thought and written on 18th February
I’m writing this from a hotel room two weeks after the end of my placement, overdue post that I’ve been rehearsing in my head for a long long time. For as much as it has come later than I wanted, I am glad I waited. Now that I’m in Phnom Penh, and the two weeks travelling that I’ve done so far, have given me the chance to think through my year in Hanoi, at Hoa Sua and as a VSO volunteer.
The last month or so in Hanoi were not easy. Throughout the year I, like other people I’ve met in Vietnam, went through very intense highs and lows, more so than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. And yet, if that can make sense, these feelings kind of got together during my last few weeks in Hanoi. I was ecstatically happy for all that was to come with the end of my placement with VSO – the adrenaline rush that novelty and the unknown bring, as well, of course, the prospect of seeing my family, relatives and friends (and stuffing myself with cheese).
At the same time, I was struck by an unspeakable sadness to leave the place that has undoubtedly become my second home. For a little more spice, sprinkle that sense of duty that will not allow you to leave without thinking that a year is certainly not enough, and if you could only do an extra six months…But I knew that if I did decided to extend, that would probably have been the beginning of an endless request for extensions, and sometimes, when a chapter has to close, it has to close. I think I’m beginning to be clever at that.
So – conclusions on the experience? It was a spectacular year – without a doubt. It’s been the year that has given me the chance to learn so much about myself. I am working at the accepting part now. It’s also been the year in which I understood the real meaning of humbleness, determination, acceptance in situations where you have very little control over situations. In other words, I think Vietnam has taught me how to let go, with a smile.
I have left so many friends back in Hoa Sua – and to all of them I am grateful for giving me such a fabulous and rewarding time. Most of all, though, I have left my little sisters, Hieu and Nhung, and that hurts more than I ever imagined.
Hieu and Nhung are the girls with whom I’ve shared my days throughout the last 6 months. It’s certainly not been easy on them: not only did they have to put up with my crazy ideas on how we could improve communications, but most importantly, they had to learn what communications is, and does, and means, introduce it as a whole new concept to the entirety of Hoa Sua, and develop tools that would facilitate the whole process, whilst integrating in a new environment, and and and.. Pant pant…and they’re doing in it. They’re doing it. All by themselves.
I have to laugh now to how I kept panicking throughout my time in Hoa Sua, wondering what would be the impact of my presence there. And there’s a story that I like to tell:
One day, towards the end of one of our regular meetings I asked them: “What would you like me to focus on during these last few weeks?”
They looked at each other, exchanged a few words in Vietnamese, giggled and said: “We’d like you to teach us how to be positive like you”.
We’ve come long way, through happiness, disappointment, hilarity, anger, and more, and we’ve taught each other and learned from each other – I am totally confident now that I don’t need to be here for them, because they will know how to develop what we started together.
What they don’t realise? Is that it’s them who’ve taught me the secret of being positive!
Allow me another anecdote to show something else that fills me with pride.
On my last day, as I was saying my goodbyes in my usual clumsy manner, one of the girls said to me: Patty, would it be ok if we keep asking for your help even when you’re home?
To which I replied: Of course, you can count on me, always.
And after a brief pause:
“Yes, thank you. But Patty, we want to be able to do this independently”.
At which point I had to kiss them goodbye and run away.
Here they are! Hieu on the left and Nhung on the right..