Monday’s visit to the Loving House nursing home was for peanuts. Even though they are in a nursing home the residents still contribute. In this case they had harvested their peanut crop and it was our task to help sort the rejects from the sell-able product. We joined in with the women busily picking away and by the end of our time there we had helped fill a large bucket of good peanuts. I remember thinking “Ah Kodak quality control training comes in handy in Viet Nam!” So we sorted nuts in a catholic nursing home with nuns singing in the background while Victor and I had a conversation about the common sense aspects of Buddhism. It was very Zen.
Reinforcements! One of Victor’s woman friends named Thao (one of the most popular names in Viet Nam) Brought three of her friends with her to help us at the Agent Orange group home. The activity we had planned for today was heart shaped cut outs with arms and legs for the kids to glue on and color. We were in charge of the scissors, and we also had other hearts and cats for them to color. The kids all seemed to enjoy what we were doing and they loved the extra attention the girls brought with them. We ended up needing more hearts so I began cutting out heart shapes from colored paper. They were sticking hearts on every paper they had. Some were well aware of Valentine’s Day, others just liked the shapes and the activity.
On Thursday we went on two Agent Orange home visits. The first was to the home of a young deaf girl of seventeen who takes care of her grandmother. Her grandmother is sick and has to be fed. She uses “home sign” to communicate with her grandmother. She wants to go to school and she also wants to work in a shop doing hair and nails. She is often treated as if she is a child and is not intelligent. In my assessment she was shy and self conscious.
Our second visit was to the home of a woman with a 23 year old daughter with Down’s syndrome. This woman had planned to have a child so there would be someone to look after her when she got older. Now she is the caretaker. Her daughter goes to a school administered by VAVA (Da Nang Association for Agent Orange/Dioxin) which she enjoys. She likes music and sang us a few songs. She was home from school for our visit and was missing her friends from school.
Valentine’s Day in English class was an event to behold. First of all the Vietnamese people in the city of Da Nang go crazy buying flowers, cards, and chocolate. A trip to Big C (Viet Nam’s version of Wal-Mart) proved futile as I could not get near those items the night before Valentine’s Day. I had to depend on chocolate purchased earlier. Each person in class got a piece of chocolate as they came in, just to set the mood. Since we had combined the classes, Victor read poetry to begin. We then distributed handouts on the legend of the founding of Valentine’s Day to the class and had them discuss these in groups of four. The class then came together for a 45 minute discussion about love and relationships. I had a great time and I hope the class enjoyed it as much as I did.
For Thursday’s class I had a unique assistant; my wife Bernie. The class had heard about our relationship and knew she was coming. The topic was; if you could travel anywhere in the world you wanted, what countries would you visit? The class was split into small groups to share. Bernie was with one group and I was with another group at a different table. The conversation began with travel and “traveled” in many directions. My group ended with the question; “why do big countries like China and the US pick on little countries like Viet Nam?” The answer we agreed on was greed. When the class came back together, we discovered that the other groups also had a conversation that traveled in many directions. I told them that is what good conversation does and they had great opportunities to practice speaking English. The class discovered that my thinking is not US centered or Eurocentric. They asked if there are many people in the US who think like I do. While I know many people who think like me, I realize it is not a majority. Sadly I had to answer their question, “no.”
For me this was an exciting week because Bernie arrived and joined us at our home visits and English class. She has also had the opportunity to see how some of the people have been affected by the US use of Agent Orange in Viet Nam. The way to help if you choose to do so is http://www.danangquangnamfund.org
For me it really is paradox in paradise and my want for all of you is to experience it sooooo next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lan (see you again)