Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My job, my passion.

Camp- Day 1

The air is cool with a thick layer of humidity. And when I say cool, I mean around eighty...but it's still better than Miami by this hour of the day. We leave our campsite at 7:00 am and head to the Hoa An (Huh-way Ahn) Center about five minutes down the road. The road is a single lane, with mostly mo-peds going to and fro. The occasional truck will blast its horn, each driver has perfected their own tune. Our driver goes with a louder start and a consecutive beep that lowers in volume over time. The blast usually lasts about eight sounds. Definitely a nice change from the blaring horn of the Hummers in Miami.

We pass by a marketplace before turning down a gravel road. People are standing outside preparing for the day. Some are throwing fresh fish into a bucket of shallow water. A woman sits beside a bucket, takes a fish out and lays it on the ground. Then she takes a wooden paddle and smacks its head, killing it instantly. To her left, a girl is selling chom-choms. Across the street, a fruit salesman is lining up his watermelon and mango while a woman slices it into halves and quarters. On the other corner, women are selling fish nets alongside hats and trinkets. We beg the Directors to let us walk to school one day
so we can stop by this place, but a quick 'No' tells us it won't happen. Anna, our American Director, quietly tells us that last year a visitor was robbed on these roads and now the policemen doesn't want us in this area. So that means we may not be able to visit our students homes towards the end of camp.

Arriving at camp, we cross a bridge and enter the gate. The building matches the gate, a pale yellow, the color of my favorite daffodils. Scraps of trash blow across the blacktop and on one side of the buildings I see a pack of bicycles parked under a covering. In the center of the school, a group of older kids are playing a pick-up game of soccer while a few others play basketball. A young boy in a red tshirt runs up to our pack and jumps on Anna to say hello. Clearly one of her own from last year...I can't wait to have that happen, I think to myself. Wait, did I just say that? It's day one and I'm already thinking
of a next year? A few boys I met at our campsite came up and said hello.

One boy, named Lihn, we call him the naughty one, or the trouble-maker, and an older boy named Phar (not sure on the spelling, I just make a sound to get his attention!), and then one of my own from Sunday's orientation, come up to say hello to me. Law-Wren. Hell-oh Law-Wren, is what I hear. So I say hi back and ask how they are and what's up. Their response is always, 'Fine thanks,' or, 'Not much,' guaranteed. The Directors hand us our team boxes, a plain white sliding door drawer with some tape, paper, chalk and string inside.

I head up the winding stairs, first twelve steps, turn left, then eleven more, and wander down the outdoor hallway until I find the door that has an orange piece of paper hanging on the window. Turning inside, I see my AM kids, bright-eyed and smiling. 'Gud Mare-ning!!' they shout, and I can't help but giggle and say, "Good morning!" back. Ricky-Bobby, Jenny, and Amy all join me. Can you guess which one is the American coach?

Here's a hint...none of them are American. Ricky-Bobby and Jenny are Vietnamese. Ricky-Bobby is really just Ricky, but I already nick-named him. Jenny's Vietnamese name is Huong, but she's so adorable that either one works. She is studying to be an English teacher and Ricky is studying biomechanical engineering. Both attend Can Tho University. Amy is from England, and plays tennis at FSU while studying sports management and psychology. The four of us make up the Orange Team Coaches.

After attendance has been taken and orange shirts are given out, we come up with a team name and cheer. The kids decide on the Orange Tigers and our cheer is, "ORANGE! TIGERS! RRRRRR." And we make claws and grit our teeth while growling. And then we taught them to come together in a circle, put their hand in, and yell "GRRRRR!" on three. The first life skills lesson involved discussing what a team is, and what all the important parts of a team are. The kids really listened to what we were saying, and even when they didn't have a response when we asked a question, they gave an effort in the discussion.

I immediately noticed a little boy in the front who paid attention to every detail, even when it didn't make sense as easily to him as it did to the other students. Newly registered for the camp, Dat joined our team a little late. A very small boy of eleven years old, his smile lights up the room and his eyes sparkles every time he speaks. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I can tell there's a spark about him. He's energetic and attentive, and really tries hard to learn what the Americans are saying, instead of just relying on the translations from Jenny and Ricky-Bobby.

After lifeskills, I headed to Yellow Team for English & Sports. I teach English with Jenny, Truong, and Sophia. Truong is attending Can Tho University as well. Sophia goes to Duke and is a 400 meter hurdler from Asheville, NC. She is studying cultural anthropology. Together, we all have an amazing chemistry. The lesson started off with greetings and introductions.
Sophia explained how to say, 'Hello. My name is _____.'and 'I am __________.' Then she taught, 'What is your name?' The translations were perfect and the children knew exactly when to repeat what we said. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and goodbye were also taught. We went over pronunciation, and that's where the fun began.

"Good morning."
"Guud more-neeng."

::clap clap clap clap:: "Good job!!"

And that was the pattern of pronunciation. Harsh 'or' and 't' is a very hard sound for them to make. The 'th' sound is also pretty impossible. I think most of their sounds don't involve the tongue, so having to press their tongue against their teeth is very difficult. So, being the badass woman I am, I taught them to stick their tongue out when they were learning how to say, "I am thirsty". Saying 'turr-tee' at first, I managed a few giggles and even fewer actual stuck out tongues. But there was that golden moment when one of the kids actually stuck their tongue out and made the 'th-sound', and an even more golden moment when an 's' snake sound was made for the 'sty' part of the word. But we had a few good laughs on the way.

My role came mostly with numbers. I had the kids count to ten, if they were able. And then I went over pronunciation. One and two, elementary. Three, we played with our tongues some more. Four, I showed them how to make an O with their mouths. Five, I emphasized the ending more than the beginning, and really slowed down the word so they could see how the mouth works. Kids really are incredible beings. They interpret a lot more than adults even consider, so I made sure that the visual cues were more than enough for them to follow. Six, piece of cake. Seven, a slight struggle. Seh-ven. Over and over again. Eight, hard 't' gave them a run for their money. Nine, money. Ten, golden.

Then, I asked if anyone could count from eleven to twenty. Fewer said yes, and those that did, struggled past twelve. So that's where the fun really began. All of the numbers were written out on the board, with the English words next to them.

11- eleven [ee-leh-ven]
12- twelve [tuh-wel-ve]
13- thirteen [thir-teen]
14- fourteen [for-teen]
15- fifteen [fi-ff-teen]
16- sixteen [six-teen]
17- seventeen [seh-ven-teen]
18- eighteen [ay-teen]
19- nineteen [nihne-teen]
20- twenty [tuh-wen-tee]

Eleven starts off as uhlebben, and then became mostly eleven. Thirteen was fun, mostly because they kept looking to the Vietnamese Coaches to see if it really was okay to stick their tongues out, or if the American girl was just oober-American and'ding-ding com-com' (double crazy). It wasn't until twenty that I had to really over-enunciate my lips. I showed them my teeth with my tongue right up against it, and then for the "wen", I literally grabbed my lips and showed them how to widen them. They played along a lot, but didn't pick it up much. Too Western for the day, I supposed. They smiled a lot though,
so I'm calling it a success.

My first volleyball lesson was with the Red Dragon Team. I teach Volleyball with Morgan, a swimmer from Virginia Tech, who studied Elementary Education. I also teach with Blue, a volleyball player from Can Tho University, and Dui, another boy from Can Tho. We lined the kids up for a quick warmup of arm swings, straight-legged stretches, and jumping jacks. Then we explained the first volleyball hit, the bump. We had them make a fist, wrap their other hand around the fist, and line up their thumbs. Bending their knees, they moved their arms upward, and bumped for the first time. Then we handed them a ball and walked over
to the building walls. We had them toss the ball up, bump it to the wall, and catch it. Rinse and repeat. After a few minutes, and a little bit of translated instruction, we went back over to the court to try some partner bumps. (No, that's not what she said...) They tossed the ball to one another, bumped it back, and then switched roles. Once they mastered that part, they began to bump back and forth to each other.

Van, another boy with an award winning smile at the ripe age of twelve, is a stud at volleyball. he picked up bumps right away and even moved on to sets and digs within the first ten minutes. He's got swag too, which is suprisingly hard to find in Vietnam. The first lesson went by pretty slowly because so many of the students did not want to bump the ball after about ten minutes. The red marks on their arms were insane, but Blue, being the collegiate volleyball player she is, told them all to suck it up and get used to it. Very nice...

The rotation continued one more time I taught another English lesson and another volleyball lesson and then at the end of morning camp we had "Coach/Team Relationship" time...which is supposed to be used for getting to know the kids in
your group even better. We asked them each to write down a goal for school and sports...and they are to look at the goal every week to make sure they are keeping on track with their progress.

We got back on the bus and headed back to camp for lunch; rice, vegetables, pork soup with winter melon, a whole fried fish, and fried bananas. I of course, had a 7-Up, and a ton of rice...smothered in plumb chile sauce. And I ate a lot of vegetables. But unfortunately I did not have any fish. And still haven't. Nap time soon followed and we were up by 1:15 to head to afternoon camp from 1:30-5:30. Orange team, English, Volleyball, English, Volleyball, Coach/Team Relationship. With a brand new bunch of smilling kids ready to learn and play.

**Afternote: Not going to lie, the first day was probably the longest day of my life, and the thought of having to teach the same lesson four times was only made worse when I realized that we had to teach the same lesson eight times because we only see
two team colors per day...But now we just finished day three and I already feel like the hours are flying by. The children are adorable and are starting to learn my name better and better. I've even picked up a few more phrases!! I will now be able to call you all crazy when I get home, and then if you try to call me crazy back, I can tell you that you have no sense. So boo-yah, I'm basically Vietnamese now.

I also learned a Vietnamese game's called 'Kickin' Chicken'. You stand inside of a square with someone else. You hold one leg behind your back and the same arm up to your ear and then hop at each other until one person falls out of the square...and then they lose. So kind of like tsumo wrestling, but not in Japan?

Until next time...peace, love, and little smiling kids. (And yes, I will probably throw away all my clothing so I can fit one, slash two, Vietnamese children home with me)

PS: Tomorrow we're apparently going to be dropped off at the corner marketplace and if we are stopped by anyone, we are to say that our "bus broke down and had to be pushed away so we're waiting for another one..." So please expect a blog entry about the Vietnamese marketplace full of our wild camp children chopping fish in half. =)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Good morning, Vietnam.

Sunday evening, six girls ventured out on a "trail run". Anne, the Vietnamese head director showed us a path and told us to weave around for a few kilometers and then to come back because it wasn't a long loop. I led the pack at a comfortable pace and told them we'd go for fifteen minutes out and then just turn around and head back to camp. The first part of the run was thin...we could only run single-file. But about ninety seconds into the run, we were basically doing a high knee drill because the grasses were so tall around the path that we couldn't run normally.

And then there was the tree branch. I yelled out to the other girls to hurdle over the obstacle but soon heard their shock when they found themselves face-to-face with the branch. We lost two girls to the jungle run. Yes, it was a jungle run.

Continuing down the path, Sophia and I saw a man in the distance. Realizing we were still five on one, we decided to keep up the pace and pass him by with a friendly "Sin jow!". He replied and off we went, unknown brush still sweeping over our legs.

But suddenly the path opened up and we were able to run about three people side-by-side...for a hundred meters. And then the brush took over the path completely. We were lucky to have steered away from snakes, but when the path was completely hidden we opted for running alongside a large field on a matted down area.

And this is the conversation that followed:

Lauren: I feel like we're on someone's property.
Sophia: I feel like this might have been some kind of war battlefield.

Needless to say, we turned the hell around after only running for nine minutes and booked it back to camp. I'm sure they wouldn't have sent us out on a path that potentially had landmines still, but we weren't risking anything...especially since we were on a new piece of the trail.

The pace picked up on the way back and I could feel the earth crumble under me. The run felt like a rescue mission. I was covered in some kind of mud and had a bead of sweat running from the corner of my forehead, down alongside my temple. My breath was steady, focused. Yet I wore a smile. I finally realized I was in Vietnam...not when I ate fish on a stick or showered in river water, but when I went on a jungle run with my new friends and month-long family.


For some reason, we were dumb enough to wake up this morning, Monday, and workout at 5 am. (Hence the title.) Sophia, Ania, Amy, Keara, Lindsay, and myself all rolled out of bed to the rooster cackling, threw on our still-sweaty shorts and stepped out on the porch to go through a circuit. Thank goodness we're all athletes, otherwise we'd just sit around eating Vietnamese peanut butter all morning.

Lunges, squats, burpies, pushups, and leg extensions flew by. We joked around during our sets of twenty, even talked about how gruesome our track circuits are during the year and winter breaks. Swapping stories worked perfectly until the final move...the plank hold. Dripping in sweat, bug spray, and day-old sunscreen, we attempted to hold ourselves up on the tile flooring while mosquitoes picked us off three at a time. With my head down, the only communication I could understand was the rapid blowing sound coming out of the girls' mouths when they noticed a mosquito closing in on their skin.

The sun rose as we started our second set, and we heard the village start its day. Trucks and mo-peds roared by as we lifted our knees for fifteen seconds and slipped all over the tile for twelve tricep pushups. A lovely way to start the ten hour work-day, in Vietnam.

And I think tomorrow we're going to try for another run...hopefully one that involves an actual road...or maybe we'll just bring along a flashlight for the woods.

I promise to write about school soon. Day one was fantastic and I already called dibs on two Vietnamese boys that I plan on taking home with me. They are quite possibly the most adorable eleven year olds I have ever seen. And yes, I am having a BLAST teaching English to them. Not only are they energetic but they are respectful and really try to pronounce each word correctly. Amazing effort, even better results.

Peace, love, and early workouts!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Never have I ever...

Ever played this game before? I can honestly say I have not. So maybe that should be my first "Never have I ever...", too bad I don't have a beer to drink alongside this game we're about to play. See how many of these you have experienced?

1. seen a mother roll up a magazine and use it on her child.

That was my welcome into Narita/Tokyo airport. A screaming child, being dragged across the floor while his mother yelled at him and smacked him across the face. Thomas, a coach from another camp, and I just watched as we stepped onto their version of the air-train. Nobody else even seemed to notice. What shocked me more than the loud display of histerics was when the mother gave in and pulled out a magazine from her bag. She then rolled it up and smacked the boy with a dog. I'm not exactly sure what the boy did to deserve such a punishment but everyone seemed to ignore it all together. From that point on though, all I saw were smiling faces and bowing heads as I made my way through the airport.

2. seen five people on a mo-ped...

My first five minutes into Ho Chi Minh City I felt like were straight out of the first five minutes of the India scene in "Eat, Pray, Love". How cliche, I know. But honestly that's what it felt like. The taxi driver honked at every driver and people were flying by in mo-peds. Not really any cars were on the road,aside from taxis and work trucks, but there were hundreds of mo-peds swerving in and out on the lanes. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw not two people on a mo-ped, nor three or four, but five people on this thing. A man was driving, two small children were wedged behind, a seemingly mother-like character completed the sandwich, with a little on holding on for dear life behind the rest. It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen. To be honest, I'm not sure why there were lane-lines painted on the road either. And forget about installing a new blinker when the old one goes out, nobody uses them anyway.

3. woken up to a rooster...

I find it strange that I grew up in the Midwest, but have never heard a rooster sound at dawn. My first night in Ho Chi Minh City, I shared a bed with my new friend, Sophia. Later the next day, I would call it snuggle time-- even without hardly knowing a thing about her. Beside the point though. We set our alarm for 6:30 am so we could shower and repack a little before breakfast and the 8 am departure. However, I woke up to the sound of a rooster, a very stereotypically sounding rooster, and the sun shining in my face. I was terrified we had missed our alarms and it was already 7:30 or so. But, living in Miami for so long has clearly done me wrong...because everywhere else in the world the sun rises before 7 am. Checking my watch, I see that it is 5:12 am. And the sun was already rising. Clouds of reds and soft orange painted the sky and the rising sun glowed peacefully as the rooster cackled away.

4. eaten a loaf of bread for breakfast...

Madame Cuc Hotel offered a lovely breakfast of margarine, homemade raspberry jam, green tea, coffee, juice, and a loaf of bread. It was pretty hollow inside, but warm. We also feasted on bananas. I have eaten toast plenty of times, but never a piece of bread that looks like the five-dollar footlong bread. Tasty, but different. And apparently that will be our breakfast each day in Hoa An. The carb-lover can live on!!

5. had tea at three different times throughout the day...

Tea for breakfast, green. Tea on our boat tour, jasmine. With Vietnamese candies of course. It was a toursit tea-party. Seasame candies, peanut brittle, banana chips, ginger candy, and tapioca poppers. And then there was the jasmine tea...which I bought an entire canister of for $2. Yes, I said two dollars. Eat your heart out, Whole Foods. Our third tea-time was just before lunch with a huge serving of chom-choms (I like to call them fuzzy berries that look like alien babies inside), watermelon with chile powder and salt, jackfruit, and super-sweet lychees. So yes, tea three times before lunch.

6. drank snake wine...

If you think it's sexy when a girl can shoot whiskey, you should throw her a shot of snake wine...or seven. It starts out as rice, becomes rice wine after a fermenting and cooking process, and then for six long months King Cobras soak in the juices, making their own flavored wine. If you're not quite ready to take on something potentially poisonous and stronger than an Jack concoction you have had, then banana wine or plain rice wine might be up your alley. But of course, being the brave Americans we are, we all wanted to taste the snake wine. And my-oh-my, that was some strong liquor. My hat's off to you, Vietnam.

7. drank straight from a coconut...

Don't worry, the allergic reaction was only a few minutes long!! We stepped back onto our boat tour and we're all handed a fresh coconut with a straw sticking out. Then we found out it was real coconut water...and by that, I mean coconut milk with river water mixed inside. Nom-nom? Actually, it wasn't bad. Though one of the girls did compare it to something that tastes like B.O. water. After that, I wasn't as enthused to drink it down. Not to mention, my tongue was swelling at an insaenely fast pace. Needless to say, I tossed the liquid and the coconut over the side of the boat and watched it bob arounding the Mekong River.

8. eaten a fish that still looks like a fish.

I told myself I would eat fsh that still looks like a fish before I eat dog on this trip. Little did I know, that would happen on the very first day. My first real meal in Vietnam was an elephant ear fish wrapped in rice pape with cucumber and pineapple. I took two bites. Baby steps. Alongside the fish wrap I had a veggie wrap and a prawn. Yes, the waitress ripped the heads off on my corner of the table. Eesh. But then they brought out some rice (thank the Heavens! 'An com...') and a soup with noodles, veggies, and some kind of meatball. Which I later found out were fish balls. Joy. The platter that saved the day was the pork. Go figure. We devoured that dish, as well as most of the rice platter. But I can now say that I have eaten fish on a stick.

9. been so happy to drink 7-Up...

At our first dinner in Hoa An, we were served fried egg, rice, grilled pork, and tofu. But we had a choic of what we drank. And I had 7-Up. Forget that I haven't really had soda in months, but it was quite literally the best thing I've digested in two days. Maybe it's just because it felt comfortable, American. I'm sure that's what it was. All the food I've had has been so fresh, and incredible. But it doesn't feel like home. I guess that's the point of it all, right? Right.

10. taken such a cold shower...

Outdoor shower paired with the toilet. One shower head, and freezing cold water. Check, and check. Refreshing as hell, but shocking to start the day with. Peaceful, minus the spider webs hanging over my head. I used to hate Steve Erwin, but lately I find myself wishing I had paid more attention to his shows.

It's 7 am here, about to head out for another bread breakfast. Hair is wet, and bug spray has been applied. Orientation is today, so bring on the kiddies and barefoot soccer play. Until next tie, peace and love to ya'll.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Community is where humility and glory touch."

Henri Nouwen said that quote. I'm not entirely sure what his impact on the world was outside of writing and the Catholic Church, but this quote rings in my ears as I pack for Vietnam. Stuffing every last possibly supply into my bag, I have to stop and wonder what my intentions for this trip are. Of course I want to work with children and to begin my journey as a coach and teacher. But what experiences do I intend to have? And am I really leaving the States behind and going to a third-world country while carrying along an electrical converter and bottles of bug-spray? I can't help but stop and ask myself if I will truly be able to immerse myself into this culture. Last summer was easy....I speak French. So naturally, while there I spoke French. And it worked out fine. I made a few cultural faux-pas along the way, but in the end I could honestly say I wanted to move to France. Will this summer be the same? Or will I only be an outsider stepping in to help out for a few short weeks, only to move on to bigger and better things back in the Western World? At one point am I no longer helping them, but only helping myself?

I have carpet. I have an alarm system. I even have a washing machine. I may find it exciting and eye-opening to wash my clothes in a sink full of river water for three weeks. I may even find it exciting to try snake wine, or eel noodle soup...but what am I really giving back to them? If I am to become a part of their community, I have to step out of my comfort zone and into the wild (no put-down intended). There will be spiders as big as my palm living in my dorm room. There may or may not be bits of animals I've sworn to never eat in my soup. But what I'm really going to try to experience is much more than third-world living and Asian cuisine. What I'm going to try to experience is a unique perspective from the people themselves. I tried to learn a few words of Vietnamese, but have yet to really memorize anything solid. It's not just the language I am working towards understanding, but the everyday living of the people themselves. And I supposed one goal of mine is to somehow improve their daily living in the smallest way, whether that be through an activity the whole family can do at the end of a meal, or even to inspire just one child to continue going to school or continue playing sports. My goal isn't to change who I am, though I'm sure I've been pretending that is it. My goal is to change the lives of people who truly need it.

One more question I must ask...I already know it's going to rain cats and dogs the whole time I'm there, but do I really need a camping towel?