Westridge School – Vietnam 2014 – April 4th
Published April 7, 2014
The Westridge students have not had internet access for a few days.
I woke up this morning to a chorus of teenage complaints about the sticky and sleepless night many of us had without air conditioning. Tempers were naturally running about as hot as the Vietnamese air we’ve all come to love since our arrival, but the laughter returned after a breakfast of eggs, bread, fruit, and coffee as we made our way to Hoa Ninh High School to meet some new friends.
We assembled on the school’s blacktop to reapply sunscreen and brush up on our volleyball skills, then headed into a classroom full of fifteen- to eighteen-year-old students to play a game. The objective was to work together to name an animal, a country, a public place, a famous person, and a career, all starting with a given letter. As we were calling out names of famous people that started with “h,” a girl named Nhu and I simultaneously yelled “Harry Potter” and “Ho Chi Minh.” We looked at each other in shock before bursting into laughter because, though I have spent days on end reading and re-reading J.K. Rowling’s beloved series, and though there are posters of Uncle Ho in nearly every Vietnamese building I’ve visited, I did not yell “Harry Potter” and she did not yell “Ho Chi Minh.”
Once the game was over, having all sweated through our clothes, we decided it was time to go outside for some exercise and sunshine. We all dispersed across the blacktop, and somehow I ended up on the volleyball court. I can picture my mother laughing as she reads this—I have never excelled at any activity involving projectiles. Many balls hit the net and innocent bystanders, and though we played poorly and out of position, our USA vs. Vietnam volleyball match was full of grins and laughter. I’m still bruised from serving and bumping with poor technique, but I’ll admit that it brings me a small and perhaps twisted sense of athletic pride and toughness that I rarely experience. We left our new friends sunburned, sweaty, and hungry, but filled with joy for all of the new connections we had made.
We stopped for lunch and then headed back to the homestay for a bike ride around the village. As a reward for crossing a narrow and rickety “monkey bridge” with our bikes at our sides, Hao spoiled us with ice cream bars at a little shop along the way. We made it back with only a few complications (namely falling off the trail, popping a tire, and breaking a bike) just in time to go mud fishing. A section of the stream behind the house had been dammed already, so all that we had to do was shallow it out with a couple of stringed bucket systems that shouldn’t have been as difficult to use as we found them to be. Once we had attracted enough amused neighbors with our struggles, the students of Westridge School for Girls, established in 1913, waded thigh-deep into the mud to catch an afternoon snack. As a vegetarian, I’m not particularly interested in fishing, but watching the ordeal was one of the highlights of the trip. The hunt began with baskets crafted specifically to trap the fish in the mud and allow the fisherwoman to reach in and grab it. Madison made sounds that I’m pretty sure only dolphins could hear and Sophia’s guttural shouting kept us all alert and attentive. In the end, we had a bucketful of fish that Maren and I were tempted to set free while the others’ backs were turned. Unfortunately for the fish, our group barbecued what I am told was a delicious snack.
The fish was only an appetizer. When we sat down for dinner, we were presented with dish after dish of noodles, rice, tofu, fish, vegetables, spring rolls, and soup. It was incredible. After our stomachs were filled to maximum capacity, (except for Maren’s—she’s impressed us all by proving consistently that she is a bottomless pit when she is hungry) Hao led us in some “reeducation camp” activities. We divided up into teams, seniors vs. juniors, and were given three tasks, the first of which was to collect what Hao called “treasures” around the yard and bring them back to our teams in a relay race. What Hao neglected to tell us was that the “treasures” were garlic cloves hidden in bowls of flour and that we needed to collect them using only our mouths. The juniors won this first battle and the seniors were left powdery and slightly bitter, knowing that we would need to pay for their sodas the next day. The next task was a three-legged stomping battle. Two people from each team tied one person’s left leg to another person’s right leg. The person with her left leg free tied two balloons to her ankle while the other person’s objective was to pop the enemy duo’s.
~ Sarah Garcia