Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Day 2: March 8, 2005

Another full day (even more full?)

We woke up early (too why? No, we were up and moving by six) and had breakfast at Thanh’s house, where we were given another favorite food (which my taste buds remember, but I can’t recall the name) (Thanh: it is called banh cuon, or steamed rice rolls) and MANGO.

Today’s trip was to the Friendship village, on the outskirts of Hanoi, an international institution established y an American Vietnam vet to help children with Agent Orange. We watched a video explaining the mission of the Friendship and had a reception with the V.P. where we also gave our donations, gifts and left a little piece of OWU, a flag and pen.

Our group was then led on a tour of the village. We visited the children in their rooms, classrooms and work rooms – where they learn crafts and skills that could help them find jobs. Some of the kids were more severe, Down syndrome, growth difficulties and there were more kids there than at the Peace village. We bought some crafts the kids made for their stitching class. The crafts produced were incredibly quality.

After the tour we met with Suel Jones, and American vet livin in Hanoi and a fundraiser for the Vietnamese children fund. Besides three months during the summer when he returns to the States (Alaska) to fundraise, he spends all his time and energy with Agent Orange relief in Vietnam. Suel gave us valuable wisdom and insight into the problems and hypocrisy of the US failure to acknowledge war crimes, the use of chemical warfare in the Vietnam War. To us, Suel was an important piece to the puzzle of U.S. involvement in Vietnam now. Suel preached (actually I don’t think he’d like to be called a preacher) of how we need to take back responsibility for what our government has done, by doing something – anything. Taking what we have learnt here is a key to discovering more of what we can do as a collective country and how we can affect the lives of those suffering with Agent Orange.

One of the most striking things about the visit was the universality of youth and love. These children had problems and pains but you could hardly tell – they played and sang and touched just like any child would. Their deformities and defects however served for many of us as scars our nation has left on Vietnam. These children are third generation Agent Orange victims and a fourth is about to come.

After this emotional visit, we went back to our Hanoi pad and split up to take in more Vietnamese culture before dinner at Thanh’s. Most went shopping. Two of the bravest (Eric and Kevin) set out on the busy Hanoi streets in cyclos (bicycles with seats for passenger) and were thrown into the hustle of this expansive city.

Hanoi is unlike any place I’ve ever seen - traffic flowing and fearless without rules so much as nerve and skill. The city is open and people wre always moving out – shop doors open – and motorbikes are EVERYWHERE! The people of Hanoi work very hard – and yet seem cheerful – I’ve seen a lot of smiles. The drivers, like our hired driver Nam – have a godly street smart and an ice cool demeanors.

That might we had feast – the biggest yet at Thanh’s house. Matt did not finish his meal at all – what a dork. Anyway, we had a surprise after dinner (and a bit of singing) – a reporter from a Hanoi paper came and interviewed us. They found out about us from the Professor (who we were told very impressed with what we were doing) for a story on the New York court case against the chemical companies. It was so important to our mission to get our voice out to the Vietnamese that we as Americans care. Thus, we will take part in an online chat run by the paper.

After dinner, we have been given the best treat we could imagine – a trip to the massage parlor. We indulged in quality rubs – compliments of Thanh’s aunt. Along with back rubs, some of us were asked for marriage and complimented on our good looks. A note for all of you at home - looking good – no matter where you are- never takes a day off.

In reflection, we struggled to find the answers we are looking for, but the group is energized to discover how we feel about this amazing experience A resonating theme we see is the commonalities between our people and the need to spread our new knowledge as effectively as possible. Suel helped motivate us to really make a difference and go the extra mile to help the cause at home. The trial is approaching and we have found it is obviously important to the Vietnamese and newspaper. Tonight we devoted ourselves to keeping with the cause of Agent Orange till it is finished - to do everything we can. “We are all just people”

By Eric Magnus


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