I wore a winter hat to bed and woke up with a severe case of bed head. Saylom said that I looked like a rooster! I wore my hat during the day as well to cover up this mess.
The night was freezing. In the middle of the night, I ventured out from the hut alone to the bathroom and saw a fresh bloody rat. I was not freaked out but was more concerned about the animal that had killed it. This morning all that was left was the head. Whatever it was came back to finish the job. I didn’t want to be next!!
The morning fire was a happy time until Saylom brought us fried beetles. He says that they taste good, but I think that the look on his face says otherwise.
I had hard-boiled eggs and bananas instead. Now if they only had some marshmallows, we would be in business.
The Lao word farange is what Lao call a foreigner or tourist. This term was first used to describe the French. It basically means “the big nose people”. I never thought about our noses in comparison to the Asian world, but they do stand out. Maybe that is one of the reasons that the children stare at us when we see them.
I don’t see many people with glasses and wonder if they have problems with glasses staying in place.
Saylom took us to Than Pui, which is a cave where 374 local people were hiding to avoid US bombing missions. There were three bombs, one on the right, one on the left and that last bomb was a direct hit inside the cave. Everyone died. A national Day of Remembrance occurs here each November 24.
I can’t imagine or at least I don’t want to think that our planes bomb indiscriminantly but do so on the basis of confirmed intelligence.
Bomb craters, grave markers, and shrines serve as grim reminders of the often innocent victims of war. Ironically, there are huge populations of butterflies that flit about when one leaves the cave. This reminds me of the culture in Mexico that believes that butterflies are souls visiting us from the dead. Saylom said that there are always many butterflies here. We also saw a yellow praying mantis.
I still want to research more about Americans in Laos. In this article written by the son of a CIA agent, his father said that other than his sons what was accomplished in Laos was his greatest achievement. Hmmm.
This begs for more research. Another article spoke about saving countless American soldiers by bombing the North Viet Minh Army and their supply lines. Could this bombing have the same legacy as Hiroshima??
In a 1962 treaty Laos was to remain neutral demanding countries at war to leave. The US pulled out leaving only a few hundred CIA support personnel. The North Vietnamese Army maintained troop numbers between 26,000-100,000 all the while denying having any troops in Laos. Therefore, America sent in non-uniformed soldiers to assist in purging the massive growing North Vietnamese Army in Laos.
Here is a wel-reviewed book by Christopher Robbins documenting this paramilitary group of men:
The Ravens: The True Story Of A Secret War In Laos, Vietnam
This war pollution does not discriminate. Activities that we take for granted such as camping, hiking, even gardening are risky here. There is a daily reminder in Laos.
Mines Advisory Group (MAG) is an international organization dedicated to defusing leftover explosives from wars. They spend a lot of time in Laos. MAG uses metal detectors and are heroes in their country. Some are paid; others are volunteers.
Many highland people came to live in lowland villages because it was unsafe in the mountains where the Ho Chi Minh Trail existed. They often travel in big truckloads of people. It reminds me of a fall hayrack ride.
This town developed quickly after the war. The new communist government wanted the Hmong people to leave their homes in the isolated mountains and live in the city so they could keep an eye on them. They assisted America’s CIA during the war.
Many people sell scrap metal from the bombs. This is a dangerous activity because some of the metal contains live ammunition. Many people lose arms and eyes.
The large bomb with which we are familiar contains bomblets or bombies. I did not know that. Each bomb held up to 650 bombies. They are about the size of a tennis ball and children are often the unintended target. Each bombie explodes into about 250 shrapnel pieces.
This graphic presentation shows how the bombs and bombies work.
There were many bombs dropped too low and did not detonate since bombie has to have 2,000 revolutions to explode.
One man said at the current rate it would take 1,000 years to clear all of them.
Over 300 people in Laos are affected by an exploding bomb each year, and of those 100 are killed. Often the victims are children. They have lots of educational programs in the schools.
When someone is affected, their quality of life seems hopeless. A survivor started the Quality of Life Association which helps survivors with the challenges they have. Most contemplate suicide.
Many are fearful to leave their homes. Most are unable to work and care for families.
For more information about this organization:
There is another organization in Vientiane called COPE which also serves to educate and assist bomb survivors. COPE stands for Cooperative, Orthotic, Prosthetic and Enterprise.
Many rural people don’t know about this organization and the help that they can give. Here is a picture of a display of homemade and outgrown prosthetics.
President Obama came to Laos in September 2016 and visited these two organizations. He also pledged 93 million dollars for the purpose of cleaning up the mess that we left behind. Previously, it was 12 million. This has helped to begin healing between nations.