As I write this passage now, reflecting on the events of Tuesday, I will start first by saying that I now have known more about the center than ever, understanding about the issues underneath the surface, the reality, the truth. I will flesh it out in my next entry, as I just discovered much of this information today, and I am even more convicted to make things right here. A fire is brewing in my being and I need to do what is right.
This Tuesday morning there was no class scheduled in morning, due to many of the children having to go to school. I woke close to eight, having a rather decent night's sleep. I decided not to eat dinner again, deciding instead to spend the next two hours in research. I sat there, staring away at my monitor, looking up news on Vietnam, learning about the current situation, learning about the issues, the grief, the corruption, the politics - everything. What I learned saddened me. There is so much to say that I honestly cannot write it all, but I will say that my stay here has been more than just teaching English. It has been more than just visiting my grandmother's grave and saying my blessings for her, it is more than revisiting my home village and understanding their way of life, it is more than just an internship for the summer, it is a journey to find truth and forge a relationship that extends beyond politics, nationality, upbringing, and centers on the idea of compassion. This is something that I have thought so so so so so long and hard about these past three years in my life, after finding out the reality of my being, and figuring out who I want to be when I go out in the world and do service. In learning about the struggles and feelings about the country of my ancestry, Vietnam, and in understanding the misunderstandings, I now have even more to say to the Vietnamese American communtiy and the American people about what it means to be in this dilemma, this dilemma of being stuck in the middle, not knowing what identity to call yourself, and not wanting to ally with anything more than goodwill. I've decided that I will talk about this, the Asian American identity when I return, I will be frank and honest about what I've discovered over my life, from the years when I was naive and ignorant of my past, and to now, after having returned to the place where my family ran away from, and now have the courage and understanding to say the truth and do something about it. My heart burns with a fire unlike anything before, a great weight has been set on my heart, an immense sense of responsibility has found its way into my being. I must do something, I must...
My stomach quaked, I knew I was hungry, but I decided to just wait until lunch. With the hour that I had before, I decided to go around the center, noticing many of the children cooking and tending to their chores. A couple of my brothers stopped me, asking me to stick around with them for a bit. They were happy to have me back again, telling me that they missed me over all those weeks I ate at the other houses, their mother, Ms. Be also telling me that she missed having me play with the boys of the Thanh Truc house. I noticed that the girls from the Anh Dao house were planning something, looking like they were preparing for some kind of party. Today was the birthday of their mother, Ms. Hanh, to which they were planning a surprise birthday party that they wanted to invite me to. They asked me if I had anything to cook their foods with, wondering if I had a stove in my room. "Nope sorry, but I could ask around if I could use the kitchen of one of houses" I replied. They laughed at me, saying not to worry about it and also to show up at seven o'clock during the night to join them for the birthday celebration. "Sure" I said, "see you then!" I then made my way down to the houses of the little children.
Most of them were gone, only the older sisters and the really young children, such as the new child of the center, Bin (named after me and the cutest thing ever!). Today there was a goodbye ceremony for Ms. Lang, who was actually about to leave the center and be replaced by a new mother. I heard that the reasons were because of the living conditions for the mothers and also because her family did not want her to work in the center anymore. I will speak more about the truth of living conditions about the center tomorrow, as I am currently doing research into the reality of living at the center when volunteers aren't around. I met the older sisters, who were preparing for lunch for the younger children, who would be returning from school to eat lunch, as school lunch isn't served in most schools in Vietnam, due to costs. I found Eve walking around with a visitor from France, coming over to visit the center and learn about its operations. I told Eva about my plans to donate money to the center, to which she told me to wait until the afternoon to discuss the matters.
It was finally time for the lunch, my brothers waiting for me to take my seat and begin. It has getting easier for the children to want to try their English with me, a lot more of them were eager to ask me how to say certain things in English, though I still realize that I will need to do so much more in order to get them on the level of conversational English. To note, this house cooks the best food, all the children of the center knowing it. "She cooks just like my mom," I told the children, referring to all the delicious food Ms. Be prepares for me. I didn't want special treatment, but she just always insists on giving me it. She told me a special request for the mothers, asking that I should think about contributing something for them, especially after having them cook for me and allowing me to eat at the respective houses. I went back to my room, plenty on my mind about the center.
I lay in bed for almost an hour and a half, thinking over my plans with the money I was going to donate to the children. I also made a call to Bac Van, and Co Ngoc, concerning an internal issue within the center, centering specfically between the management and the direct servicers of the center, and also with the children. Over the past to days, and also over my six week stay here, I knew there was a power struggle here, a sense of fear. I had to tell both of them, the benefactors in the nonprofit that aids this center. They told at first about the situation in Vietnam, how different it is than living in America, and what issues do come up. They advised me not to talk about it with them until they arrive in the center within the next week. Instead they asked me to write them a letter, documenting any key examples of any wrongdoings. I accepted. I have decided now that I want to interview everyone in the center, asking them to tell me everything they feel, anything they like, anything they hate, anything that they are too afraid to say, asking them to tell me it all, so that I can tell the truth to Bac Van and Co Ngoc. I must expose any wrong doings, it is only right. I already have some experiences of my own that I can talk about, but I will save them for another time. Regardless, I got up at two and began making my way over the library to tutor Nhi, who was the only junior high child at the moment who hadn't been assigned to a school yet.
The new black dog was moving around the center, much similar to the way that Min did, playing around and such. I still missed Min, but didn't have any reason to hate the new dog, though some children do. I taught for about two hours to Nhi, going over pronunciation as I have with many of the children. Some more of the brothers joined in. During the afternoon around two, I had noticed many of the children had very few tasks to do, telling me about how boring the center was and wishing that they had more freedom to do other things. I really felt that this lesson helped, noticing many lightbulbs click with the children as they finally understood how to pronounce many English words. I have been thinking of a program to teach proper pronunciation to the Vietnamese, and hopefully find a practical way to implement it. At around four, I went down to see if Eve was free, but saw that a large meeting was occuring between guests from the outside and the inside. She told me to wait, giving her about an hour until I could talk. And so I did, going back to my room to finish up one of my books on learning Vietnamese.
I went to the main office, talking to both Mrs. Minh and Eve, telling them about my intentions with my donation to the center, and also about my intentions to reveal the truth to Bac Van and Co Ngoc about the center. They both agreed with me, but told me to be careful and also that I had to understand how things worked in Vietnam. I still stood firm on my belief to do what is right, and told them that I have no intention of getting anyone in trouble, but have every intention of helping everyone understand each other, as I know loud and clear now that there is a severe issue with power in the center - one that I will reveal soon. They both told me to be careful, but were very encoruaging and thanked me for being who I am.
The rest of this day was filled with fun and fanfare, me attending two celebrations for two different mothers, one a goodbye party, and the other a birthday party. Both were fun, the children and mothers all welcoming me in. I hadn't told the children and mothers of my intention yet, but the gardener, Bac Hung, knew and he wanted me to let everyone know that I was finally going to fight for them and tell the truth. "You are the only one out of all the volunteers in the past in the center who can do this," he said, "the children trust you, the mothers trust you, I trust you will do the right thing." I promised to him that I would, and indeed I will. The birthday party was amazing to say the least, the girls caring so much for their mother as to deceive her that one of them was sick and told her to come back to the house to see that they had a celebration in store for her. It was great, amazing homemade food, drinks, songs, jokes, everything. I was so touched by their love for their mother and also by their true feelings about her. I was the only male at the table, the sisters trusting me enough to invite me into their household to celebrate with them. I stayed there for a long time, up until nine thirty even, getting to know them and their living situation with their mother. I finally thanked them for the meal, noticing how late the time was, and went back to my room to finish up my entries in my blog and call it a night.
I've been really waiting for a moment like this. A moment where I can see past the illusion of the place where I work. The truth of which can change this center for the better, more than just money can. What I am talking of is corruption.