“Best You Eat Quickly – Else The War Will Arrive.”

By Soudary Kittivong-Greenbaum






This saying, etched in my mind. At every meal: “Best you eat quickly – else the war will arrive.” Perhaps when Grandma said this, she meant it with all her heart, afraid I’d revert back to that sickly infant she remembered, the saying continuing through my teen years.

Muang Lao, my birth country, has always come to me in dreams – some vivid and loud, most fading like mist at the break of daylight. Grandma’s warning was rooted in our people’s experiences of war – too many to even name, many generations over. Likely a saying her own grandmother shared with her.

When I think about Muang Lao, it is so distant. Yet the same warnings I give my own children – pay attention, listen, do good – are relevant whether they are setting out for a bike ride, or a hangout with a friend at the mall, or seeking answers to a world that is ever changing.

Grandma was born in the early 1930s somewhere in the outskirts of the royal capital, Luang Prabang. She wanted to become a seamstress, but instead got married, had children, and became a local night market vendor, selling produce and goods to support the family. In the early 80s, she fled across the globe, escaping political and cultural disruption in her homeland. Grandma wasn’t just about foreboding sayings. She was also really funny.

This too was Grandma’s teaching: “Oiiiii – Mae Tow voew lin sur sur” is the other saying I’d hear from her, which translates to, “I’m jesting, being silly.” In Lao culture, we don’t often receive hugs from our grandparents, but this was her way of connecting with me. Using her true being, full of that hearty laughter that rose so contagiously from her soul.

I first learned of the vision for Legacies of War from Channapha, a friend in the community, and specifically, a leader in philanthropy. We both longed to create a better world. Based in Chicago, home to a large diaspora from Muang Lao, I was starting to deepen my own work in philanthropy and community supporter.

Grandma is why I am so grateful that the work of Legacies of War continues in strength today – in advocating against the use of cluster munitions, landmines, and other ordnance; and providing everyone interested in learning more, a space for continued learning on the issue. Having left the country at only four years old, I had very little connection to the land, except Grandma’s tales.

Today the work of Legacies resonates even more so when I think of Legacies’ pillars of history, healing, and hope.

Grandma died at 67. Do her teachings end with me, I often guilt myself. I know it can’t. Part of my own healing has been imparting when I can, Grandma’s saying to my own children so her spirit may live on.

Images courtesy Soudary Kittivong-Greenbaum.

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