Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Don't Read This If You Want To Feel Happy

This is such a quick update! I’m so proud. We just had a really interesting day. We split into two groups to go to different composting sites. My group went to a smaller site, then went to visit a resettlement area and an area soon to be resettled. The composting was really interesting. The woman we spoke to who worked there was saying she chooses to work there because she knows it’s better for the environment. Farmers in the area buy the compost, and the people who work there get some for free each year for their own gardens. It was all done manually; the women were wading around in disgusting garbage, separating the organic material. There was some really disgusting stuff in there.
The resettlement: basically, there are ‘slums’ in Qui Nhon, in this case inhabited by fishermen and their families. They live literally over the ocean. There are shaky wooden walkways with houses on top, with all the boats tied at the edge. While we were there a man actually half fell through the walkway when a rotting board broke. I had been assuming it only looked like it was all going to collapse, but I guess in this case appearances weren’t deceiving. There were babies running around there! The government is making the people move off the water, into the city. They buy the houses off them for what they are worth, which ends up being a little less than six hundred dollars. The government then provides free (not very nice) housing until the people can buy the house from them. I couldn’t tell if the motives for having them move were pure or not; half the time it sounded like the government wants to beautify the area, half the time it sounded like they were worried about the people living in such dangerous conditions and polluting the water. The people already in the resettlement area were largely unhappy to have been moved. They had also started out as fishermen, but some had switched to manual labor and service professions in Qui Nhon. The people living on the water were looking forward to better conditions, though they worried about being moved too far from the sea.
When we got back to the hotel, I finally watched GO!, the Invisible Children movie about the kids who went to Uganda the year before me. It was really interesting to hear about the people displaced in Uganda right after the talk of displacement in Vietnam. There are clearly infinite differences between the circumstances, but I guess people being forced out of their homes have some similarities no matter where they’re from or what the reason is. The people in the resettlement area here made a huge point of wanting to own their homes; living on the government’s charity wasn’t sitting well with anyone. I know from going to Uganda how important it is for people to be out of the camps, back in their villages on their own property.
It was wonderful to watch GO! and see all the places I went this summer, and some of the people I got to know. I never wrote about Uganda here, I know, and someday I really will type up some of my journal entries from then. Watching GO! made me think of two girls in particular, though, so I’ll write about them quickly. We spent one morning at Sacred Heart Secondary School, hanging out with the girls and then having a meeting about how to run a schools for schools club. I spent most of the day with two girls, Vicky and Agnes. We had a standard conversation to get to know each other- where are you from, what’s your favorite subject, etc. As part of that, they also asked if both my parents were alive. Neither of them had both parents. Their parents were dead, or had abandoned them. They discussed this as casually as they had discussed school, and quickly moved on to hair. They were shocked I’d never shaved my head. They were even more shocked to learn I shower every day. They invited me to spend the night with them in their dormitory, but Jolie (the country director) said it was too dangerous. We were supposed to be back in the gated compound with the security guard by nine o’clock. It was ok to be out later, as long as we were with the group and in a mutatu.
Yesterday, we went to the Son My (My Lai, in America) memorial site. Son My was a peaceful village, not involved with the Viet Cong. During the war, the American army went there and killed 504 women, children, and elderly people. Most of the males of military age were out working during the day. People were raped, thrown down wells, burned, and worse. There were pictures there of bodies piled in irrigation ditches, children with limbs cut off, women with no clothes lying dead, people on the floor with their intestines hanging out, and much more. I learned about My Lai a little in my US history class, but I was one of the few who had. One thing I hadn’t learned about at all was the rescue performed by Hugh Thompson and Lawrence Colburn. It was a big deal at the museum; there were pictures and articles and plaques on the wall. Hugh Thompson was a pilot who saw the massacre taking place and knew it was wrong. He saw a group of soldiers chasing 10 villagers, trying to kill them. He landed his helicopter between the two groups, and told his machine gunner (Lawrence Colburn) to fire on the soldiers if they came near. He brought the villagers into the helicopter and flew them away.
Something I forgot to write about last time: we went to the war memorial museum. It was so, so strange. They were showing all the horrors of war (including human fetuses deformed by Agent Orange, floating in a box), but they were selling camouflage helmets and war toys in the gift shop. They had all these paintings on display, done by children as part of a competition. The options were to draw something about world peace, or your feelings on war. They put the winners (all five hundred thousand million of them) on display. Many were of differently colored people holding hands and dreaming of world peace. But there were also some in the ‘your feelings on war’ category. These were titled things like ‘Oh God, Americans are bombing us!’ and ‘SOS’. They had people blown to pieces as American flag painted planes flew overhead and dropped bombs. There was one titled ‘Iraq-American War’, which had, again, stars and stripes planes dropping bombs on a city, with decapitated heads floating in a river of blood. There were drawings of deformed people in wheel chairs, with lots of orange around them.
Happy Holidays. I'm sure that helped get you in the mood.

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