ho van lai
dong ha, vietnam
hung out with ho va lai (or lai) yesturday who is now in 10th grade. when lai was about 8 years old he was playing in the sand with his friends and suddenly there was an explosion. unfortunately he uncovered one of many cluster munitions or ‘bombies’ still lying dormant in quang tri province, dropped by the usa during the vietnam war. three other friends died instantly and another friend was injured worse than lai.
now lai has 2 artificial legs, has a reconstructed hand, his other arm is amputated above the wrist. he can see about 50% out of one eye. he is blind in the other eye.
it was hard for him to talk about the accident, ‘the wost memory of his whole life,’ as it was translated. lai talked about the explosion, that since then it has been hard for his family to take care of him and how he feels bad about that. he lives in dong ha but his family lives out in the country. he lives in a rented apartment in dong ha so that he can be near to his school and more amenities. out in the county it is more difficult. peacetrees vietnam covers his rent and school fees.
for awhile lai had to go to a special school for disabled people. tho, after time and a whole lot of hard work he is now in a regular school, meaning not specifically for disabled people.
lai wasn’t interested in the para-olympics like many others we’ve met, other folks how have had similar accidents with cluster bombs and landmines, missing limbs and vision. he is interested in school. specifically: computers.
after the official interview (teaming up with salaamgarage participant daysha eaton of superstringer) i asked lai if he could show me his stuff on the computer. we went into the ‘nerve room’ (computer room.office) at peactrees and lai sat down.
once he did his face just lit up. he was home. this wasn’t a place where he was disabled or partially blind. this was a place where lai could explore, express, wonder, wander, be. it was just awesome to watch him play on the computer. though he had to really strain to see the monitor, and he said he has to limit his time because it hurts his eyes after awhile, this was the first smile we saw. and it was a big one.
its important to get the hard facts and the difficult story. however it is equally as important, i think, to connect. lai and i were on equal ground here. meeting on mutual geek-ground, i sat down with him and we poked around youtube. he came up with a very old video about Vietnamese fighter pilots during the Vietnam war.
he then started typing up a doc for me (needs to be translated) telling me what he wanted to say. basically he typed up; it is so nice to meet you, he is happy we came to see him, kind things like this. it was awesome watching him type to the doc to me, telling me what he was thinking. it was awesome to watch his hand type out letters with such joy.
as i was telling the whole group of us: peacetrees, salaagmarage, landmine survivors and victims during our introduction, at the end of the day it is truly an honor for me to meet people around the world, hear their story and connect.
i can’t think of anything that brings me such joy, it’s what i live for. thank you lai.