Breakdancing with bombies

18 Nov

I met Kim at the COPE Centre in Vientaine.

COPE’s an organisation that helps out victims of unexploded ordinance (UXOs).  They call them “bombies” in Laos.  He told me he was a volunteer at the Centre and that he wanted to practise his English. His English was very good.  The guide at the Centre said I could ask Kim what had happened to him.

When I asked him he told me that he had previously lived in the countryside in Laos.

Four years ago, when he was 15, his mate passed him a “bombie”.  Local children in Laos sometimes collect these bombies to sell off as scrap metal to help get money for their families.  It seems that despite education aimed at highlighting the risk of them exploding, children can’t be kept away from them.

Kim had the bombie in his hand.

It exploded and he lost both hands and his sight.

He’s keen to publicise the risks of bombies and after he’d eaten a chocolate ice cream which disappeared in less than a minute (he told me ice cream was a favourite of his) he rushed back to his room to get me a dvd he wanted me to watch.

While he was gone I couldn’t help thinking of him trying to find his way using his white stick and trying to locate the dvd in his room.  He came back about 10 minutes later with the dvd.  We were both determined for me to see it and found a computer after a while which let me watch it.

I was mesmerised.

There was Kim on a stage dancing.  The dance was about what had happened to him when the bomb exploded.  He was on the stage alone with darkness around him, no props and haunting music in the background.  He put his arms together and danced as if holding the bombie between his hands.  Then his arms went up in the air and he fell to the ground.  I was moved so much by his performance.  I told him it was beautiful.

It’s hard to believe the effects that bombs dropped over 30 years ago are still having today in Laos.  It’s estimated that there were 200 million cluster bombings over Laos (I read this at the MAG centre at Phonsavon) or  1 every 8 minutes for 7 years.

The local kids get 25 cents for one kilo of metal which could maybe buy around 20 bananas in Laos. For a big bomb they can get 200,000 to 300,000 kip ($20 to $30) which is one week’s salary.

The bombies don’t only kill those looking for them to sell. Many lie in farmers’ fields and can be hit by ploughs or stood upon.  Some are embedded inside trees.  Others are in the rivers.  Not all of them explode but some do and with  terrible consequences.

I’d heard some explosions a short time before visiting COPE when I was in Muang Ngoi Neua in Northern Laos. Someone told me this was explosións of old bombs.  I hadn’t realised the extent of the bombies but meeting Kim who finds the energy and courage to dance after his horrific experiences really brought home to me the dangers that exist and the strength of the people who live with these ticking timebombs every day of their lives.

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2 Responses to “Breakdancing with bombies”

  1. Kate November 22, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Recently I watched a couple of documentaries on this topic, it is so sad that these people are still paying for something they never asked to be involved in. I couldn’t believe it when I heard how many bombs were dropped in Laos.
    It’s so inspiring to hear stories about people like Kim! So, thanks!

    • angiemain November 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

      hey kate! yeah i couldnt quite believe the volumes. somehow the figures did not seem real. kim was wonderful…people like this make my heart warm! thanks for reading. angex

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