This is my first trip back to Laos and yesterday as I was walking along the streets near the Mekong River and the piles of sandbags lining the shore, I couldn’t help thinking of that line from Notting Hill, surreal but nice. I am a Lao American, born in Houei sai and raised in the United States. Yet the people around me, look like me and talk a language that seems comfortably familiar. The food stalls sell food that entice me and remind me of home and my mother’s cooking. So why does it feel like I have been living a parallel life?
As we have been in meetings with NGO and discussing the effects of UXO and the lives that have been affected by the bombies, I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I had not had the opportunity to leave. Would I be working in a NGO? Would I know about the UXOs? Would I be teaching or still studying in university?
One thing I know for sure is that the work of the organizations like COPE and World Education are so amazing and comprehensive. Having worked in non-profits, I remember the daily struggles of making ends meet and trying to find funding to support our programs and the people that our organizations serve. Its those people who inspire us to work overtime, on weekends, and in our sleep. It’s for the Lao people, victims and non-victims of UXO. I learned that everyone is affected here in one way or the other. If not directly, than indirectly, because bombies limit if not destroy economic opportunities for farmers when they can’t work their land. It destroys children’s opportunites to learn if they are out scavenging for scrap metal. It destroys women’s dreams of family and children if they are disabled by a bomb due to social stigmatization.
What role can I play as a practical stranger in a land that my parents once called home?