Times have changed

We sit huddled together around the fire. Its orangish glow illuminates a small ring of forest surrounding our camp. After that: a blackness seething with the sounds of jungle life. Mixed with a chorus of calling frogs and chirping insects is rapid-fire chatter in Vietnamese. A passionate discussion is taking place. About what, I can’t be sure. My own language skills are not fine-tuned enough to pick up the thread of their conversation. But I try. I catch a few common Vietnamese words but nothing that would help me gain context. Then I notice three English letters repeated several times: MIA. Thien, ever observant, notices my curiosity. “Andrew,” he says, placing another log into the fire. A fresh burst of firelight spills into our circle. “Recently an American soldier was found here. He was MIA.” I gaze at him in disbelief. “Here?” I ask. Thien nodded. “Yes, in Bach Ma. Not far from where we are camped.” He stares into the fire. I know from the pensive expression on his face that he is choosing his next words carefully. “There has been much death in these jungles. Many people have died. American and Vietnamese. It was very bad for everyone.” He pauses for a moment and then shakes his head. He repeats: “Very bad.”  I nod silently. Then I drift back into my own thoughts. I marvel at how the course of time has changed life here: for our countries, for our people, for this remarkable forest. At one point we were fighting each other. Now we were fighting together to save the last large mammals living in central Vietnam, among them some of the most unique and endangered species on the planet. Times have certainly changed.

So much beauty in a place that has seen so much death
So much beauty in a place that has seen so much death

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