Saturday, July 30, 2011

Plain of Jars 1

The beautiful scenery in the Plain of Jars was marred by obvious traces of the American carpet-bombing of this province in its attempt to interrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail. (The US didn’t know exactly where the trail was, so instead it essentially just bombed anywhere that was flat or harbored a waterway.)

(Pon Savan is in the midde of the upper red area.)
From Make Me One With Everything

Bombs have left either deep holes now filled with ferns, or bare circular patches devoid of much plant life at all, and in some places just charred dirt. Entire hillsides are bare, our guide said, because nothing but short grasses would grow there thanks to Agent Orange.

From Make Me One With Everything

We also visited the MAG Information Center (source of the two pics above). MAG is an inspiring non-profit whose mission is to clear Laos of unexploded ordnance (UXO), meter by careful meter. Up to 1/3 of the bombs didn’t explode when they landed, which would be a good things except for the fact that instead, they are exploding slowly each year when farmers hit one with a plow or kids find a “bombie” (the local name for cluster bomblets) and mistake it for a tennis ball.

The parts are collected for scrap metal by the desperately poor (leading to many deaths), or used as decoration by most of the restaurants we visited...

(The owners of this restaurant clearly had a sense of humor when deciding on a name, albeit a dark one.)

The flat land that was targeted is also the best kind of land on which to build roads, schools, and new farmland. This unfortunate circumstance is one of, if not the biggest factor keeping the region from pulling itself up from marginal subsistence farming.

MAG is inspiring because they clear thousands of UXO per year while giving men and women (!) a good job that earns them the respect and gratitude of their communities. This is particularly impressive for the all-women teams, as they are helping to shift Lao perceptions of women’s potential contributions. I was delighted and somewhat surprised to learn that no one has been killed working for MAG.

(Don’t worry, family, MAG focused first on completely clearing the Jars sites, as this was a requirement for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, which would bring valuable tourism dollars to the region. Still, you will be glad to know that we didn’t veer off the marked path!)

It was strange to be an American in this land that was devastated by US warplanes, yet the people seem to harbor no apparent ill will toward us. When they hear we are from California, they smile and respond by asking about either Hollywood or Obama. Perhaps they understand that the people of any nation are not the ones making the decisions, even in a democratic republic like ours.

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