A group of scientists recently reported that men with small balls have big hearts. If ladies are looking for a loyal and caring man, they need look no further than his dude-sack to find out whether he’s the kind of guy to bring breakfast in bed or slip out the window at first light.
Aki Ra, a Cambodian man who has spent most of his life plucking landmines out of the jungle with little more than a wrench and a really sharp stick is clearly an exception to this rule. It would seem hardly fair to accuse a guy who personally removed more than 50,000 landmines from Cambodian soil of being heartless, and anyone crazy enough to do something so mind-bogglingly badass clearly isn’t lacking in the balls department.
But how does one find themselves deep in the Cambodian jungle, plucking high explosive ordnance from the ground as if they were nothing more than bunches of daisies? Well, as your parents would say, just like their coke habits and bad disco moves: it all started in the 70s. It was then that Aki Ra was conscripted as a child soldier by the Khmer Rouge and forced to plant the landmines he would later spend his life removing.
The Khmer Rouge, for the uninitiated, was the military group led by Pol Pot, a tyrannical dictator who made his indelible mark on the country by systematically wiping out huge numbers of his own people.
During his 30-year reign of terror, Pol Pot and his band of psychopaths evacuated all major population centres and demanded that the entire citizenry farm the land or be killed. His regime of extreme douchebaggery ended in the extermination of one-third of the country’s population, with innocent civilians often being murdered for bizarre and arbitrary reasons, like wearing glasses, having clean hands, being literate or entertaining anything resembling an independent thought.
Aki Ra's never-ending cycle of waking up, burying death traps in the soil and getting kicked around lasted two decades until it finally came to an end in 1994, when the United Nations decided to intervene. By this stage, due to a steady regime of killing practically everybody and planting landmines in any available patch of topsoil, there were more mines in Cambodia than actual people. This is still a problem that continues to this day.
Aki Ra was understandably upset at having spent the greater part of his 30 years tilling the land with explosive death traps. So when he was offered the opportunity to train in mine detection and disposal, he used the experience he gained over a lifetime of mine farming and became the best, most badass minesweeper this side of the South China Sea.
Unfortunately, de-mining equipment and personnel are expensive and the UN decided to bail before the job was even nearly complete.
Not to be deterred by petty hurdles such as “adequate safety gear” or “appropriate tools”, Aki Ra took to the fields with nothing more than a wrench, his Leatherman, a stick and what we can only assume are a set of gargantuan balls to disarm and dispose of more than 50,000 mines in 16 years.
Once he removed the explosives, Aki would either sell the shell casings for scrap to fund his endeavour, or store them in his house. After tourists started hearing stories of the young Khmer man who cleared mine fields with a stick and a knife, they flocked to Aki’s house to marvel at his ever-growing collection of disarmed ordnance and meet the total badass who kept them there. After that, all he had to do (besides, y'know, the whole taking them out of the ground with his bare hands thing) was start charging $1 for entry and the Cambodian Landmine Museum and School was born.
The museum, which is 25 kilometres north of Siem Reap in the Angkor National Park, continues to educate tourists and locals about landmines in Cambodia. Aki Ra now spends more time with his family of adopted children, each of whom has been injured in landmine-related incidents, than he does on the minefield.