Tag Archives: Laos

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.


Holding my nose while signalling with my free hand I asked if the dead raccoon dog could possibly be put on the roof…

16 Nov

It was the first time I’d smelled a dead raccoon dog and it wasn’t good.  Putrid.

I’d got on the bus in Muang La, Northern Laos heading for Phongsali, more Northern Laos.  I climbed over piles of sacks filled with rice wondering to myself why it might not be possible to stack these after the folks get in rather than have women in beautiful silk sarong style skirts and mothers with tiny babies strapped to their backs, clambering over them.

But this was Laos.

The journey was 200 kilometres on a road not yet “Chinesed”, that is, smoothed and tarmacced by the teams of Chinese road builders( which I saw many times during my trip through Laos with their huge “Cat” diggers with Chinese characters on the side).

200 km turned into 10 hours of hurtling over rough dirt tracks, through little villages.

Not long after the trip began,we stopped for a pee, a common Laos bus experience involving everyone on the bus getting off and peeing at the side of the bus.

More than once I have watched, with envy, a grandmother hiking up her beautiful patterned silk skirt and peeing standing up, thinking to myself these locals know what they’re doing!

I didn’t need to get off but couldn’t miss the hilarity outside in front of the bus.

The driver and his assistant had caught some little furry animals.  They seemed to be really pleased.  I’m still not sure what these criters were but it seemed to be a rare find (someone mentioned that they might be called bamboo rats).

One contained, they caught another and in true Lao style strapped them both, still alive, to the undercarriage of the bus as we hurtled along.

After a stop for lunch, we got going again and soon reached the dead endangered wildlife shop.  There the guy sitting in front of me negotiated and bought the raccoon dog.

It had been a beautiful animal alive.  But it smelled terrible dead.  He hoisted it through the window checking whether its bowels were emptied, this was about a foot from my nose, then placed it at his feet. Meanwhile the criminal prosecutor sitting behind me had treated himself to some dead squirrels.

The raccoon dog was not smelling good at this point.

I held my nose and wrinkled up my face to indicate to its new owner the horror of the smell.  He smiled back and after another pit spot showed me how he now had it contained in a blue plastic bag which was dripping with blood. He looked very pleased with himself.

A few minutes later even the locals were wrinkling their faces and holding their noses. I held my nose again and pointed to the roof wondering if the raccoon dog could live there before being bbq’ed that evening.

The driver’s assistant quickly made his way through the bus, got the dog, opened the front door of the bus, climbed on the roof and put it up there, all while the bus was still moving.

A bit later two local hill tribes ladies came on selling silk worms contained inside bamboo branches.  The guy in front of me bought some, presumably to eat with the raccoon dog, and delighted in showing me them!

As I got off in Phongsali I thought to myself how boring the bus journeys are going to be back home…raccoon dog sandwich anyone?

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