Monday, April 2, 2012
And then it was Spring time and the dark, grey Winter days slipped away and a new hope was beginning to dawn.
It was always too hot there, no matter how light her clothes were or how she plonked herself under the air conditioner-she could never cool down. And yet the life there enthralled her daily as she passed by her neighbours and the children all playing and shouting her hello's. It seemed like she had entered into a new realm of culture, a new world- a world very far removed from the one she grew up in.
The morning ritual begins and she would make her first and only hot coffee of the day-the following coffees would be iced and sickly sweet. She would leave her privileged house share-a huge house with a big, black gold rimmed gate and go out onto the alley, which was long since awake. She would need to brace herself for the head turning, the hello's, the instant hustle and bustle-2 steps away from her house. Sometimes she wasn't in the mood and wished she could just blend in like everyone else but most of the time, it felt energizing and alive.
And then the motorcycle men that all wait at the top of the alley. Who would it be today? The knarly handed, pock face man who had a face that she didn't trust but he seemed to be loyal to her, so she would take him again. But he made her feel uneasy. She would try not to look at his distorted hand, it looked or seemed broken and yet here he was driving her on his motorbike, weaving in and out of the relentless traffic. The honking, the dusty street, the teenagers cycling, the face masks, the shops with loud techno music. She would experience all of these, observing the life that vibrantly played out before her eyes. No morning was the same. She would always see or experience something new.
She would get used to the way her driver sped along the street, although some mornings she wished he would slow down. She would always notice the people outside the eye and ear hospital and how they over spilled on to the street. The smell as she passed the canal, the putrid overpowering nauseating smell of shit. She would always have to breathe in for that part of the journey and exhale a good distance away but the smell usually lingered. What made it bearable was the infused smell of incense from the pagoda, which was situated on the canal.
Finally, she would arrive at the centre where she worked. She would pass the two street vendors who she grew to love and always looked forward to seeing them -there was always laughter and pinching and smiling. She would order her egg roll- a fried egg with coriander, pickled carrots, chilli and soy sauce all in a fresh baguette. She would smile as they talked to her entirely in Vietnamese, pointing at her porcelain white skin and then pointing at their much darker tone. This interaction almost happened daily.
The children were all milling around too, running towards her smiling, hugging her as she walked into her remarkable place of work. Sometimes she would have 3, 4 or 5 children all embracing her or other times just one and she would run or skip inside the playground. One of the teachers from the school would always skip over to her upon seeing her and grab her and welcome her with 2 sniffs on either side of her face-like the French do, but with a sniff instead of a kiss. It took her a long time to figure this strangely affectionate custom but it was one she learned to relish.
She would walk up the steps and would begin to look forward to her much needed hit from the air conditioning. Children would mill pass her and she would high five them. She would start her day knowing how lucky she was to be having her life fulfilled and enriched on a daily basis.
Back home and as the pink Irish sky dims into another chilly Spring night, she is brought back to those days where life blustered and the pace quickened and smiled remembering it all as if it were a dream.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
It's a curious business, adapting to life back home. Four months ago, I arrived back with skin slightly less white then normal, a packed suitcase full of memories and experiences from the sublime to the beautiful. I came home, fresh and excited, hopeful and full of optimism that somehow I could overcome the fragmented and harsh new Ireland that I was now learning about. People told me, don't read the papers, don't believe everything you hear-Ireland is your home, no matter what. And it is but God, has it changed.
The past 4 months have been a struggle but hope is only around the corner. The changes in our communities, our society has been so hard to grapple and somehow, I feel like an outsider. That said, it has been and is worth it having my friends and family nearby to help and support and edge me closer to finding my feet on the ground, which feels well within reach now.
In West Clare now as Spring has sprung, the frosty blue sky stretches out and the air is clear. I am taking things more in my stride now and reflecting on a frustrating baptism of fire. It would have been hard to prepare for this from the dusty Saigon streets but now that I am here and back and have no plans to leave, I have to make a go at it. I have to keep the chin up and the fire in my belly and keep faith that life with all its swings and roundabouts will eventually get easier. It will be a long road ahead but whatever about all these endless news reports about longer dole queues, emigration and all the bank stuff, none of these should get in the way of what is really important-our own spirits. We need to mind ourselves through this time, we need to take our time and not get so bogged down in each news item that assaults our ears, day in day out. I look at my parents and how they have a renewed lease of life by being more involved with the community-singing songs and playing music. I see how happy this makes them, such a simple thing but it can distract and enrich their lives no end.
As for me, now is my time to slowly figure all of this out and my new place back here. Time will tell how it all pans out but for now, it feels exciting to think about all the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead. Onwards and upwards.