Part 5: A Parade
I survived. I spoke quietly to the dogs, and they let me pass by unharmed. It wasn’t until later that I realized they may have stationed themselves by that particular door on purpose, to guard the family home against critters looking for a new den.
The following morning, we walked to the bottom of the hill where our driver was waiting for us. He drove us into town to what must have been a favorite breakfast place for the family: a tiny storefront cafe on a narrow, busy street filled with people and pedicabs. We sat on wooden chairs at a table on the sidewalk and watched the throngs of people passing by.
Mai spoke to our waiter in Vietnamese as she ordered breakfast. I was expecting eggs and bacon, or French pastries, so I was really surprised when our waiter delivered huge bowls of steaming-hot soup to our table. Now THAT was a cultural difference that I didn’t see coming! The soup was wonderful, made of vegetables with just enough meat to add some flavor.
When we returned to the family home, Mai went inside to spend time with her parents while Barbara and I and a few of the brothers sat on the front porch to watch the slow parade of people and livestock passing by on the footpath. Every few minutes, someone walked by with a heavy load of rice or vegetables carried by yokes on their shoulders. Water buffalo slowly lumbered up and down the hillside, led by farmers dressed in their pajamas and coolie hats. People would often stop and stare at us for a few minutes, and then ask one of the brothers, “Nhung nguoi này là ai?” “Who are these people?” The brothers proudly announced that their American sister had come home to visit, and we were her American friends. Up to this point, I’d been wondering how we would be received by the Vietnamese people. I didn’t know if there would be animosity left over from the war, or at best, indifference; but we were treated like celebrities everywhere we went. It wasn’t the reaction that I was expecting. I discovered the reason for our popularity a few days later while visiting Mai’s uncle’s home. I’ll tell that story later.
Before long, groups of little kids began gathering in front of the house. After staring at us for a while, one of the kids would yell “HELLO!“. And then the others, one after another, would smile and yell “Hello!”, over and over again. This happened whenever we Americans were sitting outside on the porch.
The children would quietly follow Barbara and me as we walked on the footpath. If we smiled at them, they’d immediately run up and hold our hands and walk beside us. Barbara has red hair, and my hair was turning gray. If we sat down, the kids would reach up and touch our hair and marvel at the color, fascinated to meet someone who didn’t have the thick black hair they’d seen on every other person they’d ever known.
One day an elderly woman, probably in her 80’s, walked past us on the footpath carrying a load of scrap metal on her shoulder. I asked if I could try out her yoke, and she handed it over to me, smiling and shy that the American dude was paying her so much attention. I hefted the load onto my shoulder and slowly walked a few feet, struggling to stay balanced. I was amazed at how heavy the load was, and how the hard wood of the yoke dug into my soft American shoulder. I knew immediately that I wouldn’t last a hundred feet carrying that heavy load, and yet here was an elderly woman who probably carried heavy loads up and down the hillsides on dirt paths every day of her life. I stood there in awe as she continued down the path with her yoke on her shoulder.
To be continued...