Uncontained Rants...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." --MLK, Jr.

This post is in regards to my last entry, a response to this article:


It was a little more than a year ago. I remembered it to be a grey and muggy morning. For what seemed like quite some time, our bus rumbled past long stretches of dirt roads. Parting the goldenrod-colored curtains, I peered out the window at the blur of scrawny chickens, dogs, and children blended in with the greens and browns of village life. Sun-kissed women selling cans of "co-ca" and cigarettes looked up as our colorful hunk of metal rumbled past.

We finally slowed down as the bus entered through the gates of the compound and dawdled to a halt. I took a deep breath and stepped off the foreign safety of the bus, mentally preparing myself for what I imagined I'd be seeing. The campus was eerily quiet as our guide, a young woman, led us into a conference room. The long wooden tables we sat at were sticky from the humidity and the obligatory portrait of Uncle Ho hung at the front of the room. The walls behind us were spotted with yellowing maps outlining in shades of red the geographical impacts of the defoliant as well as pictures of men and women missing various limbs, a testament to those "unintended harmful side effects" of the dioxin. After the usual introductions, we watched a video detailing the atrocities of the poison, interviews with various officials and veterans as well as families whose physical abnormalities through multiple generations were a telling and undeniable result of the pervasiveness of Agent Orange. This went on for what seemed like an eternity. A sobering silence fell upon our group as we prepared for the tour.

For the next 45 minutes, our group of 17 walked through buildings and visited classrooms. Stepping into each room, we were promptly introduced to the instructors and students and all activity ceased upon our arrival. We were encouraged to talk to the children. My heart strained as I feebly attempted to make conversation, wanting so much to narrow the awkward divide between our group of visiting strangers and these youngest members of The Friendship Village. Kneeling beside a young girl threading a floral print, I was at a loss for words. I smiled mutely, trying to convey as much warmth and sincerity as I could in my brief encounter. In the sewing workshops, girls smiled shyly as we peered over their shoulders inquiring about their work. In one classroom, I sat next to a young boy who was giggling in delight at the audience who had miraculously appeared next to his desk. Irritated by the flashes of our guide's camera, I picked up a doll and waved it in front of the boy. I laughed at his glee, patting his hand and telling him my name. His spirit was far stronger then mine.

I was totally schooled by these children. Their laughter was contagious, though their deformities were unavoidably daunting to a group of strangers. Some people in our group had to step outside, so emotionally moved by the experience. I swallowed a huge lump in my throat though I knew I wasn't going to cry. Would crying be the appropriate response? I was angry at the situation, angry at myself because I was part of this group of gawking foreigners, come to see the consequences of war in all its glory. I was angry at authorities for exploiting these people and their physical ailments. I was angry that I didn't know about this before. My heart mourned for these children, who would forever be defined by their deformities. I struggled to see past the wayward limbs, touched by the strength of their characters. We met bed-ridden teenagers and wheelchair bound children whose smiles broke our hearts while our smiles hoped to convey our sincere empathy. But could I really be empathetic? Could I really understand how it felt to be born, my body bearing the sins of others?

Tucked away beyond miles of dirt roads, this modest compound called The Friendship Village offered those affected by the monstrosities of Agent Orange a community of sorts--a place to feel at home. As we boarded the bus to head back to the city, I struggled to make some sense of what I had just witnessed. I grappled to sustain my belief in God's justice though my emotions were a turbulent whirlwind in my head. These were the repercussions of war that oftentimes go unnoticed. These lives are the outcomes of war. These children, conceived years after the planes and bombs have departed their country, remain voiceless and invisible to those making the power decisions. These children have no opportunity to plead their case in a courtroom thousands of miles away.

Who will plead on their behalf?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson