Project Phongsali: It sometimes happens. A villager carries ordnance into camp.

March 15, 2010

Mr. Boun and his grandchildren delivered some old ordnance to us in camp. Well meaning villagers sometimes make that mistake.

Day 42

I saw it coming and couldn’t do a thing about it except hold my breath and wait.  A stoop-shouldered, white-haired man surrounded by a gaggle of children limped on stiff joints out of the woods behind our camp and headed straight for me.  I could read the situation like a book: a grandfather, patriarch of his extended family, surrounded by his grandchildren, had left home on a serious mission.  He was carrying some kind of ordnance in his hand and it was clear that he intended to present it personally to me.

I calculated that it was better for me to go greet him and gingerly take the ordnance from his hands than to bet on what he might do with it when he reached me.   I didn’t have the Lao words for “Please, gently place that thing on the ground and step back thirty yards.”

Turns out, everything worked out just fine.  It wasn’t a cluster bomblet, but a mortar shell.  The old fellow and his grandchildren, mission completed, were gone in seconds.  I have no idea where he found the item or what family discussion preceded his decision to bring it to me.  It’s speculation on my part, but I wonder if the old guy having the children in tow was a consequence of our recent school presentation.  Perhaps the children took the initiative to lead their grandfather to our camp and have him turn in the ordnance.  Go figure.

This being a small village, I’m sure that someday, with Yai along as my interpreter, I’ll find the old fellow and get the whole story.

In this camp, on the hospital grounds as it is, we’ve not dug a bunker to hold dangerous items that find their way to us.  This sort of  “walk-up banking” is bound to happen again, and we’re certain to find some things on our own that we’ll want to take out of the field and deposit someplace safe until the time is right to destroy them.  (An example would be items containing explosive that poses no danger when moved, but are a threat if left in a field or rubbish pit where fire might reach them.)

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