Laos is a sleepy little country known for its easy going nature. This year, I saw another side of Laos.
I spent some time in Vientiane and had a chance to listen to some excellent musical talent during the New Year’s eve bash. If you go to Khop Chai Deu, a must go place to eat in Vientiane, take in the live music. You may listen to one of the following artists.
A live performance at Khop Chai Deu Restaurant in Vientiane Laos, 2011. This is the first night of a two night party. Yes, Khop Chai Deu party for two days to welcome 2012! Puna is an extremely talented young singer from Laos. She will only get better!
New Year’s Eve bash at Khop Chai Deu, Vientiane Laos, 2011/12. Deep Heart is a high energy and talented Lao band that loves to rock!
The USA military dropped 260 million bombies in Laos during the Vietnam War. That’s about 86 bombies per person. When I visited the province of Xieng Khouang UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) office, they showed me where the bombs were dropped. Each red dot, in the photo below, represents a bombing site. The data came from the US military’s bombing logs and they were fed into Google Earth. Enough red dots for you? It gets better. Only 40% of bombing logs have been processed and the remainder 60% of the data has yet to be processed. Only 0.02% of UXOs have been processed in 16 years. It’ll take 2 to 3000 years to clear at this current rate.
Each red dot represents a bombing site in the province of Xieng Khouang - Laos
A Face Behind the Numbers
Meet Mr. Lee. He lives in Yodt Phaer Village. He was clearing land to grow food for his family when a bombie blew off his legs and some of his fingers. It took over three hours for his fellow villagers to bring him back to the village — it’s normal for a Hmong person to travel for hours if not days to where he farms. It took another 10 hours to get him to the hospital. It’s impossible for me imagine the pain and the fear that this man had to endure.
His spirit is crushed. A Hmong man’s pride is to be able to provide food for his family. How can he prosper if the land he depends on is a death trap? The US has taken his rights to grow food for his family and to lead a productive life.
The responsibility of growing rice and finding food is left to his wife. She weighs less than 90 pounds and her hard life has made her look like a 50 year old woman. In reality, she’s in her early 30s. This year, she couldn’t grow enough rice for the family. She could only plant and harvest 2/3rd of the rice they need for the year. The family will need to supplement the rest with casava. When I asked her if the area she is growing the casava has been cleared of UXOs. “No” she said flatly, “I just dig softly.” A rational we would never dream of making but she does it everyday. Death by starvation or death by a bomb.
Mr. Lee and his family (five children) live in an uneven dirt floor house no bigger than most western home's master bedroom. The wheelchair is useless given the terrain of his village.
Facts of Moral (Ir)responsibility
In today’s dollar, the USA spent $17 million a day to bomb Laos. During Iraq war, the USA spent $275 million a day. In 2010, the USA spent less than $14,000 a day to remove UXOs in Laos.
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