Xin chao from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam! Xin chao means hello – one of 3 Vietnamese phrases I’ve learned so far. I just got to my volunteer house this morning after two hours of sleep in Bangkok. And what a contrast to my last accommodations! Instead of staying with just one local woman in a small farm village in Thailand, I live with a dozen other volunteers amongst all the chaos, crowds and cuisines of Saigon.
Our house includes 2 other Americans (1 from Chicago, 1 from Pennsylvania), 3 from Australia, 2 from China, 2 from France, 1 from New Zealand, 1 from Ireland and 1 from England. Quite the United Nations of Volunteers under one roof! I just learned the term “mossies” – a.k.a. mosquitos – from the Australians. Looks like I’ll be soaking in many other cultures, besides Vietnamese.
I sleep on a bunk bed with 3 other girls in the room. We each have a fan at the foot of our beds and no air conditioning.
8 of us girls share 1 bathroom (we’ll see how that goes…so far, so good). We have wifi, so I hope to share my stories with you all more often. We have a kitchen where a cook makes breakfast, lunch and
dinner, but I’ll be partaking in the street food pho sho (sorry, couldn’t help myself). I hear the smaller the chairs are at a street vendor or restaurant, the better and cheaper the food. Haven’t found any dog yet, but I did have my first authentic Vietnamese iced coffee today!
I’m looking forward to starting my volunteer activities tomorrow. I signed up for this volunteer trip through an organization, called International Volunteer Headquarters, but then they place us with a local group, called Volunteers for Peace Vietnam (VPV). I’ll be caring for disabled children at an orphanage and a hospital, switching off day to day. From what the VPV staff has told us, some people in Vietnam consider a disability a punishment for past crimes by the family or represents bad luck for anyone connected to them. So the families may abandon or neglect the child – or take the child to a disabled center as a last resort. We volunteers provide them the love and attention they so desperately need.
Tomorrow morning’s our orientation where we’ll learn more about our duties, then in the afternoon we have a Vietnamese language lesson. I need to learn how to say, “I don’t understand,” or “I’m not Vietnamese. I’m from America,” since some Vietnamese people are already talking to me assuming I understand them – just like in Thailand. On Saturday, we get to take a tour of the city, Sunday’s a free day, then Monday we start work with the kids!