Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rewind to Vietnam

There were many, many sights, sounds and smells beyond the confines of the orphanage; and the transportation experience alone was enough to curl my stick-straight hair.

Ca Mau, the province we flew into and where our hotel was, is the southernmost province in Vietnam - and you can tell when you step off the plane.  The heat and humidity is oppressive, even at the end of October.  Luckily, our hotel had fantastic air conditioning units, and with my handy business card, I was able to keep it on even when we were out (in Europe and Asia, you have to put the room card in a slot in order for the electricity to function).

We melted as soon as we'd enter the Centre rooms.  They didn't use their air conditioning units much at all.  They usually felt sorry for us and turned it on, but they didn't work too well.  The babies weren't phased at all by the heat.  It was hard not to feel terrible for them, but's all they've known and they weren't sweating at all.  Some of the nannies would even put on long sleeves, and we saw several people riding their bikes in sweaters in the 100 degree heat. Meanwhile, the other two moms and I would typically shower at least twice a day.

Getting from Ca Mau was quite an experience, too.  Not for the faint-hearted flyer, for sure.  Remember the scene in Indiana Jones where he flies to the Middle East in a 1940's prop plane?  I'm pretty sure that I was on the same plane from the same era, and not unlike Indy, we landed in the middle of a rice patty  - on a single, short airstrip. I honestly don't think the landing strip was more than 500 feet. Breathe, mom.  And, it was by far the smallest airport I've ever been in.  There wasn't even a baggage claim area.  They loaded the baggage into a truck, drove it 100 feet and then unloaded it on the floor in a free-for-all.

Riding in a taxi was actually more harrowing than the flight.  No seat belts, riding at 45-50 mph, passing everything in sight, honking the whole time.  We had an hour round-trip drive every day to Bac Lieu.  As one of the moms I was with said, "the painted lines are just decorations."  In Cau Mau, the only cars on the road are taxis.  The rest are motorbikes, and most of them have at least two people riding them at one time.  I even saw families of four on the same bike.   Children standing on seats with no helmets, it made me cringe ever time I'd see one.

It's no exaggeration to say that I felt like I was in the middle of a National Geographic photo shoot every day.  The poverty in Ca Mau and the entire ride to the orphanage in Bac Lieu is severe.  People live in huts and shanties; hammocks serve as beds; dirt floors.  We saw people propelling their boats by using a long stick, and everyone wore the traditional woven hats to keep the hot sun off their heads.  The main industries in the southern provinces are shrimp and fish farming. 

This "house" is literally on the other side of the wall from the hotel.

"Downtown" Ca Mau City

Across the street from the hotel

A scene to the east of the hotel from the roof patio

I met an Australian who was staying at the hotel and was in town because he is a food inspector.  He said that the shrimp and fish were safe to eat (good to know - I ate a lot of shrimp), but that I shouldn't touch the honey.

 A traditional Vietnamese hot pot - delicious!

One night one of the wonderful hotel staffers took us to a market along the river.

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