Monday, July 02, 2007



Her letters, with its careful handwriting, arrive almost every month. I met Hai when pursuing a story on Agent Orange victims in Thai Binh province in July 2004. Ever since, the letters have told me a lot about her. A young woman’s confession on her efforts at “self-reformation”.
“Sometimes I wish I were blind, deaf or mute. So I don’t have to think and suffer anymore from the pains that Agent Orange has caused to my family.” Ha Thi Hai was born in 1976 in Thai Binh prvince, Northern Vietnam. She is the second daughter in the family. The only one who, until recently, was still able to go to school. Her father, a veteran, had no inkling that the fog which fell down from the planes in Quang Tri was going to contaminate his body. Agent Orange has accomplished its “mission” of silent destruction. It has been sown and grown into the bodies of his three children.

Hai had to quit school after 7th grade. Her health couldn’t keep up. She also felt bad about her deformed body. Ever since, she stays at home, spending her days trying to move her half-paralized hands and feet. She cooks and waits patiently for her father, brother and sister to come home.

“Daddy takes them to the fields with him to keep an eye on them. They look allright physically but they have absolutely no memory. Once they missed the path leading home and walked to the next hamlet. Little Ba cannot even re-plant the young paddy. Sometimes when she has her crises she rolls on the ground and even stomps on the stalks.

As to my brother his eyes start rolling when he’s about to have an attack. Then he chases me to hit me, all the while cursing. He has hit me many times but I only feel compassion for him. When the attack is over he takes me in his arms and we cry together. “

Of them all, Hai’s mother is the better off. That is, her health is the least shaky of all. She helps by selling vegetables on and off. Everything for her children.

Hai continues: “I have just learned what the doctors think of my case. They say that Agent Orange has affected my marrow and atrophied my muscles. It is inoperable and incurable. I am going to lose little by little the use of my limbs and not be able to move.” Convinced that it will relieve the family’s burden, Hai tried to kill herself. She swallowed some tablets, a lot of them. After her attempt at closure, the family has been helping her “reform herself”.

In her last letter, Hai wrote that, along with her brother and sister, she has been admitted to a physical rehabilitation center. “ We have had a lot of visitors. They told me I should make an effort to live.” Period. And a last sentence: “ I will.”

Le Thanh Thuy
(Suc khoe va Doi song)

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