Our teammates survive a bus accident in Nakai.

April 10, 2006

I was just sitting down to a meal when we got word that some of our guys who were returning from their monthly leave were involved in a bus accident. Details were sketchy at first, but slowly, through repeated cell phone calls, we gained enough information to piece the story together. Our guys were on the bus from Vientiane, returning to camp after a seven-day vacation. As the bus neared town and was climbing up the mountain road, the driver lost control and ran the bus off the road. Fortunately for everyone, the bus did not tumble down the mountainside. (Guardrails do not exist on Lao roadways.)

We learned that four of our guys had been taken to the hospital in Nakai. A cell phone call to the hospital informed us that while some villagers on the bus suffered broken bones, our guys were among the luckier victims. They had only bumps, bruises, cuts and abrasions. Since our guys were being treated and released, we sent a car to the hospital to collect them.

Within half an hour, the car returned with the victims. Only one fellow had visible signs of injury: he sported a bandage on his cheek, which was covering several stitches. Both of his legs were painted up from knee to ankle with iodine or some similar disinfectant. During the accident, he had barked up the shins on both of his legs but came through with no broken bones. Each of the three other guys had scrapes and bruises, but no one else required stitches or medication.

As luck would have it, just as the four guys from our camp were completing their stories, who should drive by but the driver in the bus from the accident. Most Lao buses look as if they have just been in a serious accident, so this bus did not look at all out of the ordinary. When the driver spotted our party standing beside the road, he pulled over to join in our conversation.

I learned that the driver was new on the job and was making his first trip up the mountain. He explained that while shifting gears, he lost control of the bus and it veered off the road. Everyone seemed more sympathetic toward the driver than angry, and all of the victims congratulated themselves on the good luck that spared them rolling down the mountainside. A woman wearing a serious expression dismounted the bus, pulled out a fat wallet of money, and repaid the victims their bus fare.

Acknowledging that they had already received round-trip bus money from Phoenix Clearance as a holiday benefit, they all handed their refunded money over to me to reimburse the company. So matter-of-fact were they about this gesture that I simply collected their money and thanked them for it.

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