Lost Cause (VIII)

The Wake-up Call

The Information Project where Meiling worked with John Burns had become one of the more important projects in the camp. They produced the camp newspaper and balanced information was at a premium. The reality of the camp closures was sinking in, albeit slowly. Ban Vinai was the largest of the Lao camps and central to Hmong politics. The battle for hearts and minds raged daily, and the information project for many in the Hmong resistance was a seditious force. The project tried valiantly to present the Hmong with the reality of their options, but like the alarm clock that gets incorporated into your dreams their wake up call rang out in a timeless, seamless world of long rifles, crossbows, and Jesus as the holy pig.

Being a stateless tribe has distinct disadvantages. The Hmong, typically known by the Chinese name, Miao, which refers to the weeds that grow in rice paddies, have fought the good fight since the days of Genghis Khan to avoid the Final Solution and whilst they fought with the US troops against the Communist low-land Lao, the reality is that they’d have fought anybody who came up that hill. The offer that had been negotiated for the Hmong was a harsh one and a bitter pill to swallow. An agreement, known as the Tripartite Agreement, had been struck between Lao, Thailand and the UNHCR. It had as a fundamental component the concept of ‘voluntary repatriation’ to Lao or resettlement in the US. In the lexicography of a Brave New World ‘voluntary’ would have been a category B type word of Newspeak. It was a hard sell for anybody working in the Information Project and laced their lives with danger.

The truth of what was best for the Hmong was that there was no truth. The young had aspirations toward Californication and the elderly for a humble poppy plot on a hill. Those that chose resettlement in the US seemed so hopelessly prepared for their new lives that the pathetic sight of relatives stuffing chickens and pigs through the resettlement bus windows had you laughing aloud. And the news of so many young Hmong men dying mysteriously in their sleep of sudden-death syndrome in the States, the ultimate form of culture shock, had you wondering what mysterious karma had befallen these people who sang every word they spoke.

Whilst I was delivering the entrepreneurial training program in Ban Vinai, Meiling had gone to Aranya Prathet on the Cambodian border. Meiling was a perfectionist and the Information Project would not have known the success it had if not for her. She had the drive, intelligence and charm to produce a weekly newspaper of the first order from scratch; and with John she adroitly balanced all the political concerns, physical threats and needs of their staff with an effervescence that bubbled through all those she encountered leaving them smiling and full of hope. While Meiling was away, Paula Huang the new recruit, continued TCRS’s contribution to the project. So for the next few weeks we were to share the house in Chiang Khan and as a result some confidences. We trusted each other or should I say I naively trusted her.

It seemed like Meiling and I were playing tag-team at Ban Vinai as no sooner had she came back then I was off to Aranya Phathet to prostelyze the Khmer in the ways of the entrepreneur. I spent about two weeks there delivering my program and training others in how to deliver it before returning home to Ban Vinai and the news that the Camp Commander was dating Paula. Oh shit!

Lost Cause (VIII)


Taipei, Taiwan

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