5.5.08 - 5.8.08
I can’t get over the fact that each morning I get to wake up and hold a baby. They are the most beautiful miracles. This week has been wonderful – it’s been nice to pick up a routine. We visit the baby orphanage (the only one w/ babies) every day, and we have split into two groups so that when one of us is at the Home of Affection, the other is at Social Support. The baby orphanage is off of the high way so we drive but normally we bike to the other two. The Home of Affection is made up of street children, a few of which get to go to school. I’m still learning about each of the differences. Social Support has a few less children and many of them do not actually live in the facility but rather go everyday like day-care. There, especially, lots of the kids are ethnic minorities. The orphanage children are incredible; they have such focus and creativity. As soon as we need to clean up, they are right there helping. It’s great to have male volunteers, because they love climbing all over them. I’m already picking my favorites.
Unfortunately, today was to be our first English teaching day, but the classes were cancelled due to the students’ exams. We take a bus out to an Education Center about 20 minutes away and teach one younger class and one older class. In between… beach time. So this morning instead, I visited the Home of Affection. Maybe it was because I was tired, but I began to look at the kids and their home, and saw it for the first time for what it really is. It’s sad. Kids who are 13 look 10 due to past malnutrition. Even when it is likely that their parents will never be able to afford to raise them, their parents resist adoption. And so many of the kids spend their entire lives growing up in these places and then when old enough return to their families to help them make a living. Parents cannot come visit, because its simply too expensive to travel. Even with the “mothers” of the orphanages giving their generous love and care, there isn’t enough individual attention. The saddest story I’ve heard so far was of a girl about 10 or 11 at the baby orphanage who they think is autistic. Her mother was a prostitute, and to keep her daughter quiet, she’d shove her head in the bathtub water until she passed out. The neighbor found out. Autism or brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen?
Many fun things have happened in the past few days. Monday night we went on a night-time bike ride, ending up incredibly lost – somehow on our very own street. We bought some exotic fruits, and found a little shop selling ice cream. The highlight of my ride, though, was when a motorbike pulled up alongside next to me on my bike and the man riding asked me, “Vous parlez francais?” I hadn’t expected to find any French left in Vietnam except for a few road names and the breakfast baguettes, so it was an awesome surprise! He was old, tanned, and wrinkled, but his accent was tres francais. We talked for a short 30 seconds.
Tuesday night was Karaoke night!! Mrs. Hanh took us to her friends’ Karaoke place nearly across the street from where we live. We got all dressed up and everyone except David came, even Mrs. Hanh and Kim who serenaded us with some Vietnamese songs. Karaoke is so different here and sooo much more popular. Rather than the typical karaoke stage in an American bar, Karaoke in Vietnam, is a more small group affair. You and your friends go into a private room w/ its own stage, couches, tv’s and microphones. It was so much fun and eventually dragged on a bit too long, but we just had to sing “one more song!” I sang “I will survive” though the Vietnamese translation was way off and totally messed up my performance. Tam and I also did a wonderful duet of “A Whole New World.”
We had some big rain Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. This is the little girl next door. She was clapping and giggling at the street water’s ripples.
Yesterday, Kim invited me on her motorbike to follow Tam and Carrrie to one of the orphanage “mother’s homes.” The woman, “Me Ba” works at the baby orphanage and she has such a passion for all the children. Recently, one of the kids she was strongly attached to was adopted in America and she wanted help in sending them a video of her and her home. It was precious, I cried.
Last night I tagged along with Carrie to this university class she helps with. There is only one university in tam ky. The class was made up of students from ages 20 to 27 and they were at a beginner level so the teacher had them just ask us simple questions. Carrie sat with half the class and I sat with the other. We talked a lot about school and hobbies. One of the guys said he loved music, in particular romantic songs. This somehow turned into me singing a romantic song for them. They immediately invited me to coffee or out for dinner and asked for my number. I guess that’s typical here – it’s very impressive to neighbors and friends if you dine with a westerner and they also value anyone who can correctly speak English. I did agree to get coffee afterwards so majority of the class came out to this Coffee Bar/Restaurant/Club. It certainly didn’t look much like coffee shops at home – there was loud techno music playing, a large fountain in the center, and a movie being projected on one of the walls. Most of the place was outdoors and had many levels of seating. I sat next to the teacher who ordered me carrot juice. I really struggled with the melon seeds on the table – you have to peel the outer core and I had just cut my nails that night. It took me a good ten seeds to figure out the whole biting, picking, and pulling process and when I finally got it they all cheered, laughing. I thought it was a lot of work for a seed that tasted like but was much smaller than an unsalted pumpkin seed. I enjoyed exchanging w/ the university different cultural differences. We got into politics (not that I know any) and sex. Already the teacher and the students are planning more times for us to get together, next time with the Canadians too.
The only downside of my trip occurred only yesterday at the Home of Affection. The one time I had decided to bring my camera and now it appears to have been stolen. I had last placed it on top of my bag, so either an inquisitive child grabbed it or possibly one of the university students who often joins us in helping the kids snatched it. Luckily all my images thus far had been uploaded, but I’m obsessed with photography and was looking forward to some photo excursions while being here. We’ll see what happens. Don’t worry mom and dad – I’ve talked to Mr. Viet and am in the process of contacting the insurance so we’re dealing with it all properly. Carrie said she has never heard of anything being stolen before at any of the orphanages. Well, I love all of you at home… we are all very lucky people.