The most emotional experience so far is the visit to Friendship Village. I walk into a room filled with child victims of Agent Orange. This trip has been fast-paced but here time slows. I'm in tears. All I can think is "we are responsible. I am responsible." I hate the word victim but in this case it feels apt. 5,000 victims, 1400 of them children with intellectual disabilities live in the Da Nang area; faces and backs of heads flat, eyes slanted in that recognizable way; girls and boys, some with feet deformed and four toes and the little girl, perfectly formed but at best three feet tall. She is ageless, with an expression under her straight brown hair and pixie face of such unbearable sadness it breaks my heart. The other children laugh and clap; she never joins in or smiles, as if she knows she has been cheated of a normal life by toxic chemicals leeched into and poisoning the soil three generations before she had been born. I believe, although I have no evidence of this, that she understands whatever chance at normality her soul might have possessed had it been born into another body has been cruelly taken from her by military decisions made in the U.S, and implemented at the Da Nang airbase forty years ago.
I am unable to join in the raucous, imitation Gangnam dance that the other children and my compatriots enjoy. The girl has disappeared, as if the noise and celebration with the fun-loving intensity disabled children can muster disturbs her. I am responsible for the tragedy of this life, I tell myself. Yet I feel powerless to help.