At the Consortium, we met Bounmi and Toumi. They were volunteers helping educate others on the dangers of UXO’s. Xieng Khouang province in Laos ranks second behind Savannakhet province in terms of contamination, but first in casualties, as well as having the dubious honor of having some of the poorest villages. From January to August alone, 32 people have been involved in UXO accidents, with 5 casualties. Of the 32, most were children.
The two young men were quiet, yet attentive, both with notebooks and pens out even before our meeting began. It was tough for me to take notes, shoot video and photograph at the same time, but that was certainly a minor inconvenience for me, since Bounmi and Toumi were handicapped due to UXO’s.
When Bounmi was 14 years old, he was out digging a fish pond, in hopes of feeding his family. When his shovel hit a bombie, it blew off his left arm.
Toumi was 8 years old when he was out digging for bamboo shoots, again to feed himself and his family. A bombie was lodged amongst the bamboo, and Toumi lost his left hand when his metal digging tool struck the over 30 year old remnant of war.
They both knew the exact date that the events happened. Bounmi marked and re-marked over the date in his notebook, again and again.
FB asked them, even though the war was long before their time, “How do they feel against the people that dropped those bombs on them?”
Bounmi said that after the accident, he did feel more shy and withdrawn from society, and also having the stigma that marriage might not be a possibility for a handicapped person.
He said he was much more sad for the younger kids and his family, who face the same dangers everyday. Toumi also expressed sadness, not for himself, but for his society, who has to live amongst the contamination. Both of them didn’t let the accidents end their desire for education though. Bounmi feels that his burden of losing an arm is not as severe as the many others that lost legs (and lives) to cluster bombs. Bounmi is currently studying English at the local teacher’s college in Phonsavanh.
At the end of the interview, IK asked me if I could ask them in Lao, how they feel about people, strangers like us coming in and asking them to retell their stories. At that moment, stumbling through my Lao, I imagined myself in their shoes, and just stepped away because I just couldn’t find the words.