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It's still about a year away until I embark on my journey to Vietnam, but I am still so excited with the planning process! I've created a pretty lengthy packing list already. I am currently a second-year (out of three years) doctoral student in Occupational Therapy in Boston. This volunteer project in Vietnam will be part of my advanced doctoral project and it will be the final thing that I will have to do before getting my degree. I will also be writing up research about how community programming can increase quality of life for children with disabilities in Vietnam. I will be at the Thuy An Rehabilitation Center for approximately 3 1/2 months! Quite a long time!
I am Vietnamese American and my last trip to Vietnam was in 2008. That trip was 4 weeks long. I got severely ill during that trip (Montezuma's revenge) so I sincerely hope that will not happen this time. I will be apart from my husband (he lives in Denver), so this lengthy trip will be difficult for me. We are planning to have him visit maybe once or twice, depending on finances. But I know that for me, this is a very rare opportunity, so I had to absolutely take it! Thank goodness we've been together for over 8 years and have had our share of long distance communication.
Since I do speak Vietnamese fluently, I hope to gain a lot from this experience and hopefully help in creating community programming in Vietnam and also promote my profession as it is not currently an existing profession in Vietnam. I will be in Vietnam from January-April 2018. The Tet holiday will also fall during my time there, so I also plan on doing some independent travel for about a week. Destinations TBD but would love to hear any suggestions!
I enjoyed reading all of the blogs so far! I'd love to get some pointers from ...
The last week at Thuy An was challenging for all of us volunteers. It's hard to commit to the project enough to care, but not get over-involved emotionally, leaving ourselves (and the children) in bits when we leave. I've coped by hitting the database and tidying it up (frustrated ex-librarian persona made a re-appearance). It also helps that some of the volunteers will be staying on for a few more weeks, so we have a chance for some kind of hand-over and the children get some continuity.
I've bought some examples of the handicrafts made at the hospital - they try to equip the children/adults with some way of earning a living in the outside world. This lady has been at the hospital for 40 years ....
Having bid a fond farewell to Thuy An, I've done a bit more exploring in Hanoi, including a visit to the museum of the Hoa Lo prison, sarcastically nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton" by American prisoners of war. That was quite a chilling experience, and my first sight of a guillotine, which was in use as recently as the 1950's, plus photographs of the results of using same.
Through one of my university lecturers I was put in touch with a couple of the senior staff at Viet Duc hospital, the main surgical hospital in Hanoi if not the whole of Vietnam. "Proper" hospitals in Vietnam are few and far between: if you are taken ill or have an accident in a rural area, you are, basically, stuffed. I had a very interesting morning being shown around the hospital, including the A&E department, and their flagship organ transplant ward. I attach a photo, partly to show the relative sizes of the Vietnamese people - I look ENORMOUS!!
My only ambition as a tourist was to see the famous Ha Long Bay, so I booked a 2 day trip (one night to be spent on a junk in the bay). It ...
Mary 207 days ago
Blog entry no. 2: it's 2.10am, note the effect that Vietnamese coffee drunk at 7pm is having on me!!!!
I've now completed about 2 weeks at the rehab unit, and first impressions were correct: I love it. Here's a sample of the daily timetable.
5.15am. Shocked awake by the children's wake-up alarm: someone whacking hell out of a shell casing from a B52 bomber (indicative of Vietnamese sense of humour, to wake up with a bang??) Followed by happy sounds of the kids sweeping the yard and chasing each other with our metal refuse trolleys, daring each other to bang on our doors, etc
7am-ish. Having given up on getting any more sleep, get up and snatch a bit of breakfast before clinic starts at ...
8am. Over to the Speech Therapy Room, where the children have 30-ish minute slots, usually 1:1. Our volunteer translator is very helpful as mediator between me and the staff/those kids who can talk. General interaction with the kids, trying anything (games, picture cards, pulling silly faces, singing songs, playing peekaboo, tickling them with feathers, blowing bubbles) to get and hold their attention, and elicit speech. Great fun!
10am. Over to the feeding area, to help spoon-feed those children who are too impaired to feed themselves. The kids' diet is the same for every meal: rice and tofu, with broth. Feeding is often interrupted by other children wanting a hug or to hold my hand.
10.30ish. Collapse on bed for a bit, write up notes, put the washing on etc.
11.45am Volunteers' lunch
After lunch, we wash up (cold water, outside sinks) and put away our dishes before heading back to our volunteer room for a nap.
2-4pm. Afternoon clinic.
4pm Afternoon feeding time.
4.30pm Now at leisure till
6pm Volunteers' dinner. Same as lunch - we have rice at every meal. Vietnamese ...
Zo hier ben ik weer :)
Jammer genoeg zitten mijn dagen er bijna op.
Vandaag dubbel en dik genoten van de kinderen en de sfeer in thuy an met de andere vrijwilligers.
Want het was er mijn laatste halve dag :/.
Echt jammer want ik begon me er echt meer en meer thuis te voelen. Zelf de klanken van de Vietnamese taal begin ik beter te kennen. Juist nu nog echt leren praten in het vietnamees. Maar dat zal voor een andere keer zijn.. wie weet :).
Ondertussen goed aangekomen in hanoi terug. Lekker gegeten terug maar nu eens iets anders dan de rijst :). Dat kon ik zeker smaken. Nu vroeg gaan slapen want morgen gaan kathi en ik op dagtrip. Op naar ninh bin uiteindelijkh!!
Want dit was eerst niet zeker vanwege het weer. Maar nu is het een feit, we're going!!:-D
Sleeptight everybody en morgen ben ik er weer.
Als ik internet heb tenminste want daar ben je nooit zeker van hier.
Mary 216 days ago
Six days into the trip, and I finally have a working laptop ... if it dies again, this may the first and only blog entry.
First impressions of Vietnam: Hanoi. Walloping heat, near-100% humidity and crazy motorbikes. Cars overtake and undertake, and bikes do the same and try and squeeze through the gaps. Not content to drive directly into oncoming traffic, bikes (and sometimes cars) also sometimes ride at 90 degrees or diagonally across roads. I've seen up to five people on one bike: baby on driver's lap, two little children behind, sandwiched on by a larger person at the back. Modest ladies sometimes ride sidesaddle behind the driver. Helmets seem entirely optional .... Walking is hazardous, because even if there is a pavement, it's often blocked by a street kitchen or (surprise) parked-up motorbikes. Oh, and I forgot, indicators are ignored in favour of horns, so it's very very noisy all the time.
The day after arriving it took all my energy to climb the stairs up to the roof garden (to admire the torrential monsoon downpour) or down to the kitchen. Otherwise I stayed in bed to succumb to exhaustion and jet-lag. I'm in one of the Volunteer Houses, where we have our meals cooked for us fortunately: very nice thank you! and I'm getting used to chopsticks. I heard the screams of some housemates who came across some large cockroaches in the passage outside one night - as long as they stay outside that's fine with me.
After the weekend I was recovered enough to attend Induction Day before travelling for 2 hours and 60k (taxi, public bus, taxi) from Hanoi to a large rehabilitation unit for around 200 disabled children where I will be spending most of my time. The vibes so far are good - it's like a green oasis here. It's quiet, well-tended, no ...