When the bombs stopped falling on Vietnam some thirty plus years ago, Phan Van Tu wasn’t even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes. In 1986, when Vietnam initiated its historic Doi Moi transition, Tu still had not been born. Phan Van Tu was born in what Vietnamese people call “the peace time”–post-war, post-extreme poverty, post-conflict–in October 1989. Perhaps only coincidental, it is hard not to find the timing significant. The fall of 1989 was a time of transition throughout the world, no less in Vietnam than elsewhere; a time when there was hope for increased cooperation and peace.
Tu was born to poor farmers in the Bo Trach district of Quang Binh Province. Living conditions were difficult for his family so as he got older, Tu helped his parents out by collecting shellfish after school. Then one afternoon when he was thirteen, Tu picked up a bombie* while catching shrimp. By his account, one minute he was in the water and the next he woke up in a hospital, having lost his left arm below the elbow and the lower half of his left leg. Tu also had severe injuries to his intestine that required extensive surgery and a two month stay in the hospital. As his body healed, Tu was able to return home, yet his recollection of that time is not entirely celebratory: “I did not go out of my house because I was so anxious about what people thought about my limb loss. I was scared of their stares and glances, their words and even their sympathy.” All this in 2003; in peacetime?
Now, at 20, Tu seems both exactly his age and much older. He’s a kid with a punkish haircut who wears a jean jacket and an easy smirk, but he’s also a wizened adult, having chosen survivorship over victimhood. Despite the obstacles, Tu finished secondary school after his accident. And in 2005 he was connected with a survivors’ business group that produces fishhooks through LSN-V. He has been working there ever since, happy to have a useful job and help out his family. But his ambitions do not stop there. In the future Tu hopes to open up a small grocery store so he can earn more money and gain greater independence.
Tu has high hopes for the rest of us as well: “Everyday, the explosion of bombies can be heard somewhere, followed by painful cries. [They] rob people of all ages of their lives and leave survivors with serious injuries and disabilities. It is especially painful for the youth today. I hope that in the future countries will support each other instead of making war in order to rid the world of bombies and create peace.”
Tu’s hopes echo the promises of the era in which he was born–and with young people like him around they seem all the more attainable.
*Vietnamese term for bomblets from cluster munitions
Posted By Gretchen Murphy
Posted Jul 14th, 2009