December, 2019 Xieng Khouang, Laos The first operator that we conducted a field visit with in Xieng Khouang province was UXO Lao, the national UXO program. I was struck by the beautiful mountains and landscape. The air was so fresh that it automatically made us close our eyes and savor each breath that we took. It’s funny, how did I not remember that Laos had mountains? So many majestic ones! As we walked up to the site, the skull signs indicating danger in the area jolted me out of my daydream. I’m walking up to a path where countless men and women lost their lives. A path where a shower of bombs fell for 9 straight years. I felt a chill all over my body. It was a 90 degrees day. I met Mr. Kingphet, the provincial leader for UXO Lao, who dedicated 19 years of his life to clearing Laos. He was very amiable and proud of his team’s work. UXO Lao is the largest operator - working in 9 of the most heavily impacted provinces.
Before we went to see the surveyed area where several bombies were found, we learned how to stay safe and follow the instructions of the professional men and women. We saw how shallow the bombies were lodged into the earth. Just by shoveling one or two times we can hit a UXO. They are everywhere.
Before we left, we were offered an opportunity to destroy 3 bombies that the team uncovered. I volunteered. For me, it was a way of letting go of the trauma of war, painful history, and honoring my father’s memory of what he stood for.
I uttered a short prayer in my head, counted to three and pressed the button. My heart pounded rapidly from the terrifying noise and I felt the ground beneath me shake. So many emotions, I felt myself trembling. Terror and fear flooded over me as I thought about what destruction the bombs that detonated cause over 45 years ago.
UXO Lao team, Mr. Kingphet and Sera detonating the bombs found.
Was this how my 14 year old father felt? This is what he tried to protect us from.
An image of my father and his friends in hiding invaded my head. A group of young boys in the dark sharing three days old rice. Eating in silence, praying to see the light of another day.
My thoughts wandered to my young aunts crossing the great Mekong shivering in the night. When they reached the Thai border, they were far from being safe. The arduous journey to a new life continued.
I let go yet the memories will always remain. People are still being harmed today.
I cried tears of anger that turned into sadness. At that moment, I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. I looked up at the mountains and the breeze dried my tears. They whispered to me.
Chief of Staff, Aleena Inthaly & Executive Director, Sera Koulabdara walking towards the rest of the Legacies Team.
Aleena and the team hugged me and we walked forward in unison.