Saturday, January 14, 2012

Phantom pain

This is Aki Ra:

Aki Ra

He has been told that he was born in 1973 in the Siem Reap province in north western Cambodia. His parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge when he was 5 years old. The Khmer Rouge took him under their wings and became his new family. He was forced to work for their army, build bombs and lay landmines. At the age of ten Aki Ra had his first AK-47, the Kalashnikov was about the size of himself. When he was fourteen the Vietnamese conquered his village and made Aki Ra part of their own army. From that day he fought with the Vietnamese against his former army, the Khmer Rouge. In 1989 the Vietnamese left Cambodia and Aki Ra joined a third army, the Cambodian army to fight the remaining Khmer Rouge. Finally the UN sent a peacekeeping force to Siem Reap and asked for Cambodians who wanted to help them to clear the country of the millions of landmines. Being an expert in landmines for many years Aki Ra joined the team and from that day on made it the mission of his life to make Cambodia landmine free. He has since defused tousands of them and it is a miracle that he still is in possession of all his arms and legs. Aki Ra is passed his knowledge on and trained the locals in the art of defusing landmines. He is also running the Cambodia Landmine Museum close to the town of Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat.

cleared landmines

clean up soap, in the shape of landmines, sold at the Cambodia Landmine Museum, profits go to the Cambodia Self Help Demining organisation

It was at the Cambodia Landmine Museum where I met Stephen. Stephen lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident. After the accident he was suffering from what is called phantom pain, a pain that many amputees are suffering from. It is a pain that is felt in an organ that the person suffering no longer has. The brain sends out signals that make you believe that the missing organs hurts. In search of a way to ease the pain, Stephen discovered mirror therapy. By placing a mirror on one side of the healthy organ you create a reflection of it, so by looking at the mirror image you can trick you brain to believe that the amputated part of the body is no longer missing and thus stop the brain from sending signals that it hurts. It takes practice to achieve the result but when you master the technique it is a effective and cheap way to make the pain go away. Nothing the pharmaceutical industry is interested in since there is no need for painkillers any longer. Stephen is now cycling through countries with landmine victims and brings locally produced mirrors to teach the technique to the victims.

Stephen on his bike touring Cambodia with mirrors

You can find out more about Stephen's mission on his blog Me and my mirror.

Based on Stephen's story a movie has been produced starring German actor Til Schweiger: Phantomschmerz. I don't think I'm gonna watch the movie though. Movies with Til Schweiger give me pain. Physical pain.

Oh, the temples of Angkor Wat, yeah, they are alright. No, quite stunning actually. But see for yourself:

Angkor Wat, early morning

Angkor wat reflections

Pre Rup


Emma, Aidan & Axel do Laracroftistan, photo © Emma

Buddha in Bayan temple
Cambodia kids, all smiles

there's a new gang in town...

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