Dear Trinh –
The last words you said to me were, “Don’t cry.”
I wanted to answer, ideally with my usual mix of sincerity and sarcasm, or at least with a forced, “Lol, I’m not,” but of course I was sobbing like the rain-soaked, newly-widowed engenue at the dramatic climax of any period piece filmed in the last twenty years. So instead, I tried really hard to smile at you and your mom, and your very sweet little sister while our bus left your village for the last time.
In the final installation of this year’s Global Village series, AmeriCorps Aziza
I’m gonna be honest, Trinh. I’m not really sure what happened out there. Not just Thai Binh, but Vietnam in general, or at least the parts of it I saw. I get the basics – Global Village, Vietnam, bricks and mortar and bonding and so many coffees. It was a great time, and I met great people, you included. There was site-seeing, and karaoke, and cement mixing, and this one time, my Thai Binh roommate (and fellow AmeriCorps, Margie) found a lizard in our shower, and that was a fun and unique way to start our day. It was a lot of work, and a lot of fun, but even taken together, none of that makes for the ‘life-changing experience’ I was promised. And yet here I am, the cynic, feeling…changed.
So, I’m counting little moments, offsite and on, because it’s the only way I can think of to talk about it all. Every afternoon when swarms of dragonflies would signal snack time. Sitting on a side walk with two women who spoke no English and somehow magically sharing a joke anyway. Watching Stan play with the kids during construction and having to fight not to sob (again), because as much as I call myself a cynic, everything to do with babies turns me to mush.
Or when we first met, and I asked how old you were. You told me your birth year, and when I correctly guessed your age, we found out we were five days (and ten years) apart.
When I tried to get your attention on our last day, and you, being the social butterfly you are, turned away to chat with someone else. I was willing to wait, but your adorable little sister, whose name I never even learned, looked at me, and then at you, and then she grabbed your arm and you stopped.
Seeing one of the homeowners hide his happy tears behind his new house on the day of the home dedication.
Writing these out, it feels a little easier to understand why leaving was so hard. Weirdly, still nothing I could put into words. Nothing tangible, nothing I could bring home and present to my friends and family. Stories are one thing, but memories are another entirely. And I could write all day about every aspect of going to Vietnam, building a house, playing with the children who were going to live in it. Meeting you, and saying goodbye. But I can’t give those things to someone else. I can hardly explain them. And to be honest…I’m not sure I’d want to.
So, all I can say is this, Trinh. Thank you to you, and your family, and your village, and your country. You gave me a gift that is literally beyond describing, and a few bucketfuls of mortar will never be near enough to repay you. All I can hope is that everyone who tries a Global Village trip after this can come away with memories like the ones I have of you.
Write back soon,
This letter first appeared at: https://www.habitatgsf.org/blog