Saturday, February 21, 2009

My teaching is finished and now I have a little time to see some of Vietnam before flying to the West Coast to visit family.  I have enjoyed teaching 26 lovely teachers, who are representatives of several schools for blind children.  I witnessed a beautiful concert in our honor this morning that brought me to tears.  20 blind students, all around 14-18 years old, stood in the auditorium to share the most beautiful, traditional Vietnamese music.  Huge drums and stringed instruments accompanied their amazing voices, as I stood in the back and basically wiped my eyes the entire time.  It was not only the music that was so moving for me.  It was the whole experience.  To come from such a privileged place - the US - and not to have thought I was so privileged.  
Of course, I'm not rolling in the dough.  I have a hard time 'making it' just like the next family.  Most months, my paychecks don't stretch far enough.  But here was a group of people who live in extreme poverty, but had the richness in their lives to come together to make incredible music.  And here they were giving their gift of music to us in appreciation for what WE did this week.  I felt both honored and very small at the same time.
Yesterday, I saw people living in the gutters as we drove around in the school van.  I saw men hanging hammocks from the trees along the street at night as their place of rest - just around the corner from my hotel.  When you purchase things, you are expected to haggle.  They jack up the price for foreigners, and it is expected that they will be bargained with.  But every time I do it, I keep thinking - this item is costing me $5.  At home it would be $25.  I should just give them the extra money.  But my colleagues assure me that it would be wrong.  And I suppose I understand.
Somehow, I need to bring this experience home with me as a way to be much more appreciative of my warm bed, car to drive, home and garden, steady job.  I don't have to live on the streets, nor will my children.  I can travel to foreign countries and visit new sights.  I can go to school to advance my education, or I can choose to change my occupation.  I can even change my life structure to include more time off with my family.  I have many choices which my new Vietnamese friends do not have.  And the biggest lesson I have to learn is that even with less, even with 15 people living under one roof, even with crazy traffic in a huge city, even with hardly enough food to feed their family - these folks are happy, social, loving and highly intelligent.  Happier and kinder people I have never met.  Every street corner has someone laughing, smiling or chatting away with someone else.  It has been a truly rich experience.  One that will live with me for a long time.

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