By Karen J. Coates / Photo by Jerry Redfern
One Saturday afternoon in the brittle clinch of the dry season, my husband, Jerry, and I hike through the Laotian countryside with a guide named Manophet. We spot a boy on a barren hillside, his frame silhouetted against blue sky. He’s poised at an angle, aligned with the slope of the hill. He keeps a basket at his side, a shovel in his grip. He’s digging for ant eggs, for fishing bait. As he drives the shovel into the ground, I cringe and back away.
The boy knows the earth could explode beneath him. He knows this ground is covered in bombs dropped before he was born by foreigners who live thousands of miles away. He knows many of those bombs never detonated and that now, as he digs, the ground could blow. Jostled, jiggled, heated, tossed or moved in the currents of annual monsoons—it doesn’t necessarily take much to revive the life of a dormant bomb. Today many Laotian farm fields remain covered in unexploded ordnance (UXO). Fist-sized “bombies” lie a few inches below the surface. During the war, these little explosives were crammed into cluster-bomb canisters, 670 at a time. The canisters opened mid-air, raining bomblets across the ground.
Contamination and death are the natural course of life across Laos. Bomb canisters abound. They’re formed into fence posts and feeding troughs, they’re planted with pretty little flowers. They’re melted down and shaped into bowls and spoons. Laotians have lived with bombs for so long, their presence is no longer aberrant but simply ordinary. READ MORE (PDF)