Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

Poetical Vision of Our Trip to Vietnam

By Volunteer Christy Fisher
Project VI Participant

Our trip to Vietnam has meant many different things to each participant. The interesting sights and activities have challenged us physically and mentally, occasionally linguistically and gastronomically, but most of all emotionally. My seeing each person react to these emotional obstacles has been almost as enlightening and heart-wrenching as the people we have helped during these two weeks.

Some participants, like our leader, Gia Hoa, have deep roots here in Vietnam. Some are shocked by the mirror images of their own lives here in a land so impoverished and foreign. Many children smile with eyes twinkling mischief. Business owners still drive hard bargains. But other participants have had to overcome the harsh contrasts we have seen. The children at the orphanage who will not smile-not for all the presents in our bags. Or the business "owners" who are 11-year-olds selling postcards or old men pedaling cyclos. Or the contrast of our group eating every night when those we work with may not.

I find that I cannot express my thoughts on this trip with an essay, with statements ending in periods. This trip has had no such stability for me, no logical organization and no conclusive resolves. So, instead of an essay, to express my thoughts on this trip I am turning to poetry. Poetry is the only way I can share the mixture of emotions I have felt throughout this trip. Undoubtedly my impressions will change over time; however, this is my beginning.

I) The First Center for Elderly & Handicapped

December 21st, 2000

Her arms round out the air

above her belly, bubbling up

with the baby, babies that

Before, long, long before.

Six, her fingers up, she tells me

though words are currency of no value

between us.

Between us a blank, an emptiness,

I know not and, not knowing,

can smile in understanding

the simplicity of six.

But she, this woman, this mother,

has eyes that surface tears.

Pulling two fingers together, and back,

and off, perhaps, if she could,

her head dropping back now, looking to heaven,

hand palm up to her forehead, eyes close.

I understand.

Two are dead.

Two more, she, this woman, this mother,

washes from her.

Her body, her stomach bearing downward

fingers like rainwater clearing

the collected life away.

I understand.

Two are lost.

Of the last two, she, this woman, this mother

shrugs.

She now knows not and not knowing

if they know

She is lost and dead to them.

II) The Orphanage

Christmas Day

The One Who Wouldn’t

Amongst the children

she stood out

with eyes as wide as heaven.

Smaller than most

but still not undersized.

No older than five,

a shock of black hair

and a frown as solid

as the bricks on which she stood.

Her hands gripping

a plastic car, a paper crane,

a piece of candy.

What more did she want?

What more could we give her?

All the others laughed and played

but this one wouldn’t.

III) Aboard the Bus between Saigon and Nha Trang

Christmas Day

How do you say please

in Vietnamese?

The banana trees

in the mountain breeze.

How do you say these

in Vietnamese?

IV) Complexities

How to open a banana

becomes important

from the end attached

to the bunch

or the end

free-form hanging in the air.

It becomes political

pregnant with seeds

of implication.

Nothing else matters.

V) Outside Vien Dong, Nha Trang

December 27th

A little boy named Kun

Today no lucky

Selling paintings

at the hotel.

Past eleven-thirty

Hello beautiful lady

so bad but to see

him to wonder if

fifty thousand dong

it is, after all, good

My father paint this

where one learns integrity

boot straps and all that.

The cash appears

For you, it cheap

fractions of cents count

ok, ok, ok, ok

not begging, but still

I will remember you always

what should I do

You buy it, I go home

I don't know.


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