A love letter to Vietnam

Madeleine – Placement to Vietnam 2017

I can’t see you right now but I can picture how you are. There’s blue in the sky, paler as it nears the sun, and houses that are packed together, holding each other in blocks like cement families. Families. Families everywhere, speckling the beach like the stacked spice baskets of the market. And above the yelling, the cacophony of sales, there’s something louder. My heart in my chest, beating, beating fast.


Vietnam was a feeling, or several feelings. It was excitement, nerves; so different to home, but in a good way. It was kids that made you cry, but in a good way. It was families that showed you how to love, unconditionally. It was nothing like I’d imagined, but it was enveloped and sealed with joy and friends, and encapsulated by service to others.


Six months ago. I called my mum when the email came through about applying for placement in Vietnam. “Do it.” Occupational Therapy in orphanages and support centres across Vietnam. “Do it.” Five weeks away from home. “Do it.”


And what I learned was that OT is different in Vietnam. It was a non-existent practice that we had to explain to everyone we met. It was translators, and communicating through languages other than speaking. Australian OT is a conversation with the child as the parents wait outside. Vietnamese practice was parents staying through the sessions, holding their child, playing games, feeding and touching them. I realised it was the bonds of family that was the real therapy. Vietnamese OT was funny faces, and energy and enthusiasm, it was teaching children how to play because they’d never played before. It was anything we could do to make them smile.


And going home in Da Nang was passing the opened shutters, listening to people singing Vietnamese karaoke; slow love songs that lingered in the humid air until well past midnight. Going home was passing our security guard, Mr Thanh, who would sometimes greet us, and sometimes he would be asleep under his man-sized mosquito net. It was having our zodiac read to us, and conversations in Vietnamese, then conversations that reached over seas. It was missing family, but appreciating family, all at once.


Being surrounded by a group of girls that were wholeheartedly thrown in the deep end was comforting, and we became each other’s lifeboats. It was half-days on Fridays that reached into weekends. We spent so much of our time together that it was hard to not fall in love with them too. It was hard not to fall in love with Vietnam, as a whole.


And now that I am home, it’s only with love that I look back on the five weeks I spent abroad. I have so many memories that resurface every now and again, so in a way, I never really left. So many images of a country that I’m no longer in. Vietnam, I can’t see you right now but I can picture how you are.

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