goodbye (not forever) & thank you
5.26.08 - 6.1.08
It feels so strange to be writing this right in my own room, where Vietnam and my last week there seem so far away already, but I wanted to get one last entry up to recount my last few days.
Monday night, Patrick, Tam, and I went out for some ping-pong at a little place right on the route to the supermarket. Basically a part of the owner’s home, the family sat right outside watching, entertained by our terrible skills and our game of red dot. After a half hour or so, I was invited to play with a young Vietnamese woman who was taking lessons. An English teacher at the Quang Nam Medical School, she had some amazing spin serves.
The following night, after a lemonade at one of Tam Ky’s crazy cafes (it was like being in a jungle that was sloppily decorated for Christmas), Patrick and I went on a long bike ride. I think it was my favorite bike ride so far… when you got into an open space, there seemed to be more stars than sky.
Wednesday brought too quickly my final day with the Social Support kids. To do something a bit more fun, we decided to bring some water balloons. Though they understood the concept of a water balloon toss, most of the kids quickly learned they didn’t want to participate in fear of their precious balloon breaking. About five of them simply sat on the steps, carefully cradling their balloons. One in particular firmly refused to give her little red one up, holding it for nearly the entire hour and a half until hers accidentally dropped inside. I rode away blurry-eyed, missing them more with each push of the peddles.
Thursday only meant more goodbyes. At the Home of Affection, I finally made use of the hemp and pretty beads I had bought at home. I snuck them into the older girls’ room first but it was only a matter of minutes when the boys discovered them and eventually everyone got into them in some way – even if it was only a bare string tied around their wrist.
Despite knowing it was impossible for most of them to know I wouldn’t be back the next week, there were a few moments that I wondered if a few of them maybe guessed. Regardless, I couldn’t have appreciated more the rare hug I received from my favorite little guy and the little sniff kisses upon the back of my neck from the youngest girl. I hung around later than usual and sitting in the girls room again where after helping them understand I was saying goodbye, they gave me little gifts of peppermint candies and a braided bracelet. Waving “tam biet” to everyone eating lunch in the room next door, it was my favorite little boy who gave me the last wave, sitting from the very spot I remembered him on my first day at the Home of Affection. It was appropriate enough.
Later that day I was off to Tam Tanh Beach for teaching at the Education Center. Each Thursday (minus the first) I basically acted as Tam’s assistant for the younger class in the afternoon. The kids all came to these classes voluntarily – some to the morning and afternoon sessions. With their extremely limited English and my extremely limited Vietnamese, I was usually only good for pronunciation, not to mention high-fives, thumbs up and laughs. Every class ended with a game of BINGO consisting of the words we introduced that day. That day, the little dimpled girl I found most adorable lingered long after class was dismissed – waiting for more and more high-fives.
We skipped the beach that day because that evening we had planned our very own Tam ky beach party, Mrs. Hanh and her husband included! Kim even made it back from her Da Nang university exams to join us… she said it was just for me ; ). We ate dinner alongside the beach at the “resort”; even under the night sky we were sweating. Dinner was interesting – the rice paper and fish was excellent, though Danielle was surprised to realize she had eaten the brain and later Mrs. Hanh slurped down its eye. After eating, we all changed into our suits and went for an ocean swim. Mrs. Hanh even ventured out in her little black inner-tube. It was magical – the light from the shore reflected in such a way that each movement made bright luminous bubbles beneath the water. Of course there was some skinny dipping later and a certain volunteer suffered an unfortunate injury caused by a naked handstand. Back to our beach “bungalow,” we all eventually found a place to sleep on the 2 beds, couch, or floor.
Kim and I woke early and while the others were still sleeping, we took a walk on the beach. After, we sat in the resort’s little seating area, eating junk food for breakfast and drinking the tea a handsome Vietnamese boy served us. Sitting there with Kim, the moments of silence came so comfortably. She is truly my Vietnamese soul mate. Though tired, the whole gang accepted Me Ba’s (a mother @ the Baby Orphanage) invitation to her house for lunch that day where she had prepared a beautiful meal.
Going to work at the Baby Orphanage that Friday afternoon, we found we suddenly weren’t the only ones who visited the orphanages. That coming Sunday was Children’s Day, the one big day of the year that the city recognizes the orphanage children. Our bananas no longer appealed to the kids, as they clutched their presents of large bags filled with junk food. These governmental organizations and big companies who came over the weekend all brought the same thing – and they stayed long enough to maybe meet one child, sometimes getting some video footage of their great deed. When you have been visiting the orphanages every day and actually come to love the kids, it’s hard not to see Children’s Day as a big joke. Still, we were happy the weekend was so special for the kids because we had just received news that for the kids over age 6 this was to be their last weekend in Tam ky. They were being moved to an orphange in Hoi An. This news hit hard for us Tam ky volunteers, especially Carrie who’s pride and joy has come from these particular kids and now knows she’ll be making quite a few more trips to Hoi An on the weekends.
As our gift to the Baby Orphanage for Children’s Day, we took them out for a little field trip Saturday – an excursion to the Tam ky supermarket’s arcade room and then its cafeteria for a big meal. It doesn’t sound that impressive, but for these kids who never even get the opportunity to venture outside of the orphanages walls, it was an amazing day.
Suddenly, come sun-down, it was my last night in Vietnam. Mrs. Hanh had everyone over to her home for a very special good-bye dinner. She had bought a beautiful cake and made her best meal yet. We were happily accompanied by Mrs. Hanh’s husband’s family and later Me Ba and her son. I was filled with a million emotions this night – I nearly started crying when Grandma left, and our relationship had only gone as far as “Hello” and “Good-bye” and sniff kisses. There couldn’t have been a better way to spend my last night – in the midst of such wonderful friends who in one month had come to feel like family.
Returning to the house, I finally made Tam adhere to his promise to teach me how to ride the motorbike. Getting started was a little shaky, as well as getting comfortable with turns, but I could have made loops around our street all night. Patrick tried after me… but didn’t do so well. Hehe
And like always, we were all back up on the roof. As the night lingered on, everyone said goodnight except Patrick – he stayed up talking with me till 4:30 a.m. There was no time for even a wink of sleep because the taxi was coming for me and my bags at 5. I showered, snuck my little goodbye notes into everyone’s room, and departed the Tam ky house along with Kim and David who were going to Da Nang that day for orientation. I understood then, why the Vietnamese go to bed so early and wake so early. At 5 in the morning, I had never seen the rice fields more beautiful. The sky was a mix of light shades of pink and purple, reflected flawlessly in the pools that the rain had formed in the paddies.
David and Kim were so sweet to me. David stood in line with my luggage as Kim walked me over to the cheap airport souvenir store and unnecessarily bought me a bracelet. “To remember me,” she said. Though how could I forget her. We made a plan to meet in Singapore or somewhere someday.
To my luck, another GVN volunteer was on my flight to Hanoi and when we arrived at its airport, we spent our layover reflecting on our trips. Checking in for my flight, I found myself in line with many new parents, carrying their Vietnamese babies home. It’s weird when you think that Vietnam will always only be their birthplace. Especially when the parents seem so relieved to be leaving it and find it to be “simply so hot!” International adoption certainly has its own tragedies.
As this second pane took off and rose above the land called Vietnam, I felt the gravity of my experience and the easy joy it brought me. Memories rushed through my mind as Vietnam shrank from under me – the kids, the volunteers, Mrs. Hanh, Kim. In that short month of May, I lived a whole lot. And I had found that little confirmation I was looking for – love and happiness exist universally. People are same same.