Angola Minefields – Look Innocent, But Will Bite You!

While we were working in Angola a few years ago, we had friends who worked with the Halo Trust clearing landmines all over Angola.  At that time (2006) there were estimated to be about 17 million of the horrible things lurking in the ground.

We were invited to visit them at their upcountry headquarters in a small town called Huambo, which had suffered very badly during the civil war, so was full of shot up buildings, burnt out tanks in back yards and all the remains of a vicious war, which after a bit of time in Angola, we were becoming all too familiar with sadly.

No gnomes but tanks
No gnomes but tanks

They decided to first take us to a large minefield that they were busy clearing on the edge of a small village nearby, so off we went to see our first minefield in the flesh as it were.  When we got there we were taken to the edge of the village, where the local school had its playground and the guy in charge pointed to the grass field beside the kid’s playground and told us matter of factly that that was the minefield.   Simply a large area of grass beside the beaten earth of the playground…  No form of separation, walls, fences, ditches.. nothing, simply an innocent looking grassy area.

This was when we understood that actually a minefield is simply a chunk of land which happens to have landmines buried in it….  In no way special or dangerous looking.   As a friend from the Halo Trust put it, a landmine is the Beast that doesn’t bark – but sure as hell can and does bite!

The thing that got me at that moment was the realisation that the kids at the school played football and ran around as kids do, right on the edge of a minefield, with no form of barrier to prevent them running into the minefield.

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Malaria – I Catch It, It Is Dreadful

About 12 years ago, we worked in Angola for a while, and whilst there  I was unlucky enough to catch malaria one day.   It seems there are two types of malaria, the one that most people get, and which recurs at regular intervals for the rest of your life, or the other main sort, cerebral malaria, which basically kills you in about 72 hours of it kicking in.

Being me, I of course had the cerebral variety.

If you live in a malaria area, after about three months, you have to stop taking anti-malaria medicines, as they will wreck your liver apparently, so you are then dependent on insect repellent to protect yourself.  And as I discovered, if you leave even a tiny part of exposed skin uncoated with this repellent, the very small and totally silent Anopheles mosquito will find it and set too to slurp up your blood, and as payment, will give you a good vein full of malaria parasites.


As chance would have it, when the malaria struck me, I was up country in Huambo, visiting and supposedly helping the Halo Trust deminers with various computer problems.  As it turned out, this was extremely lucky for me, as I was in an area where malaria was horribly common, and all the local Angolan doctors (Cuban trained) knew all about it – unlike the worthy western doctors one tended to see in Luanda who habitually treated people with malaria symptoms for flu, as a colleague who was infected on the same day as I was, and who as a result of the misdiagnosis almost died and had to be evacuated to South Africa when it was belatedly realised he was on the point of dying from cerebral malaria, and not simply suffering from a bad go of flu.

The first I knew of my infection was when I developed a nasty head ache one evening, and a general feeling of illness.. Nothing very specific, but I felt lousy.  So I took to my bed and thought to simply sleep it off and be better the following morning.   Not to be.

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