February 19, 2014

Francis Parker - Vietnam 2014

Day 8: Final Day at Mekong Delta Homestay

Continuing with our efforts to reach out and socialize and thus gain a more intimate understanding of life in the Mekong River Delta, we hung out with several students at a local high school this morning.  Though the school was only a short ways away, riding our bikes through the precarious, narrow, and bumpy  passages while dodging oncoming motorbikes took some time.  Upon reaching the high school, we were greeted with the sight of many students in uniform playing various sports.  At first we were rather intimidated by this unfamiliar environment, but the friendly smiles and gestures of the students encouraged us to engage in badmitton, high jump, and volleyball. We were not necessarily coordinated in our badmitton attempts, but the students were patient and nothing but kind.  Some students also partook in a game of soccer (which we won), and a spirited game of duck duck goose explained though gestures and lots of laughter.  The only downside to all of this activity was the heat.  Our friends natrally took no notice of it while we were huddled in the shade downing entire water bottles.  Though most of them spoke no English, and we could only say hello and thank you in Vietnamese, we managed to reach a common understanding though playing these simple games.  Language is, of course, a large barrier to communication, but it can be overcome. And, of course, it was fun too. 

As is typical in the Mekong Delta, we caught and cooked our own dinner.  Fish, specifically mud fish, are caught with bare hands in canals.  Each day, a series of canals is filled with water.  Certain sections are dammed on either side and then drained, leaving fish swimming in shallow water and lots of mud.  Lots and lots of mud. So we had the oppurtunity to go into knee-deep mud (if not deeper) with baskets and catch these fish just as many local farmers and fishermen do daily.  We were muddier than we had ever been before.   There was plenty of high-pitched shrieking ("Something touched my leg!"  "It moved!"  "Eeek"), but after watching our guide grab a big one, catching fish became a competition.  Within minutes we were diving through the mud grabbing fist-sized fish with our hands.  This eventually devolved into covering ourselves in as much mud as possible, which logically meant that is was time for a swim in the Mekong.  Unsuprisingly, the muddy river did little to clean off the mud.  It really just made sure that we were all covered in a uniform layer of dirt left from the river.  Nonetheless, playing catch with a coconut in the Mekong river was an experience none of us will soon forget.

The fish were put directly from the basket and placed, still flopping, over the fire.  We the ever-hungry students gathered around the fire anxiously waiting for them to be cooked.  Once it was done, after an agonizing few seconds, we decended on the fish like locusts, chopsticks in hand, to eat the fish with salt and lime.  Fresh shrimp were also grilled, and some adverterous students ate the brain.  

The common thread thoughout our experiences at the Mekong has been immersing ourselves (literally) in a world radically different from our own.  We have been staying at a home in the Mekong, we have caught and cooked our own meals in the traditional way, and we have furthered our understanding of life here though simply hanging out with people. Though our worlds are so different, socialzing with the locals was a reminder that we still have much in common.  Words are important and would have made things (much) easier, but they were still ultimately unnessesary.  We all understand smiles, laughter, and the occasional ridiculous gesture; the rest just fell into place. 

--Emily, Alfonso, and Hannah

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