Hanoi was a rapid immersion in South East Asian culture for all four of us.....even though our travelling companions JoAn and Michel Maurer had visited ten years ago and Bruce and I thought that we had become acclimatized through previous visits, we were all breathless within the first day!!! The sea of humanity, millions all living, working, eating and careening around the dusty streets on motor bikes, was an assault on our senses.
Thank goodness we were immediately diverted by our excursions with Quyen ( the retail Manager of Reaching Out in Hoi An) and her Hanoi representative Yen. With them we visited two sites in Hanoi where goods for RO are made by disabled persons. Quyen was delivering Tet( Lunar New Year) bonuses, so everyone was glad to see her, and of course they remembered Bruce from his visit to their shop last year with Binh. The seamstresses were busy with the cotton carry bags which have been such a good seller. At the second facility, the workers were also blessed with a plot of land, where they were able to grow vegetables. They were happy to share the bounty with Quyen, who somehow was going to manage to get them home on the airplane to Hoi An!!!
Dinner was at the home of Tue and Yen ( another one) whose gracious hospitality and sumptuous meal typified the warmth of a Vietnamese welcome. Tue and Yen both speak excellent English and were very open and candid about their life as professional, European educated Catholics. They characterize so many of the contrasts and contradictions in this society.
Tue and Yen's second son is Autistic. Their love for him is tender and because there is little understanding of autism and absolutely no resources in Vietnam, they have educated themselves and developed and funded a school. Eight Autistic children have prospered under the guidance of their seven teachers.
Another dinner which we will remember always is that which we shared with the other Yen at the home which she shares with her mother Phuong, a married sister, husband and two very charming daughters. The special Tet food was lovingly prepared and delicately presented. Phoung, who is our age, had been a young mother during the war and shared openly the hardships and terror during bombing. On learning that Bruce had served near Cu Chi and Na Trang she said" I am so happy that you were not killed". Bruce, with tears in his eyes said the same to her.
Our next day was spent travelling with Quyen and Yen again, this time to a village which specialized in the art of pottery and ceramics. We visited a "factory" where disabled people create goods for RO. This entire village is devoted to the productions, sale and distribution of the most amazing ceramics. The village itself, a labyrinth of lanes through ancient neighborhoods, was fascinating.
After a great lunch at a Vietnamese version of a food courst....fabulous open air place, with specialties all around the perimeter being cooked before our eyes....we did a little "market research" at fair trade shops aand a bakery/restaurant where street kids learn food service...what a nice vibe in the place.
we are again in love with these dear people.