Destination – Vietnam
August 1, 2013   //   By:   //   Destinations, From the Road, International, Service Trips, Vietnam   //   Comments are off

Warning – This is not for those with a weak stomach

The announcement was right on time tonight. While the whole  group looked around confused, the province leaders where not phased in the least by the words spewing from the bullhorn outside. In Vietnamese…”the government is great! The government will take care of you. The government is on your side.” Over and over and over. This was the 5:30pm brainwashing, per our group leader. This happens at 5:30am, 11:30am and once more in the late afternoon. A reality check for our kids that we are no longer under the laws of the US constitution and cultural sensitivity has never been more important…Especially with local eyes watching and listening to the first Westerners they’ve seen since the war, or ever. Eyes that are suspect of our actions and and most definitely our intentions.

Free from the stares at the center of town, we were off to our hamlet by tuc tuc. Two motorized bikes pulling truck beds…the group sitting in the back on mini stools. We drove through the Mekong Delta weaving past single bikers and motorbikes, alongside shacks selling huge jack fruits and candy, swerving so our vehicle didn’t fall in the canals on either side of us, and passing men and women with their eyebrows raised at the site of our group. No stop signs, no lights, no turn singles, no rules. All was fair game on the road! Surprisingly, all seem to have impeccable offensive driving skills moving at the same pace. Criss crossing, turning left from the right lane, beeping once to say “I’m coming” and a second time to say “thanks for moving.” Breaks aren’t necessary until collision is immanent.

The mother and father of thIMG_3492e house welcomed us with open arms and shiny black gums and caped teeth. Mr. Ngan was still wearing the same pajamas I saw in a SH video, and I remembered his smile and laugh, and definitely the teeth. After a dinner of traditional pancakes stuffed with pork and shrimp wrapped in lettuce and dipped in fish sauce, pork and fish meatball soup, white sticky rice with pork and an edible part of a coconut tree, pork in a clay pot and pineapple with salt and peanut , we all sat to present our gifts of thanks to our hosts. going last I took my gifts to the table and said I was Jessica and handed him…FIU gear! He was so grateful and looked through the stack curiously as basketball shorts are nowhere to be seen in the Mekong Delta! Next, I handed him what seemed to be the most exciting gift of the night!  I bought a single serving coffe/tea mug/thermos. Although any child or adult in the US would say thanks and move onto the next gift, this man was floored!!! He had never seen anything like it and was jumping out if his seat in appreciation!! He said in Vietnamese laughing, “I just can’t believe you knew I drank so much tea.” After a while of laughing and shaking hands I told him that I saw him drinking tea on the video we made for SH earlier in the year. Roaring with laughter he sat and we just smiled at each other. Communication without language is more powerful than I remembered.

My next adventure was the following morning after 2 cups of strong coffee! If you go on multiple SH trips, you are bound to have a few laughable bathroom stories, and this one beats them all. It topples over the hot box mosquito infested tin latrine in the Himalayas of Nepal…even the three walled wooden structure open to nature so you don’t miss a single monkey sighting! This was on another level!

After coffee #2, me and the school chaperone (Becky) decided it was time to see if everyone had released since we have been on the trip. Funny to watch high schoolers respond to that question. When at the work site it must have been all that talk as Becky and I both had to go.
We knew what our only option was and we looked at each other and read each others minds that we HAD to go! We walked a few steps beyond our work site to the side of a neighboring house. We stared for a few minutes then couldn’t hold in the laugh of what was about to transpire! The toilet was hanging in mid air over a man made pool of water in the ground!!! Close your eyes and imagine…in the middle of the Mekong Delta with jungle foliage and canals everywhere. I walk up to the pool and prepare for my destiny studying the structure and how I’m going to work it. A few issues…the “bathroom” was suspended over a pool, and the tin walls were mid calf high!!! This means I’d have to crouch in typical Vietnamese fashion squatting with my ass close to my ankles (not good on the knees!). Then, there was no floor! Just two planks that were stabilized into the side of the pool with support beams below. Below me was a dirty pool of..well everyone’s business! Finally, what to wipe with. My only and best option available was ripped up newspaper and magazines in a cage bin hanging from the side of the structure. Better than nothing!

My thoughts were speeding…1. I don’t just have to pee!!!! 2. If my feet slip I’m falling into this families cesspool. Do I even need a three? 3. We are in broad daylight right next to our can I avoid mooning the entire group?? Time was up…have to go! I pulled em down, crouched quickly, started laughing as Becky was rolling in tears, put my head on my arm and had no mercy. The fall was a few meters, and Becky’s and my eyes met after what was done was done and her first words about my performance was, “impressive!” A perfect way to describe the high dive landing my business stuck for gold. *Please note that this was the closest bathroom option to our worksite (a five minute walk would have afforded us a western toilet, and all student accommodations had western toilets).

The day was winding down and I thought my bathroom fiasco would have been enough for one day, but there was an opportunity I couldn’t in good faith pass up.  It was dark as we road our tuc tucs back to the main square where we caught our bus to the hotel. One light shined from a street vendor in the corner of the circle. It could have been, home goods, etc. Becky and I submitted to our curiosity and walked toward the light. Our group leader Long followed. Before we could ask, Long told us, “This is great. Here they sell embryonic duck eggs.” I was more than confused. Why in the world would they be selling a fetus of duck on the street? The moment we arrived at the vendor and saw the eggs next to vegetables and other foods, I realized with great surprise that you EAT them!! For $.25 Long bought one and began the process of opening the egg. We were told it was boiled and to eat it with a bit of salt. Boiled egg with salt…sounds normal, right? With the back IMG_3496of A tiny spoon under the spotlight of the umbrella-ed vendor, Long lightly tapped the top of the egg.  When the shell pulled back, a brownish gray gunk was revealed. I took a step back and waited for Long to explain. Like it was normal he said,”see the feathers? This is the body.” Wait WHAT?? There was actually a small baby bird in that tiny egg?? Surprised by my question, Long said, “yes, I told you it was an egg.” I let him know that if he had told us a full tiny baby bird was going to be inside the moment we started walking I would not have made the walk across the circle. With a grimace on my face I watched Long take a few more bites. He explained it was a delicacy and a very popular part of a date night for couples. “Come oooooon,” he said with the you’re only in Vietnam once tone in his voice. Next was the legs and right in his mouth they went. So many questions about this little boiled egg…how did they know when the egg was “cooked” enough so it doesn’t hatch and it’s ready to be boiled? The brownish gray then showed shades of beige and red. Long then took the tiny spoon and filled it to the brim. It was the beak. He held the spoon up (It would have helped if you were there singing uza sape) a few inches from my own beak. At that moment, your image, daddy, went through my mind. First an image if you then straight to an image of Andrew Zimmern! Silently I thought…how could I not do this? How could I not do what I know would make a fantastic Bizarre Food highlight episode? Dad would do this with me, and i cant wuss out on something that’ll make for a lifetime memory, regardless of how absurd it really is.  I closed my eyes and opened wide. A squirt of warm juice sprayed the inside if my mouth as my teeth met. I was NOT going to spit it out. Even though I knew full well I had a baby bird in my mouth! Then came the familiar flavor of hard boiled egg! After I swallowed Long informed me that I also had the heart in my spoon! Of course I did! Becky was floored! We were both laughing and crying in amazement!!

This was a trip to remember with tons of adventure in the beautiful country of Vietnam!

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