Fun Day at the Village

First let me introduce one of the amazing children who live here. Toan is maybe 20, has Downs syndrome, but is pretty high-functioning. He is very small, maybe 4', < 100lbs, and built like a fireplug, very sturdy. There is a barbell in the yard, made from a 2" steel pipe with blobs of concrete on the ends. It weighs maybe 25 lbs. I can press it 8 times. Toan can press it 4 times, a quarter of his body weight, with hands that don't quite grip the bar right. He is almost aggressively affectionate, a great ham, and a very good dancer.

The day started with badmiton games, even got the veterans involved. Then dozens of university students in blue shirts started arriving on campus. One articulate girl said she was a sociology student come to work with the children. She and several others did seem to have warm relationships with the children. But most of them just screwed around for hours, playing blindfold games, with little attention to the kids, so I was not impressed. Many Vietnamese college students seem like high school sophomores.

After about 4 hours they got a sound stage set up and started playing loud music and singing. I was hanging around watching. When a catchy beat came on, I invited one of the woman vets to dance; she declined, but I was already bopping around, and then everything broke loose. All the students came rushing over in amazement to see this old gringo dancing. A brave Vietnamese girl danced with me. Several of the lower-functioning students danced with me. Toan, of course, danced. Toan & I put on a dance exhibition, with me being largely a foil for Toan. Some very patient girls taught me a Vietnamese dance; at least I got the steps, if not the rythym. Then the program turned formal, with speeches and presentations; all the vets were there, and the director, I don't know what was the occasion. I gave a speech (I didn't see this coming). I avoided singing a song (which I did see coming!). Then the formalities were over and it was just a party, with lots of singing and dancing and good feelings. One of the low-functioning kids, about 10, did a break dance. (Luckily, he refrained from grabbing his crotch, rubbing his ass, and imitating a humping dog, which had gotten him a lot of laughs the previous morning, especially when he dropped his pants.) To my amazement, a shy little girl whom I love, Linh, got up on stage and sung a song with the microphone. I participated (clumsily) in a vietnamese dance exhibition. It was a great time, and the students were so warm and friendly that I completely changed my earlier opinion. Good feelings all around!

I will be home in a couple days, if they let me out of here. I believe they all think I am somewhat retarded; I may wind up in the Lego classroom.

If I have not gained 15 lbs. when I get home, it will not be the fault of the veterans. They are worried about me. Not only do I not eat meat, I do not eat enough food. They continually load my plate with the best goodies, fish & shrimp. They send most of the fruit home with me, plus they had two large bags of bananas delivered to my room. I have enough fruit to put out a blanket and start selling on the street. Tam is a lovely 61 year old woman veteran. She was not able to have children, and you can see the unfulfilled mother instinct at work. She is the only veteran who has much relationship with the children, many of whom are very loving with her. She has also taken me under her wing, and is going to make sure that I don't starve.

My desire in coming to Vietnam was to make some connections with and develop some rapport with the people. I have to say now that this trip has succeeded way beyond my expectations.