The following is a dispatch from Prashant, a guy that I first met in New Zealand and travelled around Cambodia and Laos with:
Hey all, I just wanted to show you a passage from my diary, I wrote it about a week ago now:
"I've just got back from the restaurant having watched a video focused on the bombing of Laos during the war, and the lasting legacy that the campaign has left behind. A lot of the material I've already read about but seeing the words put into pictures has left me feeling deeply moved, sad, infuriated and ashamed. The estimates vary with different sources but the exact figures dont matter- its the sheer magnitude of them that do.
One plane load of American bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years, costing over $2 million a day (back in the 70's). Thats between 0.5 and 2 tonnes for every man, woman and child in Laos: 1 million metric tonnes in all.
After the bombing of Vietnam ceased, all american firepower was concentrated on the utter demolition of Laos... the secret war that no one back home knew about, and most people today still dont know about. Even congress did not know about it! Often bombs were dropped by US planes returning from missions in vietnam ealy due to bad weather or anti-air defenses, simply becuase they did not want to land with unexploded ordance on board.
So what do u do?
drop it wherever you happen to be at the time.
Where is that?
Criminal. Nothing short of criminal
One of the main problems is that a lot of the bombs dropped were anti-personel bombs, i.e. cluster bombs that contain dozens of ball bearings that fly off in all directions at ballistic speeds. Some would say that the lucky ones died, the unlucky were left mutilated for life, while families were torn apart. All in the name of fighting the ''evils of communism''.
One of the scenes in the video is of an accident... a young boy of 9 or 10 lies lifeless on the ground, a ball bearing stuck in his skull, the mother greiving over a lost son. A scene powerful enough to make any man cry: many of us did.
Cluster bombs are still being made... they are not made in order to destroy military positions... a cluster bomb would do fuck all to a tank. it is purely designed to hurt anyone standing in the area, irrispective of whether thay are military or civillian. They were used by NATO in Kosovo, theyve been used in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Iraq. They are weapons of pure evil, designed so badly that they often resurface decades later when a 6 year old boy thinks he's found a new ball to play with. If he is still alive, he'll have no arms left to play with a ball.
They claim that they manage to clear away 10,000 'bombies' a year, potentially 10,000 lives saved. but at this rate it will still be decades before Laos has been cleared of mines and bombs. not years but decades. And they are found all over the place; schools, paddy fields, rivers... all places where children often roam.
We in the west, we'll see images like those on this video, we'll say ''Oh my God, that's awful, really horrible'', and then we'll go back to eating our dinners. Take me, I'll probably write a guilt-inducing email to all my friends, I'll give 15 dollars to the organisation and then 2 weeks later I'll be in a pub, somewhere in Thailand with a group of bubbly travellers, chatting away about the next great place we're gonna go too, and not a thought about that one-handed 17 year old boy from who I rented a bungalow from and chatted to for 15 minutes one afternoon, not a single thought about that boy will have crossed my mind.
The people of Laos should not have to live in this constant fear. They do not deserve it. They are loving people who have forgiven and now welcome foreigners with open arms despite what we have done to them, what we have put them through. We are all ignorant to these problems until we ourselves come face to face with... and even then after a couple of days we forget all about it again.
Please visit www.magclearsmines.org. MAG (Mines Advisory Group) are an England-based organisation that work around the globe to help rid the world of mines and unexploded bombs, to try and let people carry on their lives normally without the constant fear of this moment being your last. Please donate to them. Please forward this mail to your mates and family. Please talk about this when you're drinking in the pub. Help raise awareness about the problems. This wasn't an email that was supposed to be anti-american or whatever, just thought-provoking. What's happened has happened, we can't change that- the hands of time cannot go back. But we can help now, help make the future better for those that we never think of. So please spread the word.
Laos did not deserve this. Laos does not deerve to have unexploded bombs lying around next to countryside paths. (I walked within an inch of it). And neither does any of the other countries that have to live through such ordeals on a daily basis.
Here is an account from the website:
Back in the cave the village headman is very complimentary about MAG's work:
"At last something is being done here to make this land safe. Unexploded bombs have killed ten people here. Just a few months ago a boy was killed in the village digging for crickets. When the war finished, this place was like the surface of the moon and now it has come back to life. But death still lurks under the ground. The team hear is changing people's lives. Every time we dig the rice paddies we have been afraid. Soon things will be different."
So it turns out that Lola is going to be back in Indonesia for a little while starting next week. At first I decided that it would be more logical and cost-effective to wait until I can fly out to see her in Germany rather than changing my plans and flying out to see her now. But love is not very logical and she convinced me to get my butt out there and see her now. So I'm flying to Jakarta on the 6th of March where she will meet me, and then we're gonna go together to a bit of a family reunion she's put together in Sumatra where she's originally from. Should be pretty interesting and it will definitely be great to see her again before returning home. So I hop back on a plane to Bangkok on the 13th and then another flight from Bangkok to Taipei to San Francisco on the 14th. I'm really not looking forward to all that time cooped up in a cramped airplane seat, but what can you do? Hopefully, I'll be able to post some pictures from Vietnam before I go back to Indonesia. Oh, and for those interested, I'm in Pai right now, a great little mountain town an hour outside of Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. It's really quite a groovy place. Hasta la proxima, Pedro