Thursday, March 27, 2008

Homeward Bound

We are in Ho Chi Minh City, ensconced in a small "boutique" hotel, somewhat far from the centre of the city, but it provides the quiet and comfort that we need to rest up for the long journey home on Saturday, March 29th.

Our last "exta" week in Hoi An, was, of necessity, also very quiet. Elaine spent hours sleeping, trying to aid the healing of her old bones. Bruce, UIN, ( unqualified, inpractical nurse) doing his duties, with a few last tasks for Reaching Out and some editing for Global Village Foundation and the ocassional bike ride.

The stream of well wishers was endless, Quyen bringing lunch or dinner everyday, unless we strenously objected. One day Elaine said to Quyen, " I feel badly that you are cooking for us, as well as your family, working at the shop and caring for Sesame" to which she responded " I will feel bad if you don't let me cook".....ah the straight forward logic and candor of the Vietnamese!

The staff of our homestay spent our last morning pampering us and showering us with gifts. The drive away from the gate, with everyone waving was so tender.

Quyen arranged a comfortable car and escorted us to the clinic and on to the airport. Our parting at the check-in counter broke our hearts. We had already said good bye to Binh at the gate of their home. Words were few, tears many.

It is hard to imagine that we are about to embark on this epic journey home. It is always a
gruelling experience, even when not dragging one very painful, semi-attached limb in a sling. We have mega pain killers on hand.

The sweet memories well carry us through, as will the excitement of seeing you all. Your interest, financial support for our projects, many messages of encouagement and of late concern for Elaine's healing have been a comfort. We are blessed and are very grateful for this three month Journey of the Heart.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mother is Broken

Last Friday morning, Hanh, one of our two lovely receptionists greeted Bruce, her eyes brimming with tears, "I am very sad this morning because my Mother is broken." The outpouring of kindness, since the day before when Elaine fell and fractured her left humerous, has been unceasing, sweet and continually overwhelming. This mishap has served to, once again, demonstrate to us the loving, tender, sweet nature of our Vietnamese "families." From the crew of disabled persons at the shop where we have been volunteering, to the staff at our homestay accommodation and even the young women proprietors of the two restaurants where we have taken many meals over the past two months, everyone has been caring and solicitous wishing to help ensure Elaine's comfort in some way. Food arrives in our room daily, flowers have appeared a couple of times and the expressions of "I hope mother is feeling better today" are non-stop.
Quyen has already had custom made chemises made at the shop. These clever garments fasten on one side seam and thus slide over the head and arm easily.
We had planned to leave Hoi An on the 15th and visit some other spots before flying home at the end of the month but have decided to remain in this restful spot and give the bones the best chance at starting to mend before commencing the stressful 20-some hour marathon of travel that should see us back on Salt Spring Island on the 30th of March.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Bruce's Trip to Hanoi

On the weekend of 7 and 8 March, Bruce flew to Hanoi with Binh to attend a VSO (Volunteer Services Overseas) conference on disabilities in Vietnam. The VSO who has traditionally been involved in education in 3rd world countries is expanding its mandate to work at helping the disabled in developing nations be less marginalized. The conference was a briefing and feedback session on the proposed program plan for the expansion within Vietnam.
The pictures (from left to right, top row first) are 1. A profoundly disabled young woman who is one of Binh's home-based producers in Hanoi for the handicraft shop in Hoi An. If you look closely at her feet and hands you will note the horror of her disabilities. Her hands are truncated and her feet grow at right angles directly out of her knees. You may be able to count 8 toes on her left foot. 2. Binh being loaded unceremoniously aboard our modern Airbus 321 via a front loading catering truck through the galley door of the airplane. Binh, for whom this is du rigeur, wasn't fazed, but Bruce was horrified and close to tears at the indignity. 3. Binh's cousin Tue and Bruce posing at Hoa Diem Lake - a mandatory tourist stop. On the day after the conference, Tue an engineering director employed by the state in Research and Development conducted Bruce on a personalized tour of Hanoi's highlights aboard his motorbike.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hoa Van Leprosy Village

The "iffy" Internet has once again foiled the putting together of this entry....the pictures came up in the order that they wanted to, not necessarily in the sequence of the story of how this heartwrenching yet enriching day unfolded.

The Global Village Foundation's Moblie Libraries Team, with whom we worked all last week, decided that they too would like to be involved in the leprosy village project, so our crew of 13 left in two vans early Monday morning to travel to the boat launch site, just past the city of Da Nang. As usual we left at 6:30 a.m. sharp (that's 7:15 Vietnamese time!)

After loading the boat with 100 blankets, medical supplies, hand knit leprosy bandages and goodies for the children, we set out onto the blessedly calm sea, to cross to the village which can only be accessed by water or a precarious hike down a jungle trail. Our craft was heavily ladened and we were glad that the six life rings were not forced into service for the 17 people on board.

Upon arriving the unloading took place on a beautiful stretch of beach. As there is no pier, we lept off the boat into the water and handed our precious cargo, hand over hand ( actually head over head) across the shallows and hiked toward the village gate.

The customary introductions of the village chief, the People's Party Representative, the Nurse and Secuirty Gaurd were followed by cups of tea. Without delay the blankets and medical supplies were doled out to each family. There are approximately 300 people in the village, with about 50 suffering active cases of leprosy with another 40-50 whose disease has been arrested. They were grateful for the blankets as the weather continues to be unseasonably cool.

I was able to meet with the nurse in his "clinic", which brought tears to my eyes. The examining room, as you can see is neglected, filthy and poorly equipped. How infections are treated and cured under these conditions is a mystery.

The bandages, knit by so many compassionate women from coast to coast in North America, were the first that this nurse had seen. He uses a commercially made bandage, supposedly for tropical ulcers but they are flimsy and small, so he was excited to see our product. He preferred the smaller gauge yarn, but assured me that every one would be useful.

We wandered through the village and the fields behind to reach the school. The crops looked healthy and although we were assured that the village was able to subsist on the crops, an older woman did make an appeal to us to bring rice, cooking oil and noodles the next time we visit, as the elders who are unable to work in the fields are hungry. How could one not resolve to return??

The school consists of a delightful kindergarten, decorated colorfully with posters and decorations ( financed by a Japanese NGO) The two rooms for students 6-12 years old are sparsely furnished and have NO equipment, illustrative pictures, posters, maps or charts. Each student seemed to have one exercise book. How they drooled seeing the crayons, pens, pencils etc sent by the kids in Kenora. as well as folks from the home towns of some of our group. Our indefatigable Oil from Thailand again did her balloon tricks.

The afternoon sun became quite warm as we putt-putted our way back across the bay. Our group was quiet, each staring back at the beach as it receded, lost in thoughts of how they were touched by this experience. The beauty and serenity of the village's location, the warm sand, the green fields, the quiet absence of motor bike horns, the cleanliness of the village ( no plastic bags or garbage) all painted an unlikely background for the reality of the pain and isolation of this community.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Leapin' Lizzards Libraries in Que Son

There are too many stories to tell!! On Thursday and Friday of last week we delivered the last two workshops and 12 portable libraries to two central schools in the Que Son District. The Canadian boxes were in this delivery and we were pleased to have contributed to this particularly poor district.
The district is hidden away over a mountain pass, across a beautiful, lush green valley. Even though the fields in the valley seemed to be rich with rice crops and the water buffalo fatter than twenty years ago ( according to Lan, one of our team, a Vietnamese American who has done humanitarian work in this area for many years), we were shocked at the level of poverty. Electricity was only installed in the town in 2005!!
Because Friday's school was a bumpy two hours away from Thursday's school, and about four hours from our hotel, we were invited to stay the night as guests of the People's Party in their headquarters' dormitory. Bruce and I shared our room, and in fact our bed with the lizzard pictured above. He was the size of a cucumber and perhaps he had gotten fat on the fleas and bedbugs which we expected, but did not find on the grey sheets and musty, mildewed blankets and pillows. I slept in my clothes! It wasn't much of a sleep. The bed was lumpy, the the room stinky and the loudspeaker in the compound starting blasting its tinny rendition of the national anthem of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam followed by party propaganda at 4:45 am.
That evening we hosted a BBQ for the school and district officials. Bruce is still wondering if he did indeed drink vodka with the party Chair, the highest ranking communist in this district of 260,000 people, who is in the picture with Le Ly Hayslip and her man Joel Boehm.
Huong is singing us a Vietnamese song at the BBQ, with a fine voice and big heart...he had us all in tears. But the sweetest part of this story is that Huong is the gardener at our hotel!! He and all the staff have been involved in the project. Even the owner's 11 year old son and both receptionists helped us wrap the 500 exercise books that we gave to the kids throughout the week! Huong begged to come along to Que Son, we suspect because it is his home village. He certainly found a few buddies to drink with on Friday afternoon!!!
Ultimately it is about the kids and once again as you can see they could hardly wait to get their hands on the books.
The week was exhausting, frustrating, and exhilarating. We think that we will do it again next year!!!