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A childhood surrounded by history

Lathsavong in the Plain of Jars

Lathsavong was born in Xieng Khoung province. Xieng Khoung is the site of the Plain of Jars, a vast field of jars carved from stone by prehistoric people. Historians do not know when or why they were carved. When Lathsavong was still a boy, some tourists were already making their way to the area to see the jars, and he became interested in learning English, hoping that he might one day work as a tour guide.

But there was no opportunity in his small village to learn English. Nor is the Plain of Jars the only lingering history in Xieng Khoung. The province was heavily bombed by the U.S. military, in what is often called the "Secret War" of the 1960s and early 1970s, and bombs are still found. Like many children, he supplemented the family income by collecting the metal from exploded bombs, to sell to Vietnamese scrap dealers. The dealers wouldn't take the small, unexploded "bombies", so Lathsavong and his friends would sometimes build a fire around one, run off, then come back after it exploded to pick up the pieces.

They were lucky, but others were not. He once watched from a distance as a man sat in a chair by a pond, trying to extract the powder from a bomb. It exploded, and he later saw a leg and the chair floating in the pond, and the man's head in a tree.

After he finished primary school, Latsavong's parents sent him into the provincial capital, Phonesavanh, 15 km. away. There he lived with his sister while attending the high school, with a primary focus on learning English.

At first, he recalls that "I got all zeros," because he'd had no opportunity to learn English in his village. But he studied hard, and although he had no money for the evening classes that some students took, he studied on his own, as well as in the school. But the time he finished high school, he was helping to teach younger students, and he won a scholarship to the vocational school in Luang Prabang.

He continued to improve his English by coming to Big Brother Mouse in the mornings, where visitors help young people practice conversation. Khamla noticed his perseverence and abilities, and offered him a job. He spent a year in our shop, welcoming visitors, then was promoted to be a translator. Among his first jobs was translating a Lao adaptation of Peter Rabbit. One day, we hope to go to Xieng Khoung and gather oral histories of people who living through the bombings that still scar the province.