Unexploded Ordnances are everywhere in Southeast Asia, specifically in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. They are dangerous explosives that were never detonated or failed to explode upon impact. The explosives were left over from the war and scattered about the rice fields, mountains and rivers. Many lives and limbs have been lost over the years from accidents caused by these ordnances, however, a group called MAG (Mines Advisory Group) is working diligently to remove and clear the bombs. You can read about the great work they do here.
Now, I was only in areas that have been cleared by Mag, let’s just first get that out of the way. This story is about the bombs that MAG does not clear and are instead found by the locals.
Every year Vietnam celebrates Tết, also known as their new year’s celebration. It lasts four days around the first New moon of the Chinese New Year, usually end of January to early February. Well as luck would have it, I was in rural Vietnam for this celebration. You can read my post about Small Town Tết here.
In the bigger cities, they set off fireworks as we would in the US. In rural Vietnam they set off unexploded ordnances. The locals find these bombs in the mountains, forests or other places that MAG has not cleared, bring them home and wait to set them off during the new year.
To be honest, I was little nervous. I’ve never been around exploding bombs, so I couldn’t be sure what exactly would happen. The days leading up to Tết I could hear random bombs exploding in the area every so often, and they sounded like a gun shot almost. It was during the late afternoons, I would be working on something and very faintly I would hear, “BOOM.” Just once and in the distance. Since no one else paid no attention, I kept my thoughts and fears to myself. I also kept myself mostly indoors.
We went out on the night considered their New year’s eve, we are all sitting around a fire talking, eating and drinking, when some of the locals start joking about getting home safely because villagers will throw these bombs on the road! I asked why they would do that, and got this response:
“Where else would they throw them? They have two options, the field or the road and some of these houses are no where near a field.”
Well then. Now we have to avoid BEING HIT BY A BOMB! Add that to the list of things that are in the road, like; water buffalo, children, stray dogs. All those things are the usual objects one must be on the lookout for, but adding bombs to this chaotic mess?
Just I was beginning to get concerned about our eventual drive home, the neighbor walks over to our fire with… a bomb! He was going to set it off right there! Needless to say, I took off running and hid behind a wall. The bomb went off and it was like a firework. I don’t think bombs look like that, so I’m going say it was a real firework and he was just messing with us.
I was done, we went home. Avoided any bombs and spent the rest of the evening listening to explosions all over the valley all night long. HAPPY NEW YEAR.