Project Phongsali: Some villagers tamper with UXO in an attempt to harvest explosives.

March 14, 2010

Sop Houn village sits beside a river. Some villagers use explosives harvested from UXO for "bomb fishing".

Day 41

Sop Houn sits along the Nuea River which, in addition to being the best communication link with other settlements east and west of here, provides the villagers with water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and is a dependable source of food.  The fact that I don’t see many people drying fish in the sun tells me there is little need to store a catch; people can count on a fresh fish most any day.

Most people here who tell stories about villagers harvesting ordnance justify the risk-taking by describing the success men have with bomb fishing.

One bombie yields about 70 grams of high explosive, enough to make three our four small fishing bombs (for all practical purposes, think “TNT,” although the stuff inside a bomblet is not specifically TNT).  I could give detailed directions on the construction of a fishing bomb, but don’t think it would serve any practical purpose here since I’m not certain who my readership is.

I could also display with this entry some gruesome photographs of bomb fishermen who died without their hands attached.  At least one, with a very shocked expression on his face.  But, that too might not be suitable for my readership.

A few years ago Yai and I made an educational video in which the wife and mother-in-law of a deceased fisherman pleaded with other villagers not to make his mistake.  The problem, of course, is that too many bold souls here think they can avoid the mistakes others have made before them.  An accident, of course, being something bad that happens to someone else.

I heard a story today about two guys in this village who decided to use old war material to bomb fish and thought they had concocted a foolproof plan.  Since most of the aspiring bomb fishermen who have been killed have died trying to open a cluster bomblet to get at the explosive, these two guys wisely decided to eliminate that entire step.  They wouldn’t open the bomblet, they would use it whole.  Since some deceased bomb fishermen were last seen holding the explosive, they would eliminate that step as well.

So… the two guys head out to the middle of the river in their wooden boat, with a bomblet jammed in the end of a long piece of hollow bamboo.  After anchoring their boat in the middle of the river, one of the guys drives the bamboo pole hard into the river bottom.  Very hard.  Surely hard enough to detonate the bomblet if it has any life left in it.

It worked.  The bomblet exploded under water, stunning many fish that immediately bobbed to the surface where the men could scoop them up and load them in the baskets they’d optimistically brought along.

But… at that moment, the guys were stunned too — and, bobbing around with the fish.  The blast had split the boat in two, leaving the guys to swim for their lives.  Fortunately, they were able to make it to shore and walk home unaided.  Unfortunately, less the boat they’d started with — and, no fish.

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