Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Today, I said the first of my goodbyes to Viet Nam.
The people I've met here have become some of my closest friends, some I now count as family, and I'm so happy to have had this experience. Some have them have left months ago already, and I haven't yet, nor ever will forget them.
It hasn't been a holiday, I think I may have worked longer hours and put more work in here in the last nine months than I ever have before in my life! And there have been some kicking-myself-in-the-head-
would-be-more-useful days but there have been so many more amazing days to make up for it.

Today, one little girl from our program died.
Trang was six years old and attended the hospital for disabled children that we work at here in Tam Ky. She was a sad and frightened little girl and so never let any of the volunteers work with her. She cried all through her physio therapy every single day but her dad kept smiling for her, trying so hard to do everything and anything to help her. But this week, she got an infection in a sore at the base of her spine and the fever killed her. We can only hope her next life will be happier.


Today was the first day I've felt the slightest bit well since I got knocked for six by a full on stomach infection on Friday. And Today was just one of those days where everyone I talked to was lovely, no one tried to rip me off, happy days!

Today was one of those days where everything that could happen did, and it made me remember what I love about this country and why I stayed so long. And even though saying goodbye will be difficult, I'm so lucky to have just as amazing friends and family to go home to who I'm really looking forward to seeing.

And tomorrow's a whole n'other day ...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

which way is home again?

wow, it's been a lot longer than initially expected, eh?

so, in just over two weeks I'm leaving Viet Nam.
never have I understood the phrase 'mixed emotions' better.
I cannot wait to get home but I'll miss this lot.

it's been such an amazing year. I've done so much, met so many amazing people, missed so many amazing people. after two weeks in Seoul, three months in Viet Nam, three weeks in Northern Laos, three weeks in Northern Thailand, three weeks on the Thai / Malay border and then another six months in Viet Nam I'm finally going home! partly only because I have to, partly because I can't stay here much longer and expect keep my sanity!

I had coffee with GVN's operations manager and director today who asked me when I would be coming back to VN and how long for....holy Moses, I'm not even gone yet!
it's nice to be asked that though, I guess right now they all think they'll miss me.

I have letters to write to all my wonderful friends I've met this past year, I have over sixty photos to print to give to folks, I have bags to pack and presents to buy...

so this is most likely my last entry on this blog.
there have been so many stories I've written in my head, or written in my diary that just never made it to screen. maybe they'll make a book someday, maybe I'll tell them to my grandkids...hmmm...

Friday, 13 March 2009

happy days

there's a lot to be happy about, so here's a short list:

>Not firstly, but most immediately, I'm wearing jeans for the first time in almost ten months, you really don't know how good that feels!
>And as of today, The Fundraiser is over. Which means C-dawg will be returning to VN verrrrrrrry soon with tons and tons of cash. And we get to see her again, that will be amazing!
>We're on the brink of exterminating scabies from the Baby Orphanage, I hope. And the nits are on their way out of both orphanages too. I think that's something the kids will appreciate!
>Although I will be heartbroken leaving here, I'm going home soon. And I can't wait to see everyone.
>My worms are gone! Happy happy days. And judging by how well I've been feeling the last week or so, I'm guessing I may have had them (or whatever it was) for quite some time - maybe seven months?
>The Four Agreements.
> It's St. Patrick's Day on Tuesday, and I might be getting some Guinness...!


Sunday, 8 March 2009

happy women's day

it's big news here, so it got me thinking about all the amazing women I know.

*the woman who seems to be made entirely of love. who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in every role she has ever had and left everybody she's ever cared for or helped with a feeling of actually being cared about.
*the woman who, although she is not a single mother by choice, has raised four of the most beautiful children I have ever met and has always loved them, not just with the strength of two but of hundreds.
*all the women who have chosen to be single mothers. and two in particular, one almost twenty years ago and the other after years of heartbreak and suffering.
*my two designer friends who took the chance the recession gave them and have showed a woman's true flexibility - one's now a college lecturer and the other a logistics manager.
*the woman who packed up all her glitter and skipped to LDN in a bold act of faith.
*the movie maker/journalist woman of all-round-awesomeness who I wish I'd been more like back in the day.
*the woman who will celebrate her son's first birthday this week, who took a potential tragedy and has turned it into a fountain of information, support and love for anybody who wants it.
*the woman who made one of the biggest aesthetic sacrifices any woman can make and lost all of her hair for the benefit almost 150 children - and inspired many more adults in the process.
*the woman who left her heart behind in VN to go home and earn money to make her dreams come true and was brave enough to fall in love anyway.
*the woman who rarely takes even an hour off from her work to change and improve the lives of almost 400 children in VN.
*the women who haven't let past heartbreaks break their hearts forever. and particularly the one who had the faith and courage to hold on to hope from somewhere in Brazil long enough to not let it slip through her fingers, long may it last!
*the woman who finally got 'round to getting to university in her forties and get the degree and the job that she was always meant to.
*the woman who took a risk because she could, saw the troubled times through and who I now think, and hope, can say it really was worth it.
*the woman who has been a surrogate mum to hundreds of children and volunteers and taken care of me every day for the last four months - always with the biggest heart and smile!

that is to mention but a few of the exceptional women I have the honour of knowing.
you have all inspired me and I hope you are all inspired by the exceptional women you have in your lives.

and then there are all the women who will never read this. the ones I have met since I got here, those who have lived through not just one war but a lifetime of them. who have lost husbands brothers and sons but yet retained their dignity, beauty and will to live. the women who grew up in the midst of war but have not let hatred taint their lives. and of course, the little women of the future, the ones who inspire me to get out of my bed every morning.

I can only wish for them, and every young girl and woman in the world, a role model - at least one woman to inspire them to be strong, independent, loving and everything else they have the potential to be.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

this minute

what's going on

I think my blogs are sometimes not exactly stories from my travels so much as questions raised and random thoughts...

So, here's a really quick update of what's going on here.

We're about to eradicate scabies from the baby orphanage hopefully. Damn, it's been a long time coming seeing as we can't get the appropriate treatment in Viet Nam but some of this month's volunteers brought some with them and hopefully it will be sorted soon.
We're working on a plan to get rid of the head lice at Home of Affection. How? They all go out every day to school, where most of the other kids have nits too. But we can't do nothing.

The library at Home of Affection is going amazingly! The kids love reading so so much, it's amazing we never thought of it sooner. I worry how it will go when I'm gone seeing as it's a difficult enough melee to manage but the kids know the score at this stage so I guess they'll be able to help the future volunteers.

The daily activities at Baby Orphanage is rocking their socks! Mondays we do music. Tuesdays are sports days. Wednesday is crafts. Thursday is dressup and then Friday is catchup on a day we ended up missing or a random mix of everything or 'spa day' or whatever. They love it so much. I think dress up is the one they love the most. But we're hoping that sports day will teach them some games they can play together when we're not there. It's not as common as you might think for them to play together. There are a few couples of best friends but mostly they sort of seem to hang out alone, or in the babies room helping out. It's a pity really.

My class at Home of Affection are doing so well with their English. They were actually scarily quiet and attentive this evening. Usually I have to do a little pleading to get them to sit down but they were all up for it tonight. And they've almost got Three Blind Mice down pat. Apart from Khanh who is just too cool for singing.......Gah!

Sofia reached her $10,000 goal for her headshave, amazing, wonderful and beautiful! Her hair is growing at the rate of knots. Although Tam, a most beautiful four month old girl at BO still has longer hair than her after getting her crazy mohawk chopped off.
We're spending that dosh like you wouldn't believe too. Buying cribs, mattresses, new kitchen utensils and bowls/spoons etc. Nappies, babywipes and all that jazz are on the monthly expenditure list now and well, it won't last forever but it's going to go a long long way.

And my calendar, designed by the lovely Ems and sold by my awesome folks, has brought in approx $5,000. When I think about it, it's crazy! When I decided to stay I really didn't have the money to pay for my accommodation etc. But I figured that I was coming here to do a good job and that the universe is perfect and I would trust that it work out ok. I was hoping to raise about $1,200 maybe, if I was lucky. Man, was I lucky! And the kids too, that money has bought so much, you wouldn't believe. I have a list of everything though!

The kids at Disabled Hospital are continuing to make progress and make us believe in the baby massage and physio goals that Roz taught us all while she was here. It's amazing to see some of them improve so much in such a short space of time. Sinh is actually focussing on faces now and not just his fingers and he's talking and moving and getting really angry at the hot weather!

Although I don't have favourite kids, or at least don't show favouratism, I'll give a wee rundown on a few of the mitchers.
Hieu seems to be over his bellyaches. It was really getting him down for ages but he's not nearly as clingy as he used to be, happy days for him. He's a three year old version of Brad Pitt as far as I'm concerned. Gorgeous!
Choi is now getting ready to start walking. I took her into training for it a few weeks ago and they've had to move her into a bigger crib to stop her climbing out now. Nice work!
Han, the beautiful five year old little lady with CP is going great guns wth her new family in Texas. She's even going to school now, which with her attention span and demand for attention I can imagine is difficult but I'm sure she loves it.
Thao has started calling round to the house a lot. I worry it will do her more harm than good when I'm gone, incase the volunteers don't let her in but she's just such a sweetheart I can't refuse her. Maybe I'll start shortening her visits soon. But combing all the lice out of her head on Monday afternoon and letting her take a shower here was just to easy to not to. She's nine and she really don't smell so good usually, it couldn't hurt for her to have a hot shower once in her life could it?

And of course, it's never all good. The scabies has really taken it's toll on all the kids, it's so awful. Listening to Sofi articulate how bad she feels and then comparing how her skin looks to theirs made me realise how awful they must actually feel. They had blisters and everything. Covered.
Sofi and Mr Tuan had to take a six year old girl to the hospital today - she's been sick for a year and her poor poor parents in the mountains didn't realise there was anything they could do for her. It might be too late to really repair the damage, her spine is curved right over from lying in pain all day every day not moving. It doesn't bear thinking about - her pain or the helplessness her parents must be feeling. They're from so far up in the mountains they don't even speak much Vietnamese, (they have their own language in many hilltribes). It must be so difficult for them.

For all the good work we're doing it's still never enough for some kids. In Da Nang, four kids have run away from the Social Support Centre in the last week. GVN needs to set up it's own foster home asap, but that's going to be very diffcult. Paperwork will be the least of the worries.

Ok, so if you're not bored by now, I'll update this with some pictures soon.

As always, thanks y'all for reading.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

the future

and how old do you have to be before you're called a 'grown up'?

I'm leaving Viet Nam soon. Well, it's still almost eight weeks but it feels like it's very soon. I'm finishing up with GVN at the end of this month and then spend April in Hoi An helping Carrie to get herself set up for her work in her new foundation.

Then I go to Saigon for Mrs Hanh's brother's (possibly the most handsome man in Viet Nam, Sofi and I are sorry to see him go from our grasps!) wedding at the end of April and sometime soon after that, home.

I can't wait to go home. Although, I really do think it will break my heart quite a lot to leave here. And I'm very sure I will be more homesick for here than I ever was for home. I think a part of that is that I have no idea when I'll get back here, although I know without a shadow of a doubt that I will sometime. There was always the definite fact that I would be going home, even though the dates kept changing.

And then when I get there, wow, I've no idea what happens next. With no job and no real career, no car, no money, no house I don't know where I'll start. At least I guess, I won't have any debt so that's something. I had always thought as a teenager that at 25, I would have some of this stuff sorted...!


I start my new 'job' here tomorrow as an English teacher at the local university. It's three hours a week at $15 an hour. That's $45 a week! Do you know what I could do with $45 a week?! Wow!
Tonight, I gave Lorraine, one of the new volunteers, a massage and she said afterward that it " was the best massage I've ever had (she's 63), it's all I could ever want or need in a massage". How cool is that? And then when Carrie gets back here, I'm going to be helping her with some design concepts for her new restaurant she's setting up here.

So, I could maybe teach English, I could maybe study massage/physio or something in that vein and practice? I could maybe, hopefully work as a designer in there somewhere but really, I have no idea. First things first, I think I'll be going to spend some time with all the people I've missed so much while I've been here and hope that the homesickness for this new home doesn't bore all of them!
Oh yeah, and I suppose, eventually, I'd like to actually work overseas like this and get paid for it for a year or two. That would be fun.

Having Randall (69) and Lorraine here this month is leading me to believe I might actually do all of these things in time. You should see this pair go, they're awesome! Lorraine can't cycle because she twisted her knee badly a few weeks back coming out of the surf but Randall took to the crazy Vietnamese traffic yesterday morning to make the 10km round trip to baby orphanage without a bother. I love it!
And I want to be like them when I grow up, whenever that may be!

animals, animals, animals

and none of 'em pets.

So, we've got scabies at Baby Orphanage. Sofia's got the scabies.
We have nits at Home of Affection, Meghan got nits just before she left at the end of last month.

And me? I've got worms. Apparently. (eugh, the thoughts of it are too much, I can't link a picture...sorry!)
Either that or I'm pregnant, which, I think it's safe to say, is unlikely.

They're stealing dogs on the streets to sell for meat, now that the economic crisis is effecting this country in a way I hope my friends and family at home will never experience or understand. I'm not sure that I even really do.

And we don't even have a pet here in Tam Ky since the goldfish died...

Monday, 9 February 2009

too many questions

but maybe there isn't an answer...

So the last four weeks or so have been a bit of a struggle really. I've felt so claustrophobic at times, or maybe just purely frustrated. I've felt like a million miles away couldn't be far enough. Not from the children, not from the work, but just from myself, from the noise around me and inside my head.
I have struggled to remember why I am here. Why specifically I am here, what am I doing that anybody else couldn't do? And I know none of us are irreplaceable but fact is, I made a decision to give up a lot to be here and I found myself questioning why.
So I've been unhappy, unhelpful sometimes, and the complete antithesis of the person I want to be or thought I was.

Last week, a good friend of mine, a girl who I had lived with for the two years before I left Ireland passed away. She was diagnosed with lymphoma just before Christmas. In my naivety I thought she would be well on the way to recovery by the time I got home. I thought I had all the time in the world, I thought she had all the time in the world. But as it turned out, the very drugs that were supposed to be helping her did nothing more than speed up her illness and send her from this world earlier than anyone had ever thought.
So by being here, where I am supposed to be doing something that matters, I missed being there for a friend when she needed people most. I'm missing being at home with my family when I think I could help them.

I came here first to learn about a new culture, a new part of the world. Then all the other things I learned just bowled me over, the love I felt for all the children almost broke my heart. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed.
But now, now I feel like all I have left to learn are lessons that I don't necessarily want to learn right now. Lessons like how time passes and changes things no matter how little we realise or don't want it to. Lessons like no matter how much you want to help someone, in a world of paperwork and permission seeking, that could take years. Like how even when you're doing something you believe in, sometimes it takes more than that belief to keep you going...

I've decided that maybe, just maybe, not all that I'm here to learn is going to be good, and maybe I have more than my belief in myself to keep me going. Thanks to some awesome friends, I got what I needed from them to keep me going.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

it's the simple things

Like tickles and lemons...

No matter how many toys and bubbles and stickers we take with us to the orphanages, do you know what the kids love the most?

Its fun, it's free and it's one on one contact for the kid as long as it goes on. It’s bonding and it's play and it's silly. And it's so so easy. I had one little girl follow me today trying to provoke me to tickle her some more after I'd gone on to do something else. She’s only lived at the orphanage a few weeks now and the only real contact she's gotten lately from us has been when we've been picking out her nits...so the tickles were a real treat for her!

And lemons
Tonight, I have a bit of a sore throat, so I decided to go across the road to the little fruit and veg stall to buy some lemons. But they didn't have any. The lady pointed over to the other side of the junction to another stall but she didn't have any either, she pointed me up the road away from the house.
As I was walking along a motorbike passed and then I heard someone calling my name. It was Chau, a girl who works as a translator for us in another city.She's here in Tam Ky visiting friends for a few days. She told me the market was probably closed but maybe I could borrow a lemon from our neighbouring coffee shop?
So I headed back to the house only to see Chau pull up her motorbike down the street a little in front of me. Her friend hopped off the back and had run into a grocer's shop I hadn't seen. Chau explained what was happening and how her friend would get them for me for a good price, double prices are rampant here!

So now I'm sitting here drinking my hot lemon and wondering how long I could be walking around Cavan or Dublin before I'd meet someone who, [a], would bother stopping or pulling over or [b], who would actually go out of their way to help me find a lemon!

It’s the simple things that make life good!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


don't always mean the wound is healed...

Today, we were at the hospital for disabled children with our visiting physiotherapist, Roz who is here for two months. All the parents knew she was coming so we had a big crowd already.

And then another visitor, a very very old looking lady.

She asked me how old I was, and I told her I was 24, [in Vietnamese] look at me go, understanding this old lady with a mouth full of betel leaf!
I asked her how old she was, ooh, she's 84 years old. Wow.
And then she started talking too fast for me to understand.
I looked to Mr. Tuan, our translator for help. He looked at the lady and then looked at me and said "your father..."

My father what?!

The old lady started rubbing her arm - my father sprayed Agent Orange and Napalm on this country....

The war is over, but never forgotten. It only ended 33 years ago.
If this was her instant reaction, who else thinks like this?

All the children call us "My" - every white person is automatically seen as American.
What do they think of us? They don't know anything of the war, they just know the 'Americans' come to play with them and give them food and teach them. When they learn about the war what will they think? Will it change how they feel about us and our work? Or will it affect how they feel about the war?

Only yesterday we went to a provincial conference celebrating international investments and foreign organisations. There were representatives from almost every NGO based in our province, there were expats and volunteers, there were Vietnamese colleagues of all these people. All of them victims of the war in some respect.

But still, no one forgets.

So anyway, I told her, no no no, I'm Irish, no no no no no!
As she was leaving she passed me by again;

Betel Leaf Lady: 'Where are you from?'
Me: Ireland.
BLL: 'Where are you from?' [expression says, "oh, the dumb American can't understand me!"]
Me: I-R-E-L-A-N-D
Me: ok ok, England, you know England?
BLL: 'Of course I do. Your nose is ugly.' [pointing to my piercing]