Before traveling to Laos to help with the effort to remove the millions
of unexploded bombs that exist for every inhabitant of this
impoverished country, I had prepared myself to hear stories about
detonating bombs left behind from the war by impact with their
farming tools, or water buffalo, or vehicles, and did. The one about
the guy building a fire right where he always did, but this one time
it set of a "bombie" ( the diminutive nick-name for the grenade sized
cluster-bombs) of and blinded him, didn't catch me by
surprise. And of course I already knew about the many stories of kids
finding cluster bombs and playing with them, often ending with tragic results.
What I did not expect was that villagers would actually go looking for
bombs, in hopes of making some money.
This is a very poor country, and the proof is that a bomb can be a
source of things a rural farmer just doesn't have, like fins and
various parts of a large bomb can provide metal for a bucket, or a
hatchet, or a strap, or a machete. The explosives contained in smaller
bombs can be used for dynamite-fishing. The steel from a large bomb
can be sold for scrap metal at 2000 Lao Kip a kilo, ( about 25 cents U.S.)
and provide an income to a subsistence
farming family that makes no income at all. Although officially
illegal, this trade continues to be extensive.
A cheap Vietnamese made metal detector can be bought for the equivalent
of $13. Some Lao families buy them, and go looking for bombs. I had
not anticipated knowing that. Not surprisingly, it often ends with