Yesterday Lisa, Mimi and I travelled down into Long An Province in the Mekong Delta region as Em Thi, the mother of Le, Thi Kim Chi had invited us to visit with the family for the day. We travelled down by car and were greeted by Kim Chi’s younger brother who was waiting for us at the side of the narrow dirt road down which we had to drive, madly waving when he recognised us.
From the moment that we arrived at Kim Chi’s parent’s house we were overwhelmed with introductions to various members of the family. The scene reminded me of a Christmas Day in Australia (minus a Christmas tree) when all extended family members come and go at various times and the conversation and laughter just flows. Mimi had purchased a simple plastic building block toy which quickly became the focus of the children’s activity and we had brought down beer, coke, biscuits and sweets which were also duly focussed upon in their turn.
We had taken copies of the newspaper article from the Hobart Mercury with us and it was an extremely poignant moment when Kim Chi’s mother and grandmothers saw the image of her with her face transformed for the first time. I imagine that every day for the last 17 years or so Kim Chi’s mother has had to endure the torment of looking at her daughter’s damaged face and to see the reaction when she looked at that grainy photo was an extremely emotional moment and one that I will never forget.
We were treated to a huge lunch of local food which Em Thi had proudly prepared and served to us. The meal was delicious although by the time we had finished the first sitting we were ready to roll out the door as we were so full. Little did we realise that it was only the beginning of the eating experience. If there is one thing that Vietnamese people do well it is eating and we were a bit embarrassed that we could not keep up.
After lunch we were taken to the house of Kim Chi’s paternal grandmother. This old lady (the one chewing on the betel nut in the images) is a real trick, very cheeky and full of life. She explained to us that she has lived in her house all of her life and many generations have lived there before her. The house is constructed of palm thatch walls and roof and has a dirt floor worn smooth by countless numbers of feet. We were treated to tea from a unique dried coconut cosy while outside some fresh coconuts were harvested from the trees so that we could drink the milk.
From there we walked down narrow country tracks and across the now dry paddy fields to get to the house of one of Kim Chi’s aunties. This lady told us that her husband had gone to America and married a foreigner and that she now grows the rice in the field beside her house in order to feed her family. The cheeky grandmother asked me if I knew of any possible husbands for her daughter and I established that the man could be a foreigner (it was good enough for the husband), not too handsome otherwise too many women would be interested, but having a bit of money wouldn’t hurt. This was said all in fun and with a great deal of laughter from all family members including the aunt so I said that I would see what I could do. Here we ate steamed bananas and various other fruits and drank copious amounts of water as the day was getting very hot.
Finally we travelled the short distance back to Kim Chi’s parents house where we were treated to yet another full meal after which were literally bursting at the seams and said that really we had to get back to the city as it was getting late. Em Thi did not want us to leave and while hugging Lisa she began crying and finally broke down and sobbed so hard that she could not support herself. I lent a hand and the three of us stood hugging in the centre of her house while she let out much of the pain and emotion that has no doubt been stored for many years. Her elderly mother also became very emotional and just stood silently crying and touching her daughter whose tears were drenching Lisa’s shoulder.
We returned to HCMC tired and dusty and laden down with a bag of rice, a huge bunch of bananas, pomellos, star fruits and some coconuts fresh out of the trees. But mainly we returned to the city with fond memories of a close knit and friendly family who have welcomed us into their lives. When Kim Chi returns from Australia they want us to visit with them for three days so that we can spend one night in each house, such is the extent of their hospitality. It is very humbling to be greeted with such genuine warmth.
We have only played a small part in getting Kim Chi to Australia for this operation, there are many many people involved both here in VN and back in Oz and to all of you I convey the thanks of this family.
Clicking on the thumbnail image or here will bring up a slide show of images from our trip.