International Women’s Day


A clattering sound sang out from the dishes as I swung them over the counter. Settling the precarious pile in my right hand onto the level plain I brought my left hand to bear. The weight of the dishes had my arm muscles taunt as I raced to unload.

For an instant I froze. Twin weights had dropped on my shoulders. The heat of a human touch burned through my skin. Every muscle twitched and a voice shrieked silently in my mind. I rushed to repress it. I’m in a safe place.

“Excuse me Allison,” said a kitchen worker as he snatched a plate from a shelf over my head. He smiled and turned back into the fray of the restaurant kitchen at noon.

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Plain of Jars: Xieng Khouang, Laos

When life hands you bombs

Here lies Allison Declercq-Matthas, the Canadian too stupid to stay within the safe-path markers. The thought coursed through my mind, ricocheting back and forth. Tentatively lowering my foot toward the next narrow patch of packed earth I cursed my curiosity. Other tourists milled about at the bottom of the hill, a colony of colourful carefree ants marching from jar to jar. I pictured how, for a split second, they would collectively duck and snap their eyes in the direction of my explosive end, then scatter like frightened doves. They’d have an inkling of what happened, and perhaps know that they were safe, but they’d run away just the same.

Then, after they’d fled and their cries had bled away, peace would settle in. A silence—absent from the plain since the years following American planes littering the area with bombs—would blanket my grave.

And that’s when my nerve ran out. With an about-face that would have inspired even the strictest of sergeants I began to creep back to the embedded stones marking the main path at Site 1 of the Plain of Jars.

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Pha That Luang in Vientiane, Laos

Monumental Politics title

The Disappearing Man

Pha That Luang glistened in the distance, a beacon on the far side of the sea of tarmac. On my side a few stubbly trees gave shelter to a smattering of dozing songthaew drivers. Their makeshift hammocks, strung across the bed of their little pick-ups, rustled as they spotted me and began to lazily shout.

“Tuk tuk! Tuk tuk!”

I ignored them as I searched the shaded oasis.

The driver I’d arrived with, and not yet paid, was gone.

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Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos


If it’d been a western movie a tumbleweed would have bounced through the scene. The sun was trying its best to beat the heat into the ground. The difference between light and shade was so strong we two foes seemed to be enclosed in a hallway of dark tones. I eyed the border control officer through the small window. He looked up from his seated position, his gaze unmoving and unfazed. I twitched.

Then I clawed for my wallet and slapped 1,800 baht on the counter. A hand slipped out, swept up the money and the small window quietly, unhurriedly rolled close.

I started grumbling at the sky.

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Xieng Khouang Province to Pakse, Laos


The bus was speeding down the road as though creatures from the shadowed pits of hell were nipping at its back bumper. It swerved and dodged the potholes flashing through the headlights. When it missed, the bus jerked and jolted. My body was thrown about as I clung to my backpack and the shred of hope of sleeping through this nightmare.

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