Disoriented is a term that means being lost or unclear about where you are. It originated from when the East or the Orient was considered the center of the world. If you have lost the orient you are dis-oriented and are not sure of where you are. From a young age, I have been oriented to travel from when my family moved to Georgia when my dad was in the army or moving to California as a young child or my many years of living at sea. Parts of the Orient seemed essential to my understanding of the world around me but it would take several trips to learn the truth about the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
At the local market – hill tribe
During the Viet Nam War for two years, I lived on Fort Benning Army Base. My dad was a dentist in the military and my sister was born on the base. Growing up I knew there was a war and there were protests about Viet Nam but I did not really understand very much about it except that many people thought we lost the war and it was a mistake to be there.
Until I first traveled to Viet Nam while working on a cruise ship, I really did not know about the long history of the battles between the French and Vietnamese. But I knew there was a Ho Chi Minh Trail and since there was a city named Ho Chi Minh I figured the trail was in Vietnam, since it supplied the Vietnamese during the “American War” as the locals call it or the Second IndoChina War.
The most common way to get around Hanoi
My parents were able to sail with me in 2001 and I visited VietNam for the first time with my dad. Although he had served during the conflict, he stayed on the base in Georgia. Together, we climbed through the Cu Chi Tunnels built during nearly one hundred years of conflicts. We marveled at the kitchen areas and the vents built to disguise the location of the people underground. Here were examples of a people who were determined to be free.
It was not until 2009 when I visited Laos, this time my family was joining George and I during our year sojourn in South East Asia, that I learned the true location of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. While traveling with Song, our local guide who had been held captive by the Red Army during the Vietnam conflict, I learned that we were on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I said, “How can we be on the Ho Chi Minh Trail? We are not in Viet Nam?” Song advised me that the leaders knew it would be too easy to destroy the trail in Viet Nam so in order to keep the supply lines open the trail was built in neighboring Cambodia and Laos.
Children on steep hillside
It is not only one trail but over 1,000 kilometers of routes. It was rough and confusing so that only the North Vietnamese could follow it and supply the South. Due to the foliage, the American army used defoliants; the most famous is Agent Orange, to try to find the North Vietnamese. While many parts of the jungle were destroyed, the North Vietnamese were victorious in using this trail for their weapons, food, supplies and troops. U.S. Air Force jets would raid the area with bomb attacks trying to hit the North Vietnamese in Laos.
With my very American focused history classes, I had never learned of nearly a century of conflict in Viet Nam. I knew only of the Vietnam war and very little at that. But with the help of my family and travel, finally the pieces of the puzzle were beginning to show a picture. I had heard while we were traveling for the year about the mines in Cambodia and Laos, about the American aggression and bombing in Cambodia and Laos. It did not make sense that the USA had bombed these countries. Suddenly, I understood that the supply line was being bombed and my lack of geographic understanding had allowed for great confusion.
Lisa & her Father
After our time with Song, I spoke with a 75-year-old friend who had been very involved with the protests of the civil rights movement and Viet Nam. I told her about my discovery that the Ho Chi Minh Trail was not in Viet Nam. She was shocked. I realized if she was unaware of this map, many others might also be confused, as she was involved at that time and working as a University Professor.
When we are disoriented and our map is confused, it is very hard to understand the choices that are being made. While I may not agree with those choices, at least now I can see the reasons for them.
George bringing some life to a very old statue