Monday, February 07, 2011

Family and friends

Tet (Lunar New Year) in Vietnam is a very important time of year for all people. The poorest child, the most powerful banker - all celebrate Tet by returning to their 'homeland' in the countryside and spending time eating and drinking together.

Family first, but friends come a close second. Especially on the 2nd and 3rd days of the new year, everyone goes visiting their distant relatives and best friends. It's a reasonably formal occasion; suddenly all the men in Vietnam are wearing ties and suits, even some of the teenagers!

My own Tet was very quiet. I am bound to stay at home in Hanoi over the holiday because of my 4-legged children (don't you think they look like me?).

I did my own fair share of visiting / receiving visitors, although I didn't go so far as to donning a tie. Some of the staff invited me to their homes to eat with their families (it's aaaaall about eating), and some of our older kids, who now live independently, came to visit me at my house. These are the simple yet profound moments that make Tet in Vietnam so memorable.

There's one particular family that I visit each Tet. As Blue Dragon has grown larger over the years, I can't know all of the families personally, but this is one I've known for almost 7 years.

It's a family of 7 sons raised by their Grandmother near the Red River in a slum area known for its drugs and crime. The youngest of the 7 sons drowned in the river shortly before I came into contact with the family; at that time, the oldest son had already been sent to prison, then aged 17. He's 24 years old now.

He's just been released - I met him for the first time a few days ago - and 3 of the other brothers are currently in drug rehab centres. We helped them in the past to attend a very good rehabilitation service, but on their release they found it too easy to drift back into smoking heroin to dull their pains. They're wonderful people, and I deeply regret that I couldn't help them straighten their lives out. It's probably my greatest failure since starting Blue Dragon in 2003.

That leaves just 2 surviving brothers out of 7 who have never been imprisoned and addicted to heroin. Their lives have been incredibly difficult. Their mother is in prison - I've never met her, she's been away such a long time - and their father, also addicted to heroin, died in 2007.

The brothers have mostly been raised by their beautiful grandmother, who deserves an award for all she's done. I cannot imagine how she must perceive the change in Vietnam over the years; having lost nearly all of her family to drugs must be the most alien concept, but she keeps on doing all she can. She loves her grandsons dearly.

And so the best meal of my year was with Grandma and the 3 brothers, sitting on a straw mat on their floor. I took a photo of the meal before we started. Grandma had obviously spent the whole morning preparing it, and throughout lunch she was devoted to making sure I ate as much of it as humanly possible.

After lunch, Grandma pulled out some folders of family photos and we looked through together - at images of the youngest brother, now gone; at pictures of weddings, birthdays, and happy times; and at relatives now imprisoned or passed away.

I think that Grandma simply wanted to reminisce; and for me it was an honour to be 'let in' to so much of her family history.

For the 2 younger brothers, Blue Dragon will keep on helping them with their schooling, and I hope that in a few years time they'll be in good jobs and well able to look after themselves. Their oldest brother will need some help now to come to grips with living back at home - Hanoi has changed an awful lot in 7 years - and then some assistance to find a job.

And although Grandma doesn't quite fit in so neatly to our goals as a Children's Foundation, I'm pretty sure we'll keep finding ways to support her, too.


Terynn said...

I LOVED this post. Profoundly touching. It is an honor to be let into people's lives.

Bless you and the work of your hands in the new year.

Van Kim said...

Intense i love this post , Michael !

Anonymous said...

The love you share will never return void.. it will have fruit in those that receive your love.. keep on giving that love.. lovely post, thanks - Bless you all with all your needs met - Jean Wethmar