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So mênh mông

So mênh mông

Staring into the vastness of the Tien Giang River, the first phrase that came to me came in an immigrant language—half English-half Vietnamese. So “mênh mông”. Sitting in the middle of this vastness made me feel at ease, at home. But it also reminded me of the vastness of what we, the VIET2010 fellows, faced and I felt an unnerving fear.

After this first week in Vietnam, I couldn’t bare to take pictures so I have no images to offer you. But everytime I close my eyes—I see them clearly. I see that child from the T? D? Hospital, living in the ward called Hope Village. Her head had grown flat and was outgrowing her body. This child was stuck in bed all day.

I hear Hanh’s voice…talking to me on the phone in excruciating frustration because everything she said came out in garbled tones that couldn’t be understood.

I also saw Hong…who held on to me as if I had taken care of her for years, who walked on her wavering little feet just so she could get to me. The trust she had for me was a painful to accept.

And how do I forget Hiep?  He liked the same tv shows as my little brother did. And there was Nhung, a chubby little girl whose legs stopped at her knees. I was shocked and mesmerized watching her abruptly shift her weight from one side to the other to use the momentum of the flimsy plastic chair to move. How could anyone ever tell her that she needed to “make the best of what she’s been given”?

At the Thi Nghe Orphanage…I saw rows upon rows of children laying there…almost lifeless. Walking by those beds, I could feel hope slowly oozing out of me. I watched the nurses spoonfeed most of these children. Some laid still, while others threw fits. Their eyes wandered onto me as I walk, and some just looked right past me.

I stayed the longest next to the tiny bed of a little girl…as skinny and malnourished as I used to be when I was her age. She was crying out softly, as if dealing with a dull and normal pain. Occassionally, she would roll violently from side to side, curl her tiny fingers into a fist to pound at her already swollen head. BUMPB.BUMPB. BUMPB. That pounding sound shook me. It shook me because in that moment of not being able to do anything to stop her from screaming and pounding at herselt, I felt completely and utterly hopeless.

Hong, Nhung, Hanh, Hiep and the Th? Nghè children were only a few of the millions of people with disabilities in Vietnam. And it is much much easier to look past them and go on with our lives. That’s exactly what I wanted to do.

I wanted to run away, to latch onto to another cause, another group of luckier people than the children at Thi Nghe. I didn’t want to do my one and a half week of service there. But Hanh kept on calling my cellphone—kept on reminding me of the people I was running away from.

They are people who have been pushed to the edges of society because of their circumstance. They are children who haven’t been given a fair chance. And even though seeing their day-to-day struggles will break my heart over and over and over again…it’s nothing.

Eventually I picked up Hanh’s phone call, and did the best I could to hold a conversation with her. In the end, I think she said “Chuc Chi Vi ngu ngon”—and my fears didn’t seem so mênh mông anymore, the Tien Giang River didn’t seem so unnervingly vast anymore—just poignantly beautiful.


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