Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bui Doi - the Dust of Life

Though I had been lucky enough to live overseas for a while and had been to a couple of countries, I had never yet travelled alone. Someone had always helped with the organisation. There was never a real worry about visas, foreign currency, tickets or accommodation because there were always a group of us.

Finally, it was time to step out on my own. My “Cambodian Story Friend” handed me a Lonely Planet guidebook for Vietnam. He was handing me an obligation to go there. He was handing me a ticket of strength and freedom.

I was nervous – nervous about how I would cope. Where would I sleep and how would I get there? Would I get lost? Who would help me to communicate? I had booked my ticket, but these thoughts niggled away at me.

Then I met a Frenchman.

He spoke so terribly of the street children. He warned me that I would hate Vietnam. I would regret going there. The street children would steal everything from me. He spoke words of hate and disgust.

For a while, I believed him...

Then I bought a book – Children of the Dust (Street Children in Vietnam and Children in Extremely Difficult Circumstances; Ngo Kim Cuc and Mikel Flamm).

The photographs in it are hauntingly beautiful. Large black and white photos capture the hope in their eyes and the squalor of their life. While most of the photos shine with smiles, several photographs are gut-wrenchingly sad. Who could blame their resentment and hate when they have been sexually abused by foreigners since they could walk? They scrounge for scraps to sell and food to eat. In the photos, some children hide behind bars or in dingy corners, unloved and forgotten. The text is filled with their words, their stories – their sad, tormented stories.

Soon I was in Vietnam and within the hour had met my first street children. Some monsoonal rain flooded the city of Hoi An and I became stranded for a few days. The local street children got to know me and I got to know them. They never tried to steal from me. Not once did they try to scam me for money. They would see me and run to me. We would sit together, learning about each other without the use of a common language. My pale pink fingernails amused them no end and my eyelashes were often stroked with gentle, dirty fingers. Their smiles were glorious and their eyes sparkled. If other foreigners walked into the area, they would run off, trying to sell their wares. They would often look back at me, over the shoulders of the foreigners and give me a cheeky grin. But they were never rude or disrespectful.

My first trip “all by myself” was many passport stamps and countless flights ago, but my time with those kids is still a clear memory. They have helped me to see the best in so many other people I have met.


Unknown said...

I almost wept -- you write beautifully -- maybe there's a book of your own waiting to be born?

Wenlen said...

"Bui Doi" or "the Dust of Life" reminds me of the song I love from Miss Saigon. It makes me very sad but it is so true and I love it.

The Hairy Cow said...

I'd love to be clever enough to write a book - but there seems to be too much effort that would go with that! Bui Doi is the name of the song from Miss Saigon - and that is exactly what these poor kids are! They're really inspiring.

Anonymous said...

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