Saturday, January 28, 2006

Silent streets

Something strange has happened.

It's Saturday night, and the streets of Hanoi have fallen silent.

No beeping, no traffic jams, nobody riding their motorbike with their whole family and a month's supply of groceries on the back.

The Year of the Dog starts at midnight, and Vietnamese people have left Hanoi to return to their ancestral villages. Meantime, most expats have left Hanoi to go some place warm.

And what about the street kids?

Most of the kids who Blue Dragon works with have also left. A few kids actually travelled to Hanoi to see us and drop off small gifts, but they have already returned home. On Friday morning one little guy, Nam, came to see me at 6.30am to ask me to accompany him to the bus stop! I'm no morning person, but it was really nice to walk over to the Long Bien bus station and see him off.

Not all of our kids have gone, though, and that's why I'm staying in Hanoi this Tet. One or two have stayed because they work for foreign owned restuarants that need them through the holiday season, but others are here because - well, because they have no place else to go.

I've written before about one teenager named Hung with a lung disease. His case is a bit sensitive, so I can't go into specifics, but he's out of hospital now and we've found him a place to stay - with a retired doctor, as it turns out. Hung was the hero at last week's Awards Night - all of the Blue Dragon staff were a bit teary when he came on stage, walking unaccompanied, to receive his certificate - "For determination in the face of great adversity." When we found him on the streets a few months back, he was so close to dead that the doctors worried about whether he could possibly make a comeback.

But Hung has no family of his own, so he's here for Tet. Some of our kids are here with family members, who have no home to return to, even though they are not from Hanoi. There's one such family, with two daughters, two sons, and a mother - their dad died a few years back and they survive entirely on the mother's income from collecting scrap paper. At our Awards Night, we gave her an award for excellent parenting - she has absolutely refused to let her kids work on the streets, even though they are desperately poor.

Tomorrow morning Vietnam wakes up to a new year, with all the hopes of new beginnings, better luck, and another chance to make a go of things - 'another crack of the whip' in Australian vernacular.

In a few days, the city will return to its (sometimes) lovable chaos and noise, as people start returning to work and school. But for now, I'm going to enjoy the once-a-year peace that has fallen over the city.

Happy new year, everyone - or, as the Vietnamese say, Chuc mung nam moi!


Joost said...

I almost can't believe it is quiet in Hanoi. When we left Friday it was pretty jammed on the way to the airport. Hope you have some nice and quiet days.

Elizabeth said...

I just got here via OMIH's blog. Beautiful work, and lovely pictures! Keep up the good stuff and happy tet.