Friday, March 21, 2014

In Vietnam, Agent Orange still makes its deadly presence felt
The intense flushes of heat come several times an hour, as they have done for years, overwhelming the body and propelling the search for cold water. It makes him angry, frustrated – he’d like to know why it happens, but nothing shows up in hospital scans.
There’s an air of torment about Cong Nguyen. The 16-year-old is among four siblings, two of whom suffer the same regular attacks of heat that mean they can never stray far from a water tank. To make matters worse, he has never been able to grow teeth or a full crop of hair; instead, clusters of wispy, thin strands sit above sunken eyes.  “Some kids avoid me and laugh at me,” he says from the home he shares with his brothers and parents in Bien Hoa, just outside Ho Chi Minh City.
His mother thinks she knows the cause of his problems. As a teenager in the mid-1970s she would collect wood in a field with her father in southern Vietnam. The two would spend all day among the foliage, cutting down small trees, scavenging in thickets for branches that they would then carry back to their village in the evening.
The field, and those surrounding it, was the site of heavy battles between Viet Cong troops and US forces during the Vietnam War, when the US sprayed millions of liters of toxic Agent Orange across the south of the country in a bid to flush out rebels from the jungles and force civilians to relocate to cities, thereby cutting key support bases for the Viet Cong. His mother, Thuy Nguyen, now 66, remembers as a child hearing the sounds of planes flying overhead. During their foraging after the war, she often found bombshells in the fields, and from time to time would pick them up and examine them. A nearby river had an abundance of fish that she and her father would eat.

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