15th Oct 2009
Welcome to the Program
This morning I had orientation with two other girls who will be volunteering at Peace Village – a center for disabled children. The Thanh Xuan Peace Village is a center for around 100 children, most second and third generation victims of Agent Orange – a herbicide used by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Apparently thousands of Vietnamese are still suffering the consequences of the dioxins, ranging from physical and mental disabilities, genetic defects and an increased risk of cancer.
The two other volunteers, Emma from England and Lindsay from Salt Lake City, seem nice. I was happy to find out that we are at the same center and will also be living together. It will be nice to have people to go out with. The orientation was pretty much a waste of time and didn’t really give us much information about our specific project. It didn’t help that Toan, our house manager and volunteer coordinator, doesn’t speak English very well and never seemed to understand whenever we asked him a question. We also had a short discussion about cultural differences. He failed to mention the reason as to why the Vietnamese tend not to cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough and what the hell the deal is with them hacking up shit in their throat every 5 minutes. After having lunch – rice, whatever you choose to put on it and a soda for under $2 – we had our first Vietnamese language lesson. The woman who gave it pissed me off. She went way too fast and was not a very good teacher. She also didn’t seem to understand when we tried to as her a question. Very frustrating. The language is very tonal and so hard to learn. I am hopeless.
After, five of us squeezed into a tiny cab for a trip to Big C – the Vietnamese equivalent to Super Wal-Mart. I was happy to find a few Western snacks and cereal to have in addition to the meals that are provided for us. You can only eat so much rice, right?