The drive from Sam Neau to Xieng Khouang winds along a mountainous path for some 6 hours or so. We left in the morning after a few days visiting Sam Neua and Viengxay. Before we left though we decided to do a closing circle to share any remaining thoughts or things we learned in our time there. It was an emotional time with tears and conflict in our hearts, for some. The war 30 years ago was about freedom fighters yet…who is fighting for whom and for what. It’s sad that sides have to be drawn and the simple people, the people of Laos, those who work and toil each and everyday of their lives to make a living farming rice are pulled into such conflict. We met a bomb survivor from Tham Piu, a veteran from the war, and a tour guide who shared with us the caves of Viengxay…the stronghold of the Pathet Lao for 9 years…and from all that is amazing to connect with history. The stories told from a different perspective, from a different view. Does it matter who is right or wrong now? Back then…it was a different story. Today, it is about living to survive.
From the moment we set our minds on Xieng Khouang to the moment we set eyes on the landscape that is Xieng Khouang, the team felt a huge shift in the pace of this journey. We were shifting from high gear to low gear. “Good-bye”,Vientiane for now and “Hello” Xieng Khouang. After a night of final dinners in Vientiane on our own…our group set ready to leave with a lot of anticipation for the next phase of our trip. Xieng Khouang is place to be to come face to face with realities of war and remnants over 35 years ago. We loaded into two vehicles to the Wattay International Airport to board a 2:30pm flight which we had to wait for 3 hours (just to be safe as Lao Airlines flight schedules may change) that only took less than an hour. Nonetheless, waited with cheerful smiles, games and additional members, Vinya, to the group on this leg of the trip.
Once in Xieng Khouang it was like magic. We were in the Lao countryside…vast greenery everywhere. The air lighter and the weather cooler. We made our way to the Plain of Jars right away and took a hike in mud and wet walkways taking in the mysteries of these ancient fragments. Sheets of rain shrouds reaching from heaven to earth and storm clouds in the distance did not keep us from visiting these wonders of Laos. The sunset lead us out of the Plain of Jars and into a school full of Lao children who wanted to practice their English. We connected with Dori, Barbara and Manophet and had an amazing time in dialog with some 50 or so teenagers at this school and amongst our group we had over 14 conversations with curious minds all wanting to ask questions and share their lives communicating in English. We ended the night with a nice dinner at Sanga Restaurant celebrating Elaine’s big six-O birthday. One magical day from the town of Phonsavan, Xieng Khouang. Tomorrow we enter a village.
The meetings we have had with all the organizations in the heat and air of Vientiane, capitol city of Laos, have been most informative and full of critical and real issues around UXO and Laos. The history of war in this country continues to affect the livelihood of people throughout the country. It is staggering the amount of work it takes to bring education, awareness, prevention, assistance, removal and many other actions to light. The NGO’s and Lao government are all working hard with every effort of funds and people and resources that they have in hand to keep people living and safe from harm. The biggest thing I’ve gotten out of these meetings have been that the problems of UXO in Laos do not have easy solutions. It’s very complicated in many ways due to time, culture, history and present day needs. The people of Laos who are affected by the UXO’s are dependent on the land. Land is important. Without land we cannot survive. Simply put. How does one survive when one lives off the land? Polluted land? Land littered with UXO…many questions among many questions yet to be answered.