By Gabi Safranavicius
Heavy eyes and empty bellies stepped out of the airport and into the odor clustered air. Time truly became relative and space seemed to slip away, lost somewhere in the crowd of Vietnamese, arms outstretched to welcome loved-ones from far away travels. Surreal steps taken into Saigon, the perfect beginning to an adventure.
Tears. Tears and the vacant feeling left after a through dig any remaining morality. War Remnants Museum left me hollow as a spineless book. I feel tortured to be part of a country that could inflict such pain, but the pictures remind me who the real victims are.
Day trip to Mekong to see the birthplace of a revolution. Journalist, camera crew, what is cultural emersion? The people at home want to know. We meet Kim Phuc’s brother and sister-in-law. We see the site of the bombing. We leave not completely unscathed.
Vietnam countryside, we learn not every quite sounds the same. We clean our clothes, shop the markets, and ride bikes through the backyards of local people. Peeks of third world life are enough for most, as the bike ride turns into a competition. Which white child can pedal away from poverty the fastest?
Hanoi here we come. Air is cloudy from the motorcycles that clutter the thin streets, magnifying the smell of gasoline and fish oil. A perfect retreat to never feel alone. As the days fly by I wonder who to pity more, the starving Vietnamese or the American starving for self-esteem?
Friendship Village, school and home for Agent Orange victims. Some of the children leek eminent joy, infecting the surroundings with the contagious smile. Others continue to stare through us, as if to ask, “Haven’t you done enough?” We learn that the logistics are simple. We exchange tax dollars for bombs, bombs for dead and disabled, dead and disabled for capitalism, and capitalism for tax dollars. I shamelessly brought toys, as if I could fill the void of expired opportunities these children will never have, with games. They don’t understand, that’s how we do it in my country.
We take to the crowded streets, time for souvenirs before our flight home. What does one buy to remember a third world country? You can’t buy poverty, political corruption, or inequitable circumstances, which only leaves jewelry and various polyester t-shirts. Walking the smog-filled streets I wonder, “Will I miss this place?” Will I miss the dirty, dense air, the fish oil, the congested streets? No. I will miss the smile and gratification of a merchant. The friendly countryside locals. The bashful children, curious, but so outspoken. For these reasons I know that it is the souls of the people that will bring me back here someday.