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BBC TwoCooking in the Danger Zone

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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Stefan's diary: Burma
The film about Burma was the toughest episode of the entire Cooking in the Danger Zone series to make because it was so emotionally and physically demanding.

Walking with the Karen rebel soldiers
Karen soldiers survive on a little rice and whatever they find in the jungle

We walked for hours (often up to seven hours a day) through mountainous jungle and slept in hammocks open to heat, cold, rain and bugs, all the time conscious of avoiding capture by Burmese government forces.

In addition to this, the experiences of the Karen people - an ethnic minority in Burma - were terrifying and upsetting to hear.

But despite all the extreme situations we found ourselves in, the strangest part of our trip to Burma didn't appear in the final film, although it was enlightening in a different way to the misery and extremity of jungle eating and survival.

Pastor Joe

We had arrived in the refugee camp after a week's jungle patrol with the Karen rebel soldiers.

This was our last stop before we were to be smuggled out of Burma across the Thai border. Marc Perkins (producer/cameraman) and I, were exhausted and drained from the experience.

Pastor Joe holding a football
He's one of those irrepressible characters who sweeps you up in his enthusiasm and brooks no dissent

On our arrival, there was a huge commotion and we spotted a group of Westerners handing out charity boxes of toys and clothes for children.

We took shelter in a guest hut and that afternoon met the distributor of the toys, or rather we heard him first.

The booming drawl of New York-eze hits you well before you spot the generous bulk that is Pastor Joe. This guy is a bit of a legend around these parts, or so he says.

Apparently Sylvester Stallone is thinking of making a film based on Pastor Joe and I can well believe it. The guy is a monster of love.

He's here spreading the word of the Lord, (plus a fair few of His chattels to back it up) and he's one of those irrepressible characters who sweeps you up in his enthusiasm and brooks no dissent, all the while laying his soul at the feet of the Lord.

You'd hate him if you didn't love him.

He's been ferrying charity donations across the border into dangerous territory for years and has even decided to move his family to Thailand so that he can better serve his God-given task of helping the Karen people.

He loves his work and the Karen clearly love him back.

On the pitch

His eyes lit up when he saw Marc and I.

"Football", he said. "Tomorrow morning at 0700, Ei Tu Ta refugee camp versus The Rest of the World."

Stefan (far right) on the football pitch
We didn't twist any ankles or break any legs, although I managed to rip a vast gash in my shin

Marc and I were due to leave the next afternoon, and were facing a walk of five hours or more, so we weren't very keen on twisting our ankles in a spot of tomfoolery, but it was clear that dissent would not be brooked by the good pastor.

And so it came to pass that two foot-soldiers of the BBC, plus a couple of foot-soldiers of God (alongside a French journalist and a few Thais and Burmese roped in to make up the numbers) took on the combined forces of Ei Tu Ta IDP camp.

Marc and I had resolved to let the camp win - they were playing barefoot after all - but in the event we didn't need to as they soundly thrashed us 6-1.

We didn't twist any ankles or break any legs, although I managed to rip a vast gash in my shin.

I nearly scored a goal (of course) but was robbed by a large pothole that opened up in front of me at the crucial moment.

The camp roared with laughter, but finally clapped us off the field.

Leaving camp

That afternoon after the game we were tired and happy, the football had taken everyone's minds off the situation in the camp.

But then, just as we prepared to leave, a tiny baby died of malnutrition in the camp clinic and all the joy of the morning evaporated.

When the Burmese government uses food as a weapon against its own people, the frailest suffer first.

I felt strangely guilty leaving the camp but I had my own wife and two little girls to return to in England and I was already missing them like crazy.

Pastor Joe laid his hands on us and gave us a blessing from God (we didn't have much choice in the matter and in any case we needed all the help we could get) and Marc and I trudged up the hill towards the border, where we would spend the next five hours hiding from the Burmese army on the start of the long trek home.


SEE ALSO
Country profile: Burma
19 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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