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?