From riding shotgun with talkative cab drivers, playing volleyball with the village locals to reminiscing over my journey 63 floors above Hanoi, my Summer BUiLD Program was one not to be forgotten.
There have been too many experiences to recount on my 21-day journey but before I formally begin my reflection, I’d like to first give acknowledge and say thanks to a few people that helped make the trip what it was. First, a very warm thank you to Ly and Gina, our delightful program coordinators. From the offset Ly and Gina helped us to adapt and feel comfortable amid the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. Without their guidance, I can guarantee the trip wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was. Secondly, a very big thanks to UTS:BUiLD for providing me with a grant and facilitating such an amazing program.
Now onto my reflection, there is no better way to sum up my program than the homestays at Hoa Binh.
From the offset, the communities and 6 villages in Hoa Binh welcomed me with open arms. Despite there being countless moments of intense joy and awe, I will recount 3 experiences that I should always cherish:
1. Being invited to Chi’s house and being offered me homebrewed alcohol – Chi is a local laborer within Hoa Binh. Conveniently, he is situated right next to our homestay and always enjoys coming around for a game of bamboo push-of-war or helping us to round up the local boar.
This particular day, I had just found out that the Village Chief had agreed to let the group keep the local Boar if we managed to catch it. The boar was domesticated but they still let it roam free amongst the homestay and neighboring properties.
I decided to scurry over to Chi’s house and requested in broken Vietnamese that he help us catch the “big-black-pig”. Upon hearing this unusual request, Chi invited me into his place and sat me down.
With a sinister grin plastered across his face, he reached over to the cabinet that lay on his left. With a slight jiggle of the wooden knob, the cabinets opened and low and behold were two monstrous jugs. On the left, 20 to 25 finger-banana-sized hornets lay fermenting in a plastic jug. On the right, a two-toned snake was coiled in a translucent liquid. He said that if I took a shot, I’d become strong. I interpreted it as a rite of passage. As honored as I was, I passed it up.
2. An encounter with the wild (domesticated) boar – In light of my missed rite of passage, I thought it would be interesting to try and catch the boar. In short, Tyso, Aaron and I ran around the homestay frantically attempting to grasp the hind legs of the boar.
Needless to say, in the midst of the moment, when your eyes are locked with the deep, entrancing glare of the boar, you can’t help but cower away. In the process the boar managed to breach and damage a small vegetable patch.
We were incredibly apologetic and offered to help at any chance; the Village Chief on the other hand wanted none of it and expressed his happiness that we had a crack and was trying our best to integrate into community life!
3. Gifts from the Village Chief – It was the final morning of the homestay and everything seemed to go slower than it usually did. The bulk of us scurried around to make the most of the final moments while a few lay content on the wooden benches in the common area.
After breakfast, Tyso, Aaron and I headed up to the kitchen to drop off the dishes. The Village Chief was squatting in the middle of the open area with a meat clever in his hand and his foot firmly pressed against a bundle of bamboo straws. We watched as he carefully craft a hat.
Within a few minutes, Tyso and I had received matching fisherman hats – symbolic of patience. Whilst Aaron received a unique and slightly more elaborate hat – probably because there was an inside-joke throughout the village that we was going to marry the Chief’s daughter. The Village Chief expressed some remorse for not being able to make hats for the whole group but everyone was just grateful to have been there in the first place!
In hindsight I truly wish I had appreciated the little things a bit more. Often when you’re caught up in a barrage of awe-inspiring moments it is difficult to be grateful and appreciative of what’s happening. However with that being said, there were countless moments of awareness that will stick with me for years to come.
Moving forward, I have not only learnt to cherish what’s happening in the present but to always try and give back to others. I’ve learnt this not only from the communities in Hoa Binh but my friend’s that I was able to share this experience with.
Thank you UTS:BUiLD and Ly and Gina from BLOOM Microventures.