Reflection from this year’s Laos trip with our KOUL-Mander in Chief, Sera Koulabdara.
I will never forget the answer to this question for the rest of my life.
“What called you back to Laos, Grandma?”
Sera embracing Grandma Simone, November 2022
I watched my grandmother’s slender, yet, strong frame kneel beside the garden picking fresh vegetables to cook for my mother and I. I don’t get to see her as much as I would like, so every time that I’m near her, I can’t take my gaze off her and my questions never end.
Grandma Simone beckoned me to sit next to her on the ground and reached for my hands. She slowly poured soil from her garden into my palm and softly said,
“We are bound to this land. Lao “pan din” (soil/land) is in us and we are part of it. We lived here for generations and the land has absorbed our pain, despair, happiness, strength, and endured everything with us. This is in my blood, your father’s and yours. We must preserve and protect it. As long as it is still here, there’s hope for the people of Laos.”
My grandmother’s words made me reflect on her life. At 98 years young, she is fiercely passionate and her mind is sharp as the highest point of That Luang Stupa. She has been through so much.
Born in 1924, she was 40 years old when the American Secret War started in Laos. To this day, it is difficult for my grandma to share what life was like for her and our family. I know not to push despite my desire to learn my own family’s history and to document it for future generations. What I do know is that I had to piece it all together from my father, aunts, and uncles.
Sera & her Cousin Kingphachan in front of Grandma Simone’s house.
Champasak, Laos, November 2022
War causes chaos and tears apart families. My grandmother was powerless and could not keep her 9 children together. Four fled to the United States, one to Canada and only three were able to resettle in France with her. My father stayed behind in Laos until 1989.
It would be decades before she was able to see her children who ended up outside of France. How long will it take for my father to reunite with her? Two decades.
I told my grandmother about Legacies of War’s mission, challenges that we face and our hopes for the future of Laos. She squeezed my hands and hugged me as tears streamed down her beautiful wise face. Her eyes told me she was in a far away place, a darker place that she wished to shield me from.
I broke the silence and asked her one more question before leaving Champasak:
“What advice do you have for me and what do you hope for Laos?”
Grandma Simone & Sera, November 2022
Grandma Simone smiled and responded.
“Remember Laos. Keep telling our story, return often.”
My grandmother’s words weigh heavy in my heart. It’s more critical than ever as we approach the 50th year since the last American bombs were dropped on Laos. As time moves forward, we must not forget that Lao land is still held hostage and her people are faced with deadly legacies of war.
I will heed my grandmother’s words and will always remember Laos. Here at Legacies, we are committed to expanding our educational initiatives and vigorous grassroots advocacy endeavors. We are thankful for all of our friends (like you!) across the United States and beyond who support our mission by sharing Legacies’ efforts, donating, and volunteering.
Together, we keep the story of Laos alive. Together, we remember Laos.
The history of the American Secret War is both an American and a Lao History. Join us as we continue to document, share, and preserve our shared history.
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