Road Rage

Melody Kemp
Dec 13th, 2013

The Vientiane traffic clotted and crawled as it does in when there has been a crash.  I felt a creeping sense of dread as I sat sweating at the wheel of my own collision- and sun-scarred car. 

As we inched forward, the evidence of a motor bike crash began to appear: shards of red plastic splinters from tail lights, and the vivid red of arterial blood thickening and already blackening at the edges.  A tiny, greying padded bra lay amongst the wreckage. One shoulder strap was torn and blood stained. I had no idea if the wearer was still alive.

I have seen people die on the roads. Have often been the one giving them comfort as they left; bleeding into the bitumen.  I am no stranger to suffering and death. But what made me weep? 

Was it the accumulation of tragedies: of dying amongst strangers; of having the indignity of one’s body ripped, pummeled and stripped of cultural niceties and clothes; of laughter, winks, mobile phones messages, maternal hugs, ambition; and of being reduced to the level of a medical emergency or worse - a hygiene and disposal problem?

The bra was so small, lying at the intersection like a suicide note...  I experienced one of those hammy special effects, and felt myself drawn into a speedster tunnel of images of modernity and change.

 

I have been in Vientiane, Laos' capital, for nine years.  When I arrived it was a dusty, quiet and elegant city of cyclists. The tinkling bike bells and the occasional retro car on tree lined avenues, and the distinctive hauteur of French colonial architecture has, as in so many Asian cities, succumbed to the modernity of 250cc bikes, Toyotas and Mercedes. Large scale motorisation it seems, arrived well before skills.  

Crashes and deaths have become so regular they are banal. A bus smash that killed over twenty young Lao was unreported, the only evidence being a photo of the greying fly-covered corpses on Facebook.  When I drive into town along the major road that links the capital with Vientiane I try to envisage just how a Jaguar could wrap itself around the light pole  from the direction it was supposed to have come, how so much concrete could be wrenched out of the ground by a Porsche in this nominally poor country.

Laos has achieved the status of poster child for the global movement to ban cluster bombs.  It's is often described as the most bombed country on earth, a memento of the American War in Vietnam. In a version of ‘we had to destroy a country to save it’ over 270 million tonnes of bombs were dropped illegally on Laos.

Each year the remnants exact a toll. Last year 56 died. In the same period 873 died on the roads. For the sake of brevity we cannot even begin to count the injured, the disabled, the traumatised. Photographers come from all over the world to commend and document the clearing of landmines and the victims of the bombs. But I have yet to meet anyone who wants to photograph the victims of modernity, much less a solitary unoccupied bra.

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Laos

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Melody Kemp
Laos
Last blog date: Oct 10th, 2015

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