Trip Start Oct 23, 2011
22Trip End Nov 12, 2011
First break time at the work site - Ngan prepared snacks for us each morning and afternoon and the one thing that is consistent here is the presentation. Food is presented with an artistic flair whether a simple plate of fruit at the work site, lunch in someone's home, dinner in a small family run restaurant or dinner in a fancy hotel restaurant. The Vietnamese serve their food with style and I was continually amazed at seeing the same ingredients presented with different sauces and in different combinations to create so many different and delicious dishes. I shouldn’t be surprised at their mastery of rice but I am. I am familiar with fried rice, steamed rice, rice pudding, white rice, brown rice, and basmati rice and there it ends. Many of their sweet treats are rice based, some Jell-O-like and some cake like in an infinite variety. It seemed everything we asked about had rice in some form. Adaptation.
A family that lived about 10 minutes down the road opened their home to us for lunch, for naps, for use of the bathroom and the women looked over our injured all in a small home with 2-1/2 rooms. This was home to three generations of one family, mother, father, married son, pregnant daughter-in-law and grandson. The main room was used as a living/dining/sleeping area with an alcove between the main room and kitchen area that housed a sleeping platform. Along the side of the house was a long narrow room with a tiny kitchen at the back (2-burner propane stove and outdoor wood fire). The bathroom was outside, in the back of the house; it was closed in for privacy and rather than the hole in the ground I expected a porcelain squatty potty with a barrel of rain water for washing and flushing, simple yet effective and from what I understand a huge improvement over conditions the team faced last year yeah!
The women hosting us were unfailingly cheerful and made us feel very welcome in their home throughout the day. I am not sure which of the older women was the actual homeowner but the two older women did most of the meal preparation and the daughter-in-law did most of the dishwashing and after lunch cleanup, she stayed in the kitchen.
So, each day around noon we would clean up and take the 10-minute walk along the river to the home where our lunch was prepared and served. If you were lucky enough to need a restroom break earlier in the day you would get a glimpse of what was in store for lunch and if you were really lucky get a sample. Ellen wandered down at just the right time one day and learned how to make spring rolls and was put to work; they were beautiful and delicious.
We looked forward to lunches, each day better than the last. Served family style there was, of course, bowls of rice and usually two or three different dishes containing lots of vegetables mixed with either pork, duck, fish or chicken, always interesting flavors and always delicious. There were only a couple of things that I really didn’t care for and I can’t really tell you what they were. Many of the vegetable names did not translate but some were quite recognizable, green beans, mushrooms, squash, and potatoes. Sometimes third dish would be a soup or, my favorite, spring rolls and fresh fruit for dessert. We had two vegetarians who also were given delectable dishes, always more than they could eat but there was plenty of help at hand. Our hosts made sure no one went hungry.
Typically after lunch the women encouraged us to rest, offering their sleeping platforms and pillows. The quick ones grabbed hammocks strung along the water and were quickly sound asleep. Although the platforms were tiled and like sleeping on the floor it seemed to matter not and actually felt good to recline and realign all the vertebrae after a morning of heavy lifting. Some slept soundly and others rested while some just visited. The traditional afternoon siesta, in the heat of the day lives on in Vietnam.
Our walk to and from lunch was fraught with invisible dangers and the scene of most accidents. Our first casualty was Mary who realized that after a very hard morning of work in the direct sun she was getting dehydrated and asked for a packet of electrolytes which she put in her pocked intending to take when she returned to the work site. She didn’t make it back. Somewhere along the path she did a face plant cutting the area near her eye, breaking her glasses and camera, lots of blood and an eye that became more colorful as the days passed. She said she was okay but Julie took her back to the lunch house, cleaned her up and ordered her to stay put, which she did.
One day, after a noontime torrential downpour turned the pathway into a long slip and slide on the way back from lunch David slipped and fell, cutting and scraping the front of his leg, again lots of blood and out came the first aid kits. The pathway was treacherous when wet, as were the 3 bridges we needed to cross, 1 wood and 2 concrete.
There was always something new to see on our walk back and forth from the lunch house. Bright pink growths were spotted on a grove of trees in a flooded rich with algae bloom. At first we thought pink leeches, they were about the right size and shape but whose ever heard of pink leeches. I finally asked . . . snail eggs.
Two water buffalo and a calf that were seen coming and going from the field. I only caught them already back in their pen.
Walking the opposite direction one day Jean and I were invited into the home of one of the little girls who frequented the work site. Her mother and the friends who were visiting with her talked to us for a long time, of course we didn’t understand a word they said but there were many smiles, laughter and a feeling of privilege that they had invited us into their home. They were also very touchy, feeling our arms and legs. I don’t now if they were wondering how we could be so strong to work on a house of just amazed at how big we were, probably the latter. The next-door neighbor then invited us into her home and proudly showed us framed wedding photos of her children now and living away from the village.
As we continued down the path we saw a man coming up from the river with a net full of fish and asked if we could take a photo, we had seen similar penned areas along the river and figured some of them were fish pens. He returned to the water, submerged himself with just his hat floating on the surface and brought up more fish. I didn’t even like putting my gloved hand in the river to wash off the tools but he was happy to be harvesting dinner for his family, oh my, are we ever spoiled.
And, last not least we found the Fuller Brush Salesmen are alive and well, delivering colorful brushes in rural Vietnam.