Monday, September 15, 2014

Thoughts While Bicycling

Early mornings have been our only break from the unrelenting heat here at An Bang Beach near Hoi An, Quang Nam, Vietnam. So, up we get to mount our bicycles to exercise and explore the village. At 5:30 or 6:00 am the roads are already busy with bicycles and motorbikes; people dashing to work, school or the market.

We have a number of routes that we can choose through and around our village or down the road to the Tra Que vegetable village.

This organic garden is a co-operative where neighbouring families work together to produce vegetables for hotels, restaurants and locals lucky enough to live close enough to stop by for their produce.

We watched one morning as several workers prepared the soil for yet another harvest....3 or 4 a year....lettuce and small greens more than that. The seaweed that they were shovelling into the earth had come from a kilometre down the road. Everything is so fresh and green here.

The southern end of An Bang is not so attractive. As we have written in our book, Back to Vietnam, this area has been targeted for big development and the evidence of that is all around. For much of our ride out of the village, we travel on a small seaside road where simple and small fishermen's and sod farmers' houses once stood.

Now on the oceanside of the road, there is nothing but rubble. The families have been relocated and although the houses across the road are large, the streets paved and streetlights glow at night, we wonder how many of them are actually occupied by the fishermen and their families. There is some evidence that these new abodes are not occupied by the villagers.

Back on the main road, we pass a row of houses made from metal shipping containers. They are new, but obviously small, crushed close to the roadside. When I asked Quyen whether they were indeed containers, she said "Yes, the building supplies for all those big new houses came in those containers." The fact that the last container in the row has been set up as a shrine, with an altar, incense and a Buddha gives me hope that these "refugees" have taken their spiritual strength with them to their new homes of tin.

In I admired a young girl on her way to high school. Dressed in the traditional white ao dai she floated along like a swan. I was so struck by her elegance and upright posture that I almost missed the fact that she rode upon a very new electric bike. Unlike most of the youth she also wore a very spiffy helmet, and of course a face mask to protect against sun and dust. But it made me laugh to  also see that she had a cell phone to her ear.

What a the Swan floated by with her cell phone, she too would have passed the container "condos", their metal already sizzling as a mother fed two children sitting on stools by the roadside. Did the Swan see them? What would she be thinking?

I have thought about this all day!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Just Look at Us Now!!!!

Reaching Out,  the social enterprise where we began our volunteering in Vietnam six years ago is celebrating its 14th year! Founded in 2000, the early years were a struggle, but through the diligence of Le Nguyen Binh and his dynamic wife Mai Thi Kim Quyen the business has blossomed.

This staff photo was taken just the other day. Not all of the now 70 strong staff are pictured here, but the size of the team speaks for the expansion that has happened over the years.

You might be able to spot four Western faces in the crowd.Annette Ellen and her husband John are to the left rear and Bruce is in the rear on the right. I am squatting on the right.

It was a festive occasion and we were thrilled, along with Annette, to be honoured as volunteers with bouquets of flowers and a little gift. Annette is from Australia, a Human Resources specialist. She preceded us as a volunteer but remains a friend of Reaching Out and Binh and Quyen, returning often to Hoi An.

Our work continues this year with more long term planning, writing correspondence, interviewing.

We often eat with Binh and Quyen at their home with their two delightful boys, Sesame and Gao.

Gao is a very sweet 2 1/2 year old. He snared the first noodle in this picture.

Sesame at 10 years old is still an avid reader and Lego fan. His spoken English is excellent.

I try to pitch in with the meal preparation but a lot of it is a mystery to me. Vietnamese food is lovingly prepared, and at Quyen's house it is always with fresh ingredients.

We have also had our first meeting with the lovely Phuong from VAVA (Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange). So far the recipients of the micro loans are paying back their loans faithfully and their small businesses are thriving. We will visit a couple of them soon.

This meeting is taking place in our wee house. The heat keeps us inside during the day. We are blessed with an air conditioner! But there is also the ocean a few steps away where we are enjoying swimming in the early morning.

We are well...eating wonderfully flavourful and light food, cycling and swimming, surrounded by loving "family" and friends and loving being useful in our old age!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

All Work and No Play/All Play and No Work?

We are now well and truly settled in An Bang, Hoi An in a delightful little house that our Vietnamese daughter arranged for us. It is simple, clean and very private in a lovely garden in a neighbourhood of curious but friendly people.

The best thing about the house is that it is air conditioned. Bruce can comfortably sit at the computer to do his writing. Every morning we head down to the beach where we join our family for a swim at 6:30 am. Fabulous way to start the day and stave off the encroaching heat...over 30 degrees Celsius with high humidity is hard for us folks from above the 49th parallel! The Vietnamese take advantage of the heat to dry their rice cakes and the laundry!

The village is one of sod farms. Traditionally, village people specialized in a specific trade, the skills passed from one generation to another. There are grass mat villages, pottery villages, wood working villages. Our village grows sod! For a few weeks the houses look very "suburban" with huge lawns...then the sod disappears to reveal the sandy yard and the process begins again. Small clumps of grass are painstakingly replanted, watered, weeded and cared for, for a couple of months and then it is cut again. Piles of sod squares sit outside the fence waiting to be picked up and delivered to a hotel or golf course.

We try to blend in to our new community, but it is not possible. We are the two people who live in the  "foreign" house, our large frames on bicycles amuse everyone and they know that we are pretty useless when it comes to managing shopping in the market. The cows however were completely nonplussed by either us or the taxi which brought us home the other day.

Often we escape to the beach to catch the breeze and savour a delicious, iced Vietnamese bad for us...loaded with caffeine and taken with sweetened condensed milk.

Evenings are often spent at Binh and Quyen's house where we enjoy homemade Vietnamese dinners and really fun times with our "grandsons". Sesame is now 10 years old and Gao is two and a half.

Even our friend Le Ly Hayslip got into the "silly hat" game instigated by Goa the other night!

It was really wonderful for me to sit back and watch two of my "heroes" enjoying each other. Le Nguyen Binh is the founder of Reaching Out where we have worked every year that we have come back to Vietnam. Le Ly Hayslip is the founder of Global Village Foundation. We have worked with Le Ly to deliver those portable libraries that so many of you have donated.

We are working on your behalf! Le Ly and her organization are focused on helping the nuns at Chua Quang Pagoda where they are caring for more than 100 abandoned children in a facility which is overcrowded and underfunded. We will ensure that your dollars go directly to this orphanage when we travel there next month with much needed formula, diapers, blankets and food for the older children.

Binh has asked once again for our help with some critical business planning so that the amazing success of Reaching Out, his social enterprise will be sustainable. The RO craft shop and the tea house have both achieved the #1 position for their categories on Trip Advisor. Responding to the rave reviews is a daily task which Elaine loves.

Blogging about the meetings and showing pictures of all of us sitting around with lap tops open isn't as entertaining as telling you about the "extra curricular" activities. Enjoy!