A boy rolls a bomb under Yai’s bed.

September 29, 2008

Yai told children in school to tell him if they ever found a bomb. One youngster found a cluster bomb and delivered it personally to Yai. Not what we had in mind.

Nakai District - Khammouan Province - Lao Peoples Democratic Republic

It wasn’t the first time that someone has walked into our house and tried to hand over a bomb, so you would think we’d be more practiced, patient and understanding.  Truth be told, it’s not the sort of thing you ever get used to.  And it’s especially irritating when it happens on your day off.

Yai and I work seven days a week.  Then, theoretically, every four weeks we have a week off.   In practice, we seldom take our breaks.  Call it superstition if you will, but I dread an accident occurring when I’m away from the job.  Yai, always willing to take one for the team, follows my schedule without even a hint of complaint.

It was a Saturday and Yai and I were both bushed.  We’d been working for nearly six weeks straight and we both needed either a day off or, at the very least, a change of pace.  The night before, Yai and I made a pact and agreed to observe a perfect, guilt-free Saturday: sleep late, linger over breakfast, savor two or three extra cups of Lao Mountain coffee, laze around till lunch, and then cap off the morning with a siesta. The afternoon?  “Hey!  Let’s not get into long range planning.  Let’s just take it a half-day at a time”.

Maybe its all the coffee I drink, but although I talk about the pleasures of an afternoon nap, I can rarely settle in and enjoy one.  Yai, on the other hand, has a talent for sleeping; he can will himself asleep any hour of any day and he doesn’t need a horizontal surface to pull it off.

So… there we were after lunch, each of us kicking back in our preferred style: me upstairs pecking away on my computer.  Yai downstairs, under our stilted house, asleep on the wooden platform that doubles as both our eating table and guest bed.

Next thing Yai knows, a child’s voice wakes him from his slumber: “Big brother.  Big brother.  I’ve got a bomb for you.”

Yai blinks himself awake and sits up sleepily, only to find himself staring cross-eyed at a cluster bomb held an inch from his nose.   The tennis-ball-sized bomblet was in the hand of a small boy, perhaps seven or eight years of age, who had probably heard us lecture at his school: “If you ever find a bomb you should immediately tell Mr. Jim or Mr. Yai”.

Luckily, Yai doesn’t rattle easily.  Speaking slowly in the gentle, courting voice that the Lao call “sweet mouth”, he asked the boy to carefully set the device on the ground beside the bed.  The boy did as asked but he and Yai were not yet out of harm’s way.  There was a dramatic increase in “pucker factor” as Yai watched the bomblet roll down a depression in the earthen floor and disappear beneath the bed.

I suspect that when Yai finally realized that he wasn’t about to die instantly, he permitted his face to show the shock and dismay that must have been coursing through his mind.  Yai is a cheerful, handsome sort, but it could only have been a fearsome look on his face that caused the boy to spin on his heels and bolt from the house.

All Yai could do was to call to the fleeing figure: “Next time

come and get me!  Don’t bring it here!”

You might well ask, “What do you do with a bomb under your

bed?”  Yes. You might well ask that question.  In fact, that is

exactly the question that Yai and I asked ourselves.

Bombs that have been moved without detonating have not proved

themselves to be safe.  In fact, we consider bomblets that have

been handled to be a greater risk than those left undisturbed.

Actually, our decision-making was fairly simple because the

standard operating procedures that all clearance companies follow

permit few choices.   The bomblet, a BLU (Bomb Live Unit) 26

contains 85 grams of high explosive and 300 steel ball bearings.

If it detonated under your bed you’d end up missing more than

your nap.   Too dangerous to move, the only choice we had was

to destroy it right there on the dirt floor beneath our house.

Yai and I could only laugh at ourselves.  What losers.  We’d tried

to play hooky from work and ended up spending the afternoon

dismantling a bed, filling sandbags, and building an earthen wall

around a bomb.  And when that work was done, we had to go

looking for the little boy who brought us the bombie: a well-

intentioned little daydreamer who only heard half of our safety

lecture.  And not even the most important half!

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