Conflict and community

By Erik Nilsson ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-09-13 07:19:48

Beijing is a melting pot of nationalities where political disputes fade away.

The girl was there because her leg was gone.

Our family was there to learn about people like her - those who've lost lives and limbs to the munitions that carpet Laos.

The absence of an appendage didn't stop the child, who was about 5 years old, from hoisting our toddler, Lily, into a tricycle wheelchair designed for rural Laotians disabled by cluster munitions.

Both girls giggled as Lily was pushed out the front door and in circles around the museum's yard. My wife and I wondered if we should intervene, since the device was part of an exhibition. But we were too stunned to do anything.

Like many Laotians, the girl lost her leg to a "bombie", the ball-shaped cluster munitions the United States sprayed across the country in a clandestine war half a century ago. An estimated 30 percent of the roughly 290 million bombs dropped on the nation in the 1960s and '70s failed to detonate. Laos has the distinction of being the world's most-bombed country.

And cluster munitions continue to blow off limbs or kill people, as we saw at the visitor center of the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise in Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

But when she saw our daughter, the little girl whose leg was blown off didn't care that the bombs and we came from the same country. She saw a friend to play with. Someone fun. A person, not a policy.

So they rolled away, laughing, Lily in the chair, pushed by the girl missing a leg.

My wife and I choked up. We held each other and wondered at what we were seeing and what it meant.

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