Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Vietnam adventure- Day 8- Just one more...

Vietnam adventure- Day 8- just one more...

I hate myself a little bit right now. I am sat back in The Hanoi Backpacker Hotel (wi-fi password- "I love Hanoi"), having just ordered a lasagna. I came out for pizza, 8 days of Vietnamese food is a (love you) long time- but the only one I fancied was called 'Napalm' and I just couldn't bring myself to order it. What the hell is WRONG with the Western world?????

Ok, so I got a bit emotional last night, it was a long, eye-opener of a day.

In fact, I didn't even blog about my dinner, most unusual for me! So please see above for a shot of it. Vung and Kin took me to a local restaurant where they serve 'hotpot', a boiling hot broth that cooks on your table on a hotplate and then you order whatever you want to cook in it- we had chicken, beef, mushrooms, green vegetables, a side order of sticky rice (rice balls made with a different type if rice) and fried corn. We sat on the floor, as we did today for lunch, so it hasn't been the best 24 hours for my foot. I'm in a lot of pain and have had to go back onto higher doses of painkiller. Don't tell Stevie.

An early night and despite a yapping dog outside my window that kept me up until 2am, at which point I called reception and told them that if they didn't stop it from barking or send it away, I was going to kill it and they could serve it for breakfast, I got about 5 hours sleep. Good-o.

This morning I was picked up by the Actionaid girls, after Vung and I had gone to the local market where I spent £12 on 10 kilos of rice, 3 kilos of sticky rice and some noodles to take to Hoang's family later, when I was to say my goodbyes.

First stop was another school supported by Actionaid- they have installed toilets here too- and a kitchen- which is essentially just a mud hut where a fire can be lit and a few kitchen utensils- not exactly home but better than what WAS there. I sat in on a lesson for a bit, with some lovely, polite children who stood up as I hobbled in and out of the room- but had very mischievous faces the whole time I was in there. Actionaid have also helped to cultivate a very small vegetable patch- it's not exactly River Cottage, but it's a portion of free vegetables, and therefore nutrients, for the children- they can each get about a serving per week. Yes, per WEEK.

Actionaid have also introduced a system whereby the Fathers of the students can attend reading and writing classes in the afternoons- this stops them from being jealous of the kids and preventing them from attending school- yet another hurdle that needs to be overcome.

There are 130 children here, and on top of the 13 subjects that they are taught at Primary school level, they have time set aside for Physical Education- skipping and football mainly- not that they need it, I haven't seen an overweight child yet, many, in fact most, of them walk several miles to and from school each day- as well as working on their parents land when they aren't learning.

I listened in on a music lesson- just singing, there is no money for instruments here, and even if there was, there is no one to teach them. Cue light bulb moment....watch this space... 

After spending some time with the children, we moved on to see another project that Actionaid are working on. Once they have identified an area in need, Actionaid tend to stick around for between 10-15 years- depending on the level of need. Da Bac, Hoang's home community has had an Actionaid office for 6 years so far. 

This project is focusing on just one family- a couple with two children, one of 5 years and one of four months. They have shown them how to make their own fertiliser to help to increase the productivity of their crops, and how to look after their pigs better so that they reach the age of culling. In doing this, the family has become pretty much self sufficient and even has some produce left to sell at the market.

The average wage in this area 0f Vietnam is £300 per year. Families who are benefiting from Actionaid's help earn on average £400 per year- a 33% increase is nothing to be sniffed at. To put this into context, the average wage in Vietnam as a whole is around £650 per annum- obviously this varies wildly on profession and area.

We left the family, who wouldn't let us go without plying us with fresh grapefruit from their garden, and insisting I take a small peach blossom tree (traditionally placed in Vietnamese houses during Tet), which obviously I had no use for, I can imagine the look on the faces of the UK customs department- "it's a WHAT Madam?", but I accepted on behalf of Hoang's family thinking that it would make a nice gesture alongside the food that we were going to deliver.

The next stop was at a community vegetable patch. Well, I say patch, it was about 20 times the size of my garden , and 100 times more productive. A group of village women run this patch, under tuition of Actionaid, which has increased the yield to the point where all the families involved have fresh vegetables available on a regular basis.

This is when the police arrived. They wanted to meet me, check me over and make sure that I wasn't saying anything negative about their scummy, controlling, poverty-encouraging, immoral government, which of course, I wasn't.

Our final stop today was Hoang's house again, where we delivered the food and peach blossom tree. I was concerned about how this would look, I was very aware that walking into a poverty-stricken families' life, dishing out a load of food to them and buggering off was just a plaster on a life-threatening gash- and I didn't want to come across as some rich bitch Westerner who thinks they can buy a moments happiness for someone worse off than themselves. But I still wanted to help.

The girls from Actionaid asked how I would like my gift to be explained, I said that I wanted them to have the opportunity to celebrate Tet, and as much I would like to celebrate with them, I had a wedding to go to, and so the peach blossom tree was my way of being there in spirit. That seemed to translate well. Hoang's mum cried, shook my hand and wouldn't allow me to leave until I had come  into her house and had tea. A round of hugs, and I was put back in the car- we were running an hour behind and Vung had been on The phone having Kittens about where I was. Hoang's house below. Crap picture, sorry!

Leaving Hoang and his family cut me up inside like I can't begin to describe. The unfairness of the inequality in this world is astounding- and I know that some of you have said to me that they "know no better", and I understand that, but it doesn't mean it's right- a junkie's kid born inside a prison in the UK doesn't "know any better"- does that make it right? Like fuck it does. And I'm not talking about a family who can't afford to put petrol in their car- I'm talking about a family who can't put food in their kids- and that shit stinks to high heaven. 
Arriving back at my Hotel, Vung was getting mardy with the Actionaid girls. No more Miss Nice Katy. I firmly explained that I had come to Asia for two reasons- a friends' wedding and to spend time with Hoang and his family. Vung got a strop on and didn't speak to me most of the way to our next stop- apparently the Actionaid girls were rude to him. My exact words were, I believe "get over it".

By the time we stopped, sweetness and light Vung had returned (perhaps remembering his tip?!). And so had non-bitch Katy, so all was good.

Next stop was Vung's uncle's house. I seriously need to wise up- earlier in the week, Vung had mentioned that his uncles farm was on the drive back to Hanoi. I said that I would love to see it, and he arranged for us to have lunch there. In my mind, I had, yet again, romanticised this. If there are any if the Williams/Beake/Gillespie/Kozminski family reading, I had The Farm in my head.

What I actually hopped up to was a two room concrete building- one room for sleeping/eating and cooking, and a toilet. Vungs uncle runs a bee farm. And his aunt had laid on a massive spread. Some things I didn't recognise. And some I did, but wished that I didn't. Chicken feet for example.

After brief introductions and the undignified act of taking a pee in their toilet with no roof and only a 6 foot wall in between my squatting body and my hosts, the Wally Boot was removed for the first time for me to sit on the mat specially laid out for lunch. We proceeded to eat, and drink copious amounts of rice wine over the next 3 hours- I even managed to FaceTime Stevie and introduce him to my motley drunken Vietnamese crew. The running joke, for any him!mers out there (Helen???) was my ability to say "ok, just one more!" And then sink 3 more shots. Conversation was stilted due to Vung having to translate- but we laughed and had fun like old friends on the piss. Vung's uncle tried, at one point to convince me to stay at his house rather than go to my hotel In Hanoi. Never gonna happen.

Vung was pissed. In fact, Vung was shitfaced. I looked at Kin for help. "Don't worry Katy, I will get you back to your hotel safely, Vung is just having fun with his family, I have said to him that he can stay here if he wants and I will escort you back". What. The. F....?. Kin speaks English? Day 8, and I discover that his English is this good. I feel cheated and tell him so. "I'm shy" comes the reply.

We left in a flurry of hugs, just one more shot, promises to visit again, and being told I am their "number one friend". 

Vung and I slept on and off all the way back to Hanoi, whilst Kin chuckled to himself in that irritating way that sober people laugh at drunk people. He had just one drink all day. We finished a bottle of 45% proof rice wine between the rest of us.

I check into my hotel, and am immediately hit with Hanoi belly.  

And so, dear reader, I find myself back in the land of the young and the tanned, with Dizzee Rascal on in the background, watching the traditional mating dance of the British and Aussie backpackers, bandannas round their heads, weaved friendship bracelets round their wrists, drinking Tiger Beers and Sex on the Beach (its Tuesday, and cocktails are two for one), having finished my lasagne, and I am left with one question. 

Are these people really our future?  

I fucking hope not. 

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