Friday, August 7, 2009

On a sense of community and hospitality

We have now finished our time in Định Thủy. Today we return to Saigon. So many impressions, it's really hard to begin to sum them up, but I will try through a series of probably somewhat random posts.

One of the most striking elements of the culture here is the sense of community and hospitality. Once we finished working on the school we helped to build a local road. At times we were unsure how to contribute to the road for there were many workers on the road. These workers consisted entirely of the members of the community who wished to help pitch in to create the road. They were very welcoming of us. The way they welcomed us was through food. We joked that at the road we worked, ate, rested, worked, ate, ate, work, ate again. In one day we were given corn, grapefruit, and watermelon as a snack. Then at the end of the work day we were given "sweet soup." Sweet soup is a vietnamese desert that comes in many forms. We were given a tasty sweet soup at the end of each work day, and I have to admit that sometimes the thought of the sweet soup awaiting us helped get me through lifting ridiculously heavy bags of rocks and sand (admitedly my principles got in the way and in an attempt to work against the local stereotype that women aren't very strong I might have tried to lift bags that were a bit too heavy for me). Also, most days we were given fresh coconut juice (which we drank straight out of the coconuts) for coconuts are the main source of income in ben tre.

Throughout our time here we have constantly experienced hospitality through food. The local people would often give us food, even when it was perhaps above their means to do so. Yesterday was our last day working in the community. We were given two large lunches. Also, one man had become particularly attached to our group. This man was the contractor and had helped us work on both the school and the house. He had invited us over to his house on the first weekend to eat traditional vietnamese food. Yesterday he bought us coconut juice, coffee, and chewing gum. He said that we had become like family to him (especially the girls, for he has no sisters) and since he was unable to express his sentiments through words, it made him happy to buy us food. It was very sweet. Also, it was somewhat suprising to the americans, for people are generally far stingier with that kind of strong emotion in the U.S.

As a side note I'll mention the scene in which I write this post. I'm sitting at an internet cafe, which is always an interesting scene in Vietnam. Most of the patrons are children. Some of them are playing games, some are watching videos, and others are browsing online. Occasionally one of them will stare fixedly at my screen. Also one girl has had some upbeat american techno song playing on loop for the past twenty minutes. Quiet the interesting scene.

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