This is Carlyn writing.
Yesterday, after leaving out host families for the first time, we went to the Vietnam Friendship Village, where victims of Agent Orange as well as the Vietnamese veterans who fought in the war with the U.S. are able to live, learn and be cared for and loved. Aftern spending my spring break moving my grandparents into an assisted living facility, I expected the worst; I imagined it to be just that, with the separation and image that goes along with that kind of place. However, this place is a sanctuary. The people who live here are just that: people, and everything they need we need and more. After visiting some classes, I truly saw the love and community that all of the patients, as well as teachers have for one another. Even after stepping into one class, the students couldn't stop smiling and giving us high-fives and telling us all about their work. I was afraid I would feel like I was walking into a zoo, where I was staring on at the subjects through the glass, and that I was the free one, with the freedom to move as I pleased from room to room. I was so wrong. Even with what we would describe as a handicap, it is not. They are free and life-loving and curious, just as we all are, and there shouldn't be anything that makes anyone second guess that. I don't think I have ever met anyone with as much compassion and openness as they were to us.
After our visits, we began the work of painting the dining hall. Honestly, it didn't really feel like work, because I felt this growing need to help these people and working with the group that we have is always the most fun and very efficient. First, we did a white coat over the walls (and sometimes ourselves) and then moved on to lunch. After lunch, we finished the white and began the layer of yellow. Once 4 o'clock rolled around, we cleaned up what we had and headed back into the center of Hanoi. From Mr. Nghi's office, we all went our separate ways to our different homestays. Paige, Kira and I spent the taxi ride laughing and having a great time. As we began to head into the more familiar area of our house, our driver stopped and said we were here, even though we knew we weren't. All of us assumed it was only down the block so we walked a bit, but it became obvious that we knew nothing. So we stopped and I called Quian, our host brother and told him where we were and he told me, "Don't move! I'll be right there." If we had been anywhere else, I don't think we would have encountered what we did. A woman was caring for her garden in front of her house, and even though Kira was taking a picture opportunity in the allies and Paige and I were laughing, she knew we were lost. She asked us what address we needed to get to and we showered her; she called out her son, who then promptly said he would take us. He was very friendly, asking us where we were from, what we were doing in Vietnam, if we liked Hanoi so far, things like that. Eventually, Quan ran into us on the street and we thanked the boy who helped us. In any other place, it would have been completely different, but I have only encountered hospitality and kindness in this place, where I look as alien too them as their whole world is to me.
After we got home, we cleaned up and had dinner. Our host parents are so kind and extremely generous, serving us way too much food than is good for us. Our host sister is very kind and even though she only speaks some English, she is very easy to communicate with. Her son, Bee, is absolutely the cutest thing I have ever seen and even with his initial shyness, last night he was all fun and games. Our host brother, Quan and I have become very good friends even with this very short amount of time. It's hard and sad to think that tonight is our last night with the people who have become our family on the other side of the world. Finally, Quan took us out into Hanoi and showed us some of its highlights.
This morning we went back to Friendship Village and did a lot more painting. One of our friends from our visit to the classrooms came and he spent a lot of time laughing at us and saying our names. He is truly the greatest example of what it means to live life to the fullest, with all of his laughing and smiles. When he left, we were sad to see him go, but he left with his contagious laugh and funny attitude.
Vietnam can not be described by what it is but rather who it is. Vietnam is its people and they have opened their hearts and homes to us, as if we were friends not seen for a long time. there are things that happen here that are numbed by the English language and just can not be expressed. One can only learn of the feeling of Vietnam after becoming a part of Vietnam, and utlimately losing a part of yourself to it.