africa, a whole new continent. I must take more time to experience the sites, the smells (unfortunately today a little too much like dog poo. I spent the day constantly checking my shoes to make sure I hadn’t stepped in anything) and the vibe. I am in Africa and I am really enjoying it.

Posted by Dangermouse 09:58 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

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