Traveling 8,500 miles to build schools and homes and teach school children! Adventures to come...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Our Time in Ben Tre

 Dancing with the Kids
 Ca Lookin Classy
 The House We Built
 The Brady Bunch on a Train (6 people packed into a closet for 20 hours...yes)
 Riding Across "Phoenix Island"
 Not My Thing...
Last Day at the School

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

You Know You've Been in Vietnam for 2 Months When...

  •  You’re excited when there’s toilet paper
  • Speaking of toilet paper, it’s a treat when there is a squatter rather than just a whole in the ground
  • You don’t look twice at that one motorbike piled with 5 people, 2 live chickens, 1 pig, and a couple of bamboo mats
  • You feel like something’s missing when a  fish or chicken head isn’t in dinner’s soup
  • You're hotel might also sideline as a brothel 
  • Stripes and poka dots together doens't seem so off anymore
  • You have started measuring things in cement bags ex: “I’m so hungry I could eat 2 cement bags full of rice!”
  • You're use to the restaurants doubling as the family's living room
  • Your hair has yet to come out of a braid or ponytail
  • You might not like the stench of the market, but now you can at least tell the difference between some of the smells-squid, dried shrimp, durian, raw meat, fish
  • Last night you dreamed of eating a hamburger (with peanuts and salmon on top?), and the night before, a Chipolte burrito.  Turns out malaria pills give you weird dreams, and we are all craving American food
  • You have replaced your morning makeup with a bucket of sunscreen and insect repellent
  • A lizard falls from the sky onto your arm as you’re eating your rice (just happened to me!)
  • Your conversations include all the American food you are going to eat when you get back
  • One minute there’s a caged live chicken in front of the restaurant, and after you order, the chicken is gone
  • You’ve taken a nap 2 feet from a national highway
  • You haven’t been on Facebook once
  • You’re use to the “more than occasional” lizard or cockroach hanging around in your room
  • You’re confused when there’s no rice on the table
  • You are no longer fazed by the yells, hollars, hoots, and stares
  • You’ve stopped comparing bug bites - we all have too many to count
  • You have no idea what the “Top Ten’ songs are on iTunes or what movies are out
  • You no longer think that all those people with masks are doctors or their patients
  • You’ve finally learned how to properly wash your clothes by hand
  • You’ve had someone drive by on their motorbike and try to snag your purse (happened to Devyn-we won!)
  • You don’t look twice at all the crazy food- scorpions, cobras, eggs with baby ducks inside, congealed blood, etc.
  • You’ve eaten enough rice to fill a swimming pool
  • You can successfully walk across a street in Saigon without flinching-imagine: NO crosswalks, no traffic rules, motorbikes and cars everywhere
  • You know how to order dog meat, although you will NEVER eat it!
  • You can take regular naps on a bamboo mat on the cement floor without getting a crick in your neck
  • You have mastered the art of the chopstick – or at least, relatively
  • After Quang Tri, you don’t think Saigon is that hot
  • You haven't watched TV-no Bachlorette or Pretty Little Liars 
  • You fell in love with the country and are sad to leave the yummy food and friendly people

Monday, August 1, 2011

Some Pictures!

The Lunch Lady's Backyard

 Don't you have a whole family of cows and a giant python (with a live chicken no less) in your backyard!!??

The gang in our SNAZY orange uniforms getting ready for lunch

The Bike Ride to Our New Worksite

Our Daily Trek Through the Jungle

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Family's Soon-to-be Old House

Their house is the small one in the front of this picture.  The larger house belongs to an uncle.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hello from Ben TRE

First, I have been spelling our town name wrong.  It’s actually “Ben Tre” not “Ben Tri.” Oops!  Second, I broke a kid’s arm….but we will get to that later!!
Alright so we are officially in Ben Tre and have gotten new roommates.  My roommate’s name is Than-super cute, tall, and a little shy.  She doesn’t speak English as well as Mushroom, but we laugh a lot, especially when we don’t understand each other.  Instead of saying “huh?” or “what?” when she doesn’t understand me, Than always says “yes?”  I can’t count the times I’ve kept talking thinking she was just answering my question when really she wanted me to repeat it.  OOPS!
Ben Tre is pretty awesome.  We are totally in the jungle.  It’s actually in an area called the Mekong Delta-lots and lots of trees, rivers, and streams.  There is a major difference here though.  Every time we leave the guest house, we all have to wear these bright orange shirts (super cute…not!) and tell the government, The People’s Committee, where we are going.  Oftentimes, they will follow us around to see what we are doing and stuff.  It was weird at first, but now it just seems like extra security for us.  Also, the food here is delicious.  Last night we had my favorite so far: sticky rice with peanuts! YUMMY! The best part of Ben Tre is the FRUIT! It literally grows on trees everywhere and you can pretty much reach up, grab something, and eat it right then and there!  They are also famous for their coconuts and coconut candy-it’s everywhere. 
We actually got to tour a one of the candy-making factories.  They boil down coconut water till it’s really thick, add sugar, and then make a GINORMOUS chuck of hot taffy before they cut it all down into little pieces.  We all got to have some samples…BUT they were durian flavored! UGH.  I don’t know if I’ve talked about durian before BUT it’s nasty!  The fruit itself is this huge, green ball of spikes and smells like a combination of garbage, dirt, and nastiness!  You can smell a single durian from 10 feet away. BLAAAHHH. Don’t worry, I’m not being offensive.  The Vietnamese all laugh at us as we pass their durian stands!  They all know it smells terrible.  According to Tri, “It smells like hell, but tastes like heaven.”  I’ve tasted it, and I think it still tastes like hell.  The smell is so bad that the government in China (I think) has made it against the law to carry durian on any form of public transportation.  And the funny thing is, the people here love this stuff…it’s in their candy, crackers, smoothies, anything.
Okay, enough about that.  So we are actually only going to be building one house for the next three weeks.  We don’t have enough time and people to build the second one.  We wake up every morning around 5:30 to leave for our bike ride on time.  The bike ride is awesome.  We ride through busy streets avoiding all the crazy motorbikes carrying pregnant pigs, live ducks hanging by their feet, and buckets of baby chickens.  Then we turn onto this tiny sidewalk that runs through the jungle and over lots of tiny streams.  After about 30 minutes, we have made it really deep into the jungle and park our bikes at this nice lady’s house before walking further back to our location.  The trail back to the family’s house is barely even marked.  We have to cross 3 of these things called “monkey bridges.”  They are bridges that are just one or two poles of bamboo or a fallen coconut tree.  We actually had to have them put some more bamboo sticks in so we could cross them without falling into the water; but of course, the local people practically run over the normal without any issues.
The family that we are building for is one of the poorest in the whole village.  The mom and dad supposedly have some sort of mental issue.  They can’t speak clear Vietnamese and are unable to do normal work and usually just live off of the land with a little work here and there.  We were told that they will sometimes help out the other villagers with small tasks.  However, they can’t differentiate between different dominations of money, and some of the villagers know this and don’t pay the family what they deserve.  They live in a tiny shack made of dried coconut leaves.  It is literally the size of king-sized bed.  They also have a 15 year-old sun named Ca.  He is the nicest boy with a huge smile, but, when I first saw him, he looked like he was no older than 7.  He supposedly has some mental issues too (but really you can’t tell from looking at any of them that something is wrong) and was going to a special teacher until she left a couple of years ago.  I’m not even sure if he goes to school now.  He is awesome-he loves to help us build his home or show us his sweet fishing techniques.
Getting supplies to the house is pretty hard.  We either have to take it from our guest house on the 30 minute bike ride or transfer it from a boat that they bring up one of the small streams.  Around 11:30, we all ride our bikes to another lady’s house in the village for lunch and to rest (we all lay out on bamboo mats on her front porch-VERY hot and lots of bugs).  The thing that makes me really sad is that Ca will come with us to lunch so that he can get a bike ride to the school later (it’s very far from his home and he doesn’t have a bike), but he doesn’t eat with us.  The only thing I have ever seen him eat is some random fruit he picks off the trees; I’m not sure if he ever has breakfast or lunch or dinner for that matter.  I started bringing him and his cousins some bread and bananas in the morning to help out but they don’t like taking it.
Anyways, after we all chill, it’s time for SUMMER CAMP!  We all head over to the elementary school for two hours of chaotic fun.  The first day, only 20 kids showed up, so our plans to teach 8 different classes didn’t work out so well (things like PE, music, art, science, geography, etc.).  BUT, the next day, they told all of their friends and TONS of kids showed up and kept coming.  I teach PE and the kids love it.  We tie these colorful ribbons around their heads to distinguish their different teams (they all look like mini ninjas) and play lots of field-day games, soccer, baseball, anything.
The kids are the CUTEST THING EVER!  Bao and I have already come up with nick-names for a lot of them: Wisdom  (the next leader of Vietnam), Confu (short for confused), Punk (crazy soccer dude), and baby (the tiny 4 year old that loves to come with her sister).  They do get tired REALLY quickly so that has been a little difficult, but things are going great!
Okay, so finally, about that broken arm…So yesterday, one of the elementary school teachers was just chillin at the school and was PERSISTANT that we play with him and some construction workers at their stadium (really just a small field).  Turns out, he was completely drunk!  He was falling all over the place, interrupting our classes, trying to hook Devyn up with one of his friends, etc.  We were all trying to be really polite but he was a bit of a mess.
Well, we decided to meet them at the field after teaching after all.  We all started playing a great game-the other team was really good and a lot of high-schoolers started playing too.  Well, after about an hour of playing, this kid and I go for the ball and hit each other REALLY hard…it was a LOUD tackle and everyone was asking if we were okay.  I was fine, even though my shin was pulsing, but when I looked at the kid, his wrist was twisted.  Turns out, after the tackle he went flying through the air and landed weird on his arm.  I started FREAKING out and kept telling the boy I was so sorry even though he probably didn’t understand anything that I was saying!  The kid didn’t cry one-it was like he was in shock or something.  The drunk teacher, of course, decided to come over and try to twist the arm back EEEEEK!  We all stopped him and another adult took the kid on his motor bike to the hospital.  Well…we decided to call it a game after that!
When I got back to the guest house, I immediately found Tri, our program director, and asked him if there was a way that I could pay for the injury-most village children do not have insurance and the cost to fix a broken arm is very high for people here.  He called around and found out that  the boy had dislocated his wrist or something and, somehow, the doctors were able to pop it back in and wrap it up without any major problems or costs.  THANK GOD! Well, at least he can always tell his friends about that American girl that broke his arm!? Let’s just say I didn’t play the next day L

Quick overview of the coming weekend:

1.  Planning for the “FUN RUN” we will be throwing on Saturday, July 30th.  It’s a short run for the entire community complete with t-shirts and prizes. Coca-Cola is sponsoring the event and donating money for a scholarship fund for the poorest kids in the village.

2.  A soccer match against the local, competitive team. (Hopefully, I won’t hurt anyone again!)

3.  A personal interview with a Vietnamese War Veteran

Should all be fun and interesting!  
Missing cereal, apples, salmon, salads, and chocolate!!!!