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Skirting Landmines in Cambodia

A rutted road took us from the border of Thailand into the rice and sugar cane fields of Cambodia. Dust from the unpaved road continually interfered with our view. What we did see was sad: thin doggies looking for food among garbage, dusty people watching the occasional car pass, houses on stilts with no windows or doors, and children running everywhere, the youngest often with no clothes.

My parents, brother and I were traveling to the famous Buddhist temple complex of Angkor Wat. It is located in the jungle area. There are still some wild animals living there. The greater hazard, however, are the landmines.

While driving from the Thai border to Angkor, we passed many areas where men were digging up landmines. Often we would first see a red sign with a skull and cross bones like in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' The sign warned passers that the area was being cleared of landmines. Often on each side of the road we would see men with metal-detectors working in small roped-off areas. We discovered that each team would walk slowly through an area with their detectors. The detectors have to be very strong, because some landmines are made of plastic with only one or two small metal springs. These springs are the only things that can be discovered by the detectors. It is a terrifying process.

We watched the men focus on one small area which had been cleared of trees. One man was digging up a landmine in a roped-off area. Usually the men will explode the landmines with small charges of dynamite after discovering their location. On the average, a team may find two-three landmines per day. Most of these areas are next to villages where children and animals play. Some people are not so lucky, and we saw many such tragedies outside Angkor Wat.

People without legs or arms were constantly begging from us. My father gave us small money to give to each beggar. Sometimes I did not know where to put the money because the beggar had no arms or hands. I could only put it in his front shirt pocket.

Even with such sorrows, the Cambodian people were very friendly. Each beggar was so kind after my brother and I gave them money. They would put their hands together like they were praying, when they had them, and bow to us for our kindheartedness. It was a small thing for us, but it made us feel enjoyable and hopefully it helped the people.

Some children tried to sell us things such as homemade wood flutes and postcards. They would ask me where I was from. When I told them America, they would tell me all about our country. They knew all the state capitals, they knew the biggest and smallest states, they knew about Washington, D.C., and they told us about American movies. We would usually buy something from these kind children. They also were very smart and thankful.

Angkor Wat is one of many large temples from the Khmer period of Cambodian history. Most of the stone temples date back over one thousand years. We all climbed the steep stairs to the top of each temple. The stairs were almost like climbing a mountain. My mother, who is scared of heights, was very anxious, and my father had to hold her hand up and down.

We visited all the temples in a cart pulled by a moped. Our driver spoke some English and was very kind. We saw monkeys and wild pigs while we drove from temple to temple.

When we left Cambodia for our trip through Laos, I still remembered the smiles of the Cambodian people. It seems like they have very little in terms of material wealth, but they seem very cheerful and compassionate. It made me feel that we do not need to have many things to be happy. Perhaps the most important thing is having family and friends together. Even filthy bathrooms, mosquitoes, and oversized spiders do not seem so dreadful then.