Biographical - Once Upon A Throne (Part III)
Life takes some courage, and it helps to have been given some wisdom and to have some faith.
Continuing one woman's story....
Chapter 3 (continued)
"One day, when I was almost eight years old, I had come home and told my mother, 'I've found something good.'" Mother asked what that might be, and I told her I wanted to be baptized a Christian like the missionary family which had moved in next door.
"This fine family was a Seventh-day Adventist family on an evangelistic mission from Geneva, Switzerland, and they had come to serve as a medical team and live in Xiengkhouangville. I saw something in them, which, for all the love and wisdom that existed within my own family was at once instantly appealing. I had observed them long enough to be sure they had something I wanted in my life.
"My mother asked me enough questions to be sure that I was serious. My grandfather had overheard the conversation and he went into his library and came back with a New Testament in French and told my mother and me to study it, 'So you will know what you are getting into.' It was his way of saying he was not opposed, but supportive.
"We did study that part of the Bible, while my mother sewed a white dress for my baptism In fact, my mother studied ahead, for at one point I commented that 'I want to be like that little boy.' I was referring to the boy Jesus, and mother replied 'You can be. He wants you to be. He wants you to be even better than he was.'
"In my own opinion, my grandfather was actually the first Christian in my family, for he had memorized much of the New Testament in French and quoted large portions in talking to groups of the truths taught, even quoting the chapter and verses from memory. All nationalities and members of every religion felt comfortable, even 'at home' at the palace, and considered grandfather to be a righteous and holy man.
"Grandfather said that God has such power that He can do anything, and because He can do anything, He can teach His people through a son known as Lord Buddha, through a son named Muhammad, through a son named Jesus, and through prophets and others. Many people would be surprised to know that Buddhists have a name for the Savior who will come and cleanse the world with fire. Devout Buddhists believe that one day that Savior (whom I know to be Christ) will come.
"I was baptized following my eighth birthday, dressed in that white dress my mother had sewn while we studied the New Testament. My baptism was by immersion in a stream which flowed through the palace property. The Seventh-day Adventists would spend Saturday in worship and served the whole area around Xiengkhouangville. I was able to accompany them on a small horse my grandfather had given me for that purpose. It was further exposure to the medical profession.
"As citizens of a neutral country, this Swiss family and some other foreigners had remained in Xiengkhouangville during the war. After the war, one of he Japanese soldiers decided to stay in Laos and lived with us several years until his death.
"As a young girl, one of my pleasant memories was of my pet elephant which had no idea how big and heavy he was. I always had to be careful that when we were playing Bak Chang (Free Boy) didn't roll over on me. He would accompany me like a dog might accompany its owner. He knew, however, that when we reached his boundary at the edge of one of the streams, he was not to cross, but to wait for my return.
"To get even for our separation, he would blow water at me from his trunk on my return. (Recently I cried at the tender story of Modoc in the book of that name, for it brought back precious memories of my elephant.) Bak Chang was sent to serve the king in Luang Prabang along with the other elephants prior to my grandfather's death in 1947. The elephant keeper promised me he would take good care of my pet, but I wonder to this day how he is doing. Elephants have wonderful memories and long lives, too.
"I was to part with another pet when my schooling was over.
"Having completed my certification as a Registered Nurse, I was working in the indigent ward of the hospital in Vientiane one day when I met a Catholic nun who encouraged me to go to southern Laos and work with her and with other Christians serving the lepers there.
"I had studied leprosy, and its reputation and public perception were little changed from ancient times. At that time there was also no cure for varied forms of leprosy.
"Returning home, I asked my mother what she thought of my interest in accepting the nun's invitation. Our family had a number of doctors in the family. I had already had an uncle die at Dienbienphu as a medical doctor treating the wounded and dying of that battle.
"Death was no stranger to my grandparents. In World War II they had lost a son who was very light skinned. He had been held by hill tribesmen and was executed when his light skin convinced them that he was a Japanese spy. Even his protestations that he was one of the king's sons brought nothing but laughter, until they tried twice to kill him with several hill tribesmen used as a firing squad. None ot their shots hit him!
"My uncle then told them that he accepted that it was his time to die, and he would allow them to execute him on one condition. At that point the hill tribesmen were incredulous that their bullets fired by true marksmen and at close range had all missed. They agreed to his condition which was this: he had a tooth hung like a necklace around his neck; he removed it and asked them to promise to give it to my grandfather with an explanation of how he had died, and that he had accepted that it was his time to die.
"With the tooth in their possession, the men fired at him again and he died, falsely executed.
"A short time later, the chief of these hill tribesmen recounted the story of 'the Japanese spy' to grandfather and showed him the necklace. When grandfather saw the necklace with the tooth, grandfather said 'the man was my son. This tooth was given to him as a talisman to protect him from harm and was part of the cremated remains of my father, the king before me.'
"The tribal chief was embarrassed with a deep sense of guilt, ready in fact to execute his tribal soldiers involved in the murder of my uncle. My grandfather said 'Do them no harm. I accept my son's decision that it was his time to die, for he would not have removed this protection, if he was not convinced of what he said.'
"As a Christian, I believe that it was my uncle's faith in the tooth which actually gave him such protection. Nonetheless, it may be more than that. Another uncle was a fearless soldier and officer, rising to the rank of colonel in the Royal Lao Army fighting the North Vietnamese, their Chinese advisers, and the Pathet Lao. He himself had a bad tooth which needed to be pulled and his dentist tried and tried but was unsuccessful in pulling the tooth, until my uncle remembered his grandfather's tooth in his own necklace, removed it, and the dentist was able to pull the tooth.
"As this uncle had not even thought of his necklace, until the problem arose, perhaps it was more than just faith. Or was it? This uncle was an honest, courageous, professional soldier. He was respected by his men and those who knew him. It was this kind of loyalist that the Pathet Lao were determined to eliminate when they finally gained control of Laos in the 1970s. so it was that n the middle of the night they sent a squad of their soldiers to the hospital where my uncle was recovering from an infection, took away all his personal items, including his necklace, and sent him, still sick, along with other defeated countrymen, to dig up uncharted minefields left over from the war. In his weakened state, and eventual fatigue, he or some other prisoner near him accidentally set off one of the mines and he died. His grandson attended a military school in the United States, and a granddaughter serves honorably and bravely in the United States Army.
"The fate of the last king and queen in Luang Prabang was just as sad. Confined to jail for their resistance to the communist takeover and North Vietnam's aggressive use of Laos and Laotians, the king and queen were starved to death. The Red Cross verified that their diet was minimally adequate. What the Red Cross could not measure, however, was the calories they were forced to use in their required labors as an elderly couple. Simply said, they burned more calories than they were fed by their Pathet Lao jailers, and they died the slow death that results from malnourishment by official design.
"My husband and I had been honored to receive their royal blessing some time after our civil marriage in the U. S. Consulate in January 1972. They were a humble Buddhist couple, much like my own royal grandparents. Not surprisingly, they were held in high esteem even by the rank and file of the Pathet Lao movement, few of whom know even today that their leaders murdered the king and queen in such an inhuman way.
"One day Laotians will ask themselves whether those trained and supported by foreigners from the north, including their historic invaders, were really any better than those who fought against such foreigners with the aid and support of the democracies. In the meantime, using the full force of communist control to denounce and then destroy your own defeated countrymen is not modern, enlightened government. Rather it is the way in which foreign enemies have always tried to dominate and divide us from ourselves.
"In some ways this manner of eliminating domestic opponents is every bit as repugnant as when the French dominated Laos and used their power to make a gift of a large part of Laos and loyal Lao people to the Thai by changing the southern and western borders of Laos. The French colonialists of those days reduced Laos to what was left north and east of the Mekong River, and reduced our lost people in the south to the choice of loyalty to a traditional foreign enemy or forced resettlement to poverty and abuse in southern Thailand, hundreds of miles from the Lao homes and lands of their ancestors.
"Now the French colonialists are gone. Now the Americans are gone. But Laos is still diminished by what the French gave away. And Laos is still diminished by what the communist victors saw as their right to treat some of their own countrymen with as little love and respect as the French colonialists had once shown to the southern Laotians. To this day, although officially Thai, these Laotians still call themselves Lao Isan to show that they are the Lao who were abandoned by the French and their own countrymen who had been powerless to help them.
"How different that victorious countrymen powerful enough to control what is left of Laos, were not powerful enough in many respects to bind their country's wounds and respect its Buddhist traditions of forgiveness and mercy. Perhaps the Lao communists were trained by foreigners to exercise power in ways foreign to the Lao spirit of their ancestors.
"Another senseless act of vengeance by the communists was the destruction of the transcripts at the University of Vientiane when Pathet Lao soldiers were sent to the university to destroy those records. In doing so, they said 'Now we are even! You who were in here getting degrees and we who were out in the jungles getting bombed!' The absence of all academic records, except those subsequently fabricated by the new government, denied Lao students and professionals educated in Laos the needed access to international conferences and advanced training. While it did nothing to hamper the careers and international status of Laotians who had been educated abroad.
"My mother was trained in western and traditional medicine as a professional midwife. Another of her brothers was an M.D. and became Minister of Health. I would not have left the family to serve the lepers without my parents' consent, but my mother encouraged me. She told me that, if I would practice good sanitation, boil and carry my own water supplies, and observe the careful hygiene of my family and professional training, I would and could serve without fear of the possible consequences of such close, daily contract with those suffering from this tragic, disfiguring disease.
"Thus assured, and with both parents' consent, I left my large family behind and joined the lepers and my new colleagues in southern Laos."
Chapter 4 (continued)
"To call the area 'a leper colony' in the sense of an isolated island separated from the rest of humanity, such as was the unfortunate state of the Hawaiian lepers at one time, would be inaccurate. Those suffering from that disease in southern Laos .... (continued in Part IV)
(c) 2002 Demas w. Jasper All rights reserved.