To begin, I think a brief apology of absence is in order, but will be become clear with explanation of this photograph. For the past several weeks, I and two others have traversed the length of Vietnam, starting in the north and descending back toward my home in Saigon, in the beginning stages of production of a documentary film about those who are still affected by dioxin, a.k.a. agent orange. Though for thirty five years it has not fallen from the skies above Vietnam, its nasty and theoretically unanticipated doings remain quite visible for those who were in its proximity. However, those who were present all those years ago are not the ones only or even mostly affected. It is the third generations that bear the brunt of it now.
Meet Nam, 14, his grandfather, grandmother and one of his younger siblings. They were the first family we met with in the rural outskirts of Ha Noi to begin production of this, as of yet untitled film.
“At first, I thought it was the ghosts of all the dead American soldiers coming back to haunt me.”
Nam’s grandfather quietly explains what went through his mind when Nam emerged from his mother, sans legs. As a resident and soldier of the communist north, he was on the receiving end of our western aggression and chemical warfare. His son, Nam’s father, also bore some minor imperfections believed to have been caused by distorted genes passed down, though he remains able to work and live normally, as do all of Nam’s siblings, who as of current seem to have evaded any poisonous encounters or effects. Their future will hopefully remain full of all possibilities, however they may not be out of striking distance yet. Over our travels and meetings with others affected, many described their children as perfectly normal for the first few years of life, before gradual deterioration of muscle and mind left them in the states we found them, which were all but full of life and possibility.
Despite his visible condition, Nam proved to be one of the most engaging subjects we met and filmed. Returning several days after this first visit, we found him at school, a front row student with many friends, and at home entertaining his siblings and doing homework as any other his age would. His daily life remains challenging, but it’s nothing he can’t handle with the help of those around him. Hopefully, he and his family will become a central character in our film which would allow us to meet again in the near future and to learn more about their lives, struggles and dreams.
Several newspaper article describing our film and encounters in other parts of Vietnam is here in Vietnamese and here in English