Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A wild ride

It's a beautiful winter day in Hanoi - the sun sparkles through the pollution and the morning looks absolutely amazing.

Riding my Vespa to breakfast, another rider came alongside and, rather than slowing down or going around me, rammed into my bike, hitting the leg of the teen pillion who was coming with me. The young guy lost his shoe, but was otherwise unharmed. And the rider who hit him? Not a hint of regret, not even the slightest look of apology. So, he just hit a kid - but so what?

Tarah, a young Canadian volunteer teaching art to street children, was riding her bike, on the way to meet us at breakfast. Stopped at a traffic light, a local woman caught her eye. Tarah flashed a smile, thinking the woman might be somebody she knew. The woman replied by calling out, in Vietnamese, "Your motorbike is ugly."

Good morning, Hanoi.

Life as an expat here is not easy. There are daily frustrations, cultural misunderstandings and crossed communications. Not so long ago, I wrote about our neighbourhood being on the verge of riot in anger over a homeless child in our care having a small accident on the street. Since then, two more incidents have occurred - the latest being a drunk man attacking one of our staff and warning that he planned to hire a hit-man to finish him off.

There are easier jobs than this, and easier paths to walk.

The lead up to Christmas and new year is always a time for reflection and self evaluation. What am I doing with my life? Have I done something worthwhile this year? How will I use my time and resources next year?

My own conclusion: 2006 has been a wild ride.

The year started with a spate of muggings - Blue Dragon kids were being robbed, sometimes at knife point, by local thugs. We put a stop to it eventually, but not before many tears were shed.

In February things settled down considerably: we moved our center into a new building and I travelled to Singapore with two former street kids, Vi and Minh. When I got back to Vietnam, I was faced with one of the most emotional cases of the year: one of our young guys made the huge decision to go into drug rehab, and he has been there since.

While I spent most of April in Australia, April to June saw the beginnings of our work to stop child trafficking from central regions to the south. That work is still in its early days, and definitely still a work in progress, but we have had a significant impact already and are well placed now to launch an official project in 2007. Battling with child traffickers was definitely one of the major events of the year.

The summer months had some rough patches: our office was burgled, and then we went through an extortion attempt that culminated in a bomb threat. We were all glad to see a resolution to that. Our swimming lessons for street kids are much happier memories of the summer months.

In August and September, I set off on my own adventure across the sea, sailing from San Fransisco to Hawaii. To summarise in two simple words: Never Again.

Since getting back to Vietnam in mid September, I have been concentrating on consolidating our growth in Hanoi, while also planning for an expansion of our work in Hue and Saigon. We opened both a residence and a Learning Center in the space of 10 days, while dealing with the hostility from our neighbours over their disapproval of street kids being given access to a chance at a better life.

A wild ride, indeed. Huge highs, and some lows that I would rather not have seen.

And now the big question: What about next year?

The low points of 2006 are not a reason for me to give up; actually, they are the inspiration for me to keep going. If people treated our kids well, and if the opportunities for them to get ahead in life were alredy there, what work would I have to do? The "lows" are not an obstacle: they are the very reason for me being here.

I couldn't have predicted most of the developments that occured this year, so I surely cannot predict how 2007 will turn out. Undoubtedly it will be another wild ride, with great joys and awful sorrows, as well as all the frustrations and difficulties in between.

Bring it on, I say.


Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for the past 6 months. It makes all the things i did for my work ,that at the time, seemed very difficult becomes insignificant. I am so happy for those kids that they are quite fortunated to be help by your organization. Sometimes in my despair moment, i could still think of people like you - always there to help , no matter what. It gives some hope in life. Keep on the good works. Those kids will grow up and have a nice story to tell their kids, and grand kids.....

Mosher said...

Life wouldn't be fun without the challenges. You have more challenges than most, so your life must be more fun!

Well, it's *some* kind of logic.

And I've seen Tarah's bike and it rocks, so the nasty Vietnamese woman can go boil her head :)