Jars, Whiskey and bombs
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Phonsavan in the Xieng Khuang region of Laos and this area is one of the most heavily bombed areas in Laos during the secret war as they call it. Secret because nobody knew that during the US Vietnam was the US reputedly bombarded Laos without ever declaring war on it. The east border to Vietnam was knowingly bombed by the US after they heard about the Ho Chi Minh Trail; they tried to stop northern Vietnamese troops from using it. What nobody heard about is that after the planes had hit their targets rather than fly the cB52’s and cluster bombs back to base they just ditched them in Xieng Khuang region. This has made Laos the most heavily bombed country in the history of the world. Shocking really!
The reason we decided to visit Phonsavan was to see the Plain of Jars so we booked a tour for the following day to see three of the sites. That evening we visited the MAG museum (Mines Advisory Group) to learn more about unexploded ordinance (UXO’S as they call them). The war ended forty years ago and still to date in the area one person dies per day because of all the unexploded cluster bombs (Bombies) littered all over the land. Two million cluster bombs were dropped here by the us army and 30% did not explode so you can imagine the devastation that still lies out there. The children think they are small balls so it is mostly children that are the victims. The museum showed what MAG are doing to clear the land of the bombs so local people can farm on the land safely and start to make a living, it is very slow progress but the work they do is fantastic, most of the teams are women and young girls who have been trained. We watched a couple of short films which were very interesting.
The driver then took us to see a house that had be supported by B52 bomb shells. The locals use the shells as plant pots, melt them down and make plates, pans and cutlery or most of the time they sell it on and make money to live off. They can’t farm on the land so they gather scrap pieces of shells and sell it on; it’s such a vicious circle for them. Most parents send their children out to gather this scrap, it’s no wonder they get blown apart.
Our tour ended mid afternoon so we booked our bus out for the following day. We found a local plastic fantastic restaurant where we got steak, chips and vegetables for one pound fifty. Before we left I donated some money to MAG which would clear a 14 square meter site of cluster bombs in the area. As we bussed out the following morning we passed a MAG team working on a UXO, then further on we saw some small children on the side of the road carrying bags of scrap shells - and so it goes on....