As told to Will Bleakley on April 17, 2015 for The New York Times Magazine—
“My father died when I was only a year old, and my mom had six children to care for. My husband’s family always came around to help my mom out. When I was a toddler and my husband was 13, he used to carry me on his back to escape bombings during the Vietnam War. When I grew up, my family suggested I marry him. They said it would lighten the load and lift us from poverty. I was 19.
After the war ended, we started farming. The first year, I discovered more than 10 bombs in our rice field. We didn’t know then if they had detonated. I wasn’t scared of the bombs. They were like toys. Sometimes boys would throw bombs to each other, playing catch. I used the tails of rockets as posts for my house. We really didn’t know what else to do with them. When I was selling vegetables in the market, I saw other people selling the bombs for scrap metal.
My husband and I decided to work together to trade metal. I went out and bought a truck. We explained to our children that if we didn’t do this, we couldn’t pay for their education. I mainly bought the metal, while he was responsible for driving.
He’s so-so. He drives like an old man. But it’s good to have him as a partner, especially when we have to stay overnight, away from home. I don’t think I could do it alone.
A young boy sold us scrap metal worth 35 cents. My husband wanted to pay him more and asked me to give the boy 60. I couldn’t say anything in front of him, so I paid it. But when I got home, I said to my husband that we can’t be too kind or we won’t make any money. I told him he shouldn’t negotiate anymore. He was angry, and I couldn’t console him. Sometimes I asked him to stand behind me, because I am the person who negotiates.
We started buying in the rural area near Nam Siam, where it’s mainly ethnic Hmong. The sellers were mostly farmers. They carried bombs, sometimes rockets, sometimes cluster munitions from their fields. I purchased everything they brought to me. They carried these weapons on their backs and piled them by the roadside to sell them. The biggest bomb I bought was about six feet long and weighed about 450 pounds.”
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