"I poke my stick in the ground till I find a mine.
Then I dig around it, to make sure that it is not booby-trapped.
Then, I unscrew the detonator. And the mine is safe."
Aki Ra is a Cambodian guy who goes out into the jungle and disarms landmines with a pocketknife and a really sharp stick. While I feel relatively confident that I can probably just post that sentence by itself along with a picture of this crazy bastard unscrewing a densely-packed bomb of unexploded TNT with his bare hands and a seemingly-endless supply of raw bravery, over the years you guys have come to expect a minimum word count out of me on these sorts of articles, so perhaps a little further explanation is going to be required.
Back in the dark days of the 1970s, when the hypnotic horrors of disco music held much of the world in its terrible, unbreakable death-grip, the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia was taken over by a group of soulless assburgers known as the Khmer Rouge. These epic totalitarian douchebubbles were totally evil mega bastard-machines hellbent on exterminating pretty much everybody in the country who didn't have a hearty appreciation for mega bastard-machines, and/or who owned either a pair of glasses, a book, or the capability and willingness to construct and vocalize at least one independent thought. These guys flipped out like crazy hard, and in under a decade they successfully managed to kill something on the order of two million of their own citizens for basically no reason at all. This is a significant number no matter what you're talking about, but it carries a little extra gut-punching weight when you realize that there were only like 7 million people living in Cambodia at the time that the Khmer Rouge started these Hitleriffic purges. You probably don't need Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys to tell you that living under Pol Pot's regime wasn't exactly most peoples' idea of a nice relaxing vacation.
Aki Ra's parents were part of the unlucky 28.5% of the population that ended up being brutally murdered with pickaxes (Pol Pot was a strong believer in the doctrine that axe-murdering your own citizens was a much more cost-effective method of executing your enemies, as it allowed him to save money on bullets), and Aki was conscripted as a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge army at the age of five. He was raised in a militaristic jungle training camp, and as soon as he was strong enough to hold a landmine he was put to work setting booby traps along the entire length of the Cambodia-Thailand border. He served the Khmer Army for nearly ten years, working on this massive mine-laying project while dudes jammed AK-47s in his back and ordered him around - a daily regimen that kind of bit a bag of asses. As you can probably imagine, however, it's a little difficult for someone like the Khmer Rouge to run a country when they spent all of their time oppressing their soldiers and executing every literate member of their own citizenry, so eventually in the 1980s Ho Chi Minh just came across the border and conquered Cambodia for Vietnam. Aki Ra was once again conscripted into service, this time in the Vietnamese Army, where he served for another decade. The Vietnamese eventually decided the situation was hopeless and got the hell out of there in 1989, and this time poor Aki went BACK to Cambodia's military.
Putting in twenty-plus years of service as a mine-laying peon in three different conscript armies by the time you're thirty wasn't really as awesome as you might think, however, and by the time the United Nations rolled into Cambodia in 1994 Aki Ra was getting pretty tired of blowing people up and turning his own countryside into one massive cascading explosion. So, when the UN decided to start giving people training in how to safely and effectively remove land mines, Aki Ra jumped at the chance to atone for his previous work and start undoing everything he'd been working on for the past two decades. He accomplished this in a pretty damned spectacular manner:
Just another day on the job,
which seems to involve whacking land mines with a pipe wrench.
The UN trained Aki in the proper application of protective bomb-proof armor, mine detector operation, and sweep-and-clear removal processes for dealing with dense fields of high explosives, but when those guys left town, Aki realized he didn't have very much in the way of money or equipment. Still, this unstoppable powerhouse of mine-clearing insanity wasn't going to be deterred from accomplishing his newfound goal in life simply by something as stupid as "not having access to the sort of minesweeping gear you need in order to not die while removing mines", and just decided to go out and start digging anti-personnel grenades out of the ground with a shovel and jamming sticks in them until they stopped being capable of blowing his arm completely out of socket and depositing the charred appendage in the South China Sea.
The head-smashing ridiculousness of what this guy is doing is only further demonstrated by the fact that this human bomb-clearing robot can dig out, clear, and defuse a standard land mine in about two minutes – a process that usually takes the United Nations bomb teams something more on the order of one to two hours. This guy busts through entire minefields with the same nonchalant attitude that he would have while raking a lawn, plucking mines out without thinking about it and somehow spotting the buried explosives just by glancing down at the ground through a thick underbrush of green jungle crap. If it helps, you can think of Aki Ra as like the guy who comes over to your house once, boots up Minesweeper on your desktop, breaks all of your scores on the first try, and then leaves and you spend the rest of your natural life trying to beat his times until such point that you finally give up and manage to preserve your tenuous grip on your sanity only by ferociously ragequitting and clicking the "Reset Scores" button so hard that it snaps a button off of your mouse. It's like that, except instead of clicking flags and smiley faces, this guy is actually clearing out real-life minefields with little more than his bare hands and what I can only presume is a planet-sized ballsack.
"I will do anything to make my country safe. Sometimes I get nervous, but that is rare.
In 20 years I've never been injured."
From 1994 to 2007, Aki Ra grabbed a shovel, a stick, and a knife and personally went out into the jungles of the densely-populated Siam Reap region of Cambodia to remove Soviet, Chinese, and Vietnamese-constructed land mines. He almost single-handedly cleared out all the explosives surrounding Cambodia's primary tourist attraction – the incredible Temples at Angkor Wat – before turning his attention to local playgrounds and farmlands that had been off-limits for decades. For this guy to do this shizzle without wearing any kind of protective gear (he usually just went out in a pair of sandals and a button-down shirt) is so mind-flayingly insane that I kind of want to vomit a little. Thanks in no small part to the work of this one man, the number of accidental landmine casualties in Cambodia dropped from 3,047 to 1,109 in the three-year span from 1996 to 1999.
Eventually Aki Ra had removed so many landmines that his house was overflowing with the shit, so in 1998 he opened the Cambodian Landmine Museum as a place to displace the unexploded ordinance and educate people on how much landmines seriously suck balls. The place is now a registered NGO, and Aki spends less time personally removing mines and more time training everyone from local villagers to Cambodian Army soldiers in his insane, completely-unlicensed and largely-unapproved-by-any-rational-human-being strategy of digging up and disarming mines with his fists. He now has a team of over 1,000 people working in de-mining operations across the country, and claims that in the 16 years he has been on the job he's personally removed and cleared over 50,000 mines by himself.
A small selection of the mines in Aki's Cambodian Landmine Museum.
When he's not running a successful non-governmental organization, curating the museum, or flexing his pulsating iron ballsack, Aki Ra also takes in homeless, (often-times drug-addicted) local kids who have had appendages blown off by land mines and provides them with adequate food, shelter, and education. Aki provides for his twenty-plus "children" by going out into the jungles and hunting wild boars with a crossbow. I wish I was making this shit up.
Aki Ra is a real hero of Cambodia and a true badass - not because of his service rocking faces on a military level, as so many others on this website demonstrate – but because he has dedicated his life to single-handedly neutralizing Cambodia's once-crippling landmine problem. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he seems to have found the most badass way of accomplishing the feat, either.
"There are still over one million landmines in Cambodia. At the rate they are going now, it will take 50-100 years to finish.
If they give me a license then I could teach villagers to de-mine the way I do. It is fast, easy, and cheap.
I believe we could have the whole country de-mined in 3-5 years."
The New Zealand Herald
Tales of Asia
Official Site of the Cambodian Landmine Museum
Video of Aki Ra in action
The Complete List
About the Author