I say Am-ree-kah, and he taps his fingers on the bomb, flashes a big toothless grin at me.
Am-ree-kah! Am-ree-kah war! he says.
Outside the restaurant where he works, we’ve been talking for a while in an effective mix of Lao and body language–talking about my job, his family, and this country that we both love so much.
But when he asks where I’m from, I hesitate. The truth won’t hurt him. He’s Lao and in accordance to his intrinsic Lao nature, he will like me no matter what.
It will hurt me.
In this country that I have come to adore, to call my home, there is a painful and violent US led history that is ever present and always shocking. It’s in restaurants and guest houses as bombs-turned-flower-planters. In the countryside as UXO warning signs. On the body of my friend’s father–bullet wounds from his days in the secret army.
For nine straight years a bomb hit Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day; it is the most bombed country in the history of the world.
And outside the restaurant, my new friend remembers everything. Vividly. It wrecked havoc in his home province and instilled in him a fear of the sky. It stole family members and sent a neighboring H’mong village into exile.
He remembers everything about a war that most have never heard of, a brutal facet of the Vietnam War that we’ve tried fiercely to hide, a covert invasion hidden from the American people, cloaked in obscurity and denial.
An unknown country, a disguised agenda, a secret army. An entire people forever changed by those nine endless years.
Here, everything about that mysterious war is real. And when I say that word, Am-ree-kah, the secret is always out.