Phaeacians were the mythic people who listened to the war veteran Odysseus on his way home from war. After 10 years of war and 10 years of thwarted homecoming it was the Phaeacians who finally helped Odysseus return home. This blog records notes from my ongoing study of modern day Phaeacians - civilians who make a point of listening deeply to the narratives of war veterans. It explores an old idea - that there is an important and necessary relationship between warriors and the communities of people that send them to war. The project asks, what happens or how are we changed (if at all) by listening to military and war veterans? It includes my observations and interviews with modern day Phaeacians and my own experience of listening to war veterans.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Remembering battles and the dead

We left Saigon today and headed northwest. It felt good to leave the city behind. Along the way we stopped on Ambush Alley - a heavy action place for one of the veterans near the old Michelin rubber plantation. The stories of old engagements and battles were told and the names of those who had died were remember.

Ambush Alley

We stopped and conducted a small ritual at a River for an American veteran who could not make the trip.

Scene at river side ceremony

After several more hours of driving through beautiful rural countryside with rice paddies, water buffalo, and farmers hoeing by hand in cone-shaped hats, we stopped at a rural road near Nui Ba Den (Black Lady Mountain). One of the members of our group is a widow of a Vietnam gunship pilot who died when is helicopter was shot down by VietCong in 1970 and this was the site of the crash. She had brought along things she wanted to leave there and the group surrounded her as she conducted a small remembrance ceremony.

Ceremony for fallen husband
As the woman finished her ceremony a female former VietCong soldier began to speak through a translator and offered an apology for her people having killed the American woman's husband. The apology was accepted and the women embraced. But after a few moments the translator quietly began to explained that the former VietCong woman had been married and two months pregnant when her own husband had disappeared during the war in actions against US troops. He was never found and was presumed dead. As both woman looked at each other and realized their connection of shared pain I felt new hope for the world of the future.

The day ended with a journey to a Buddhist temple on Nui Ba Den where the monks conducted a brief ceremony and everyone had time to look across the beautiful landscape to Cambodia.

Scene from Nui Ba Den (Black Lady Mountain)

Tonight we are staying in the small town of Tay Ninh and tomorrow will leave behind the internet, suitcases and head into the Mekong Delta.

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