Laos is one of the most beautiful and lush countries in all of Southeast Asia. Even though the people in the remote villages don’t have electricity or running water, or a very high standard of living, the earth provides so much, that there isn’t as much belly rumbling as in other parts of the world. It is troubling though to know that a country 40 years behind the rest of its neighbors has much of its land covered by cluster bombs that didn’t explode on impact, essentially creating landmines.
We were told by the local people that scrap metal hunting is big business. For a poor farmer, getting 2,500 Kip per kilogram of scrap metal is a nice change from subsistence farming. (8,000+ Kip = $1.00 USD) Vietnamese merchants come quite easily from the east to buy the scrap, so they can fund the rapid development of their own country. The metal is smelted and used to make the long structural pieces of steel that support buildings. What better way to rebuild for the future than the finest Detroit steel? Meanwhile Laos still uses sticks to support the frames of its buildings.
Manophet told us of a crater east towards Vietnam, that some unlucky villagers thought to have hit paydirt by unearthing a bomb, but died while getting too close. The health ailments caused by the bomb have puzzled even the Japanese, who haven’t been able to categorize the weapon. Manophet says that you can’t even get closer than a few meters, since your skin will start to itch and irritate.
Most of the scavenged ordnance in the foundry had been diffused, but there was a pile of live cluster munitions, and white phosphorous that could go off if careless. I found it funny how the pile of bombs looked like turnips in the market, the bullets were like peppers, and the bombies were like fruit.