Wow. So when I arrived at the airport and made it through immigration, I was met by a crowd of Vietnamese faces, none of which looked like they were waiting for me. I made the mistake of walking past the waiting crowds of families and into the swarm of awaiting taxi drivers. Man! I never felt so attractive, and not in a good-looking kind of way. In a "do I have money bags tattooed on my forehead?" kind of way, which let's face it, of course I do: well-fed white girl with tons of baggage and a "help me" expression. Natural taxi meat. I thought I was gonna have to try out my khong on them when a friendly dude approached me with a sign that said "Jessica Lee". How did he know?
He led me to a mini-van and I climbed inside with a woman who then became my first friend in Vietnam, whom we all call Mama. She has been working for the company for about 15 years, and yet speaks maybe a dozen English words, none of which either of us could think of on the drive to the house. Now I must admit, I had no idea of any of this at the time. No idea who she was, no idea where we were going, no idea where the kids were. I was here for kids, right? Um. Nevermind. I am suddenly completely distracted by the sights all around me: safe in the car, I was free to ogle all the all the rows of tiny shops and towering buildings smashed together in impossible proximity and the people, coupled together on motorbikes, merging and separating together like one giant two-wheeled traffic amoeba, little horns beep-beeping merrily, while they all zoomed into certain death and somehow avoided each other and went on to another near miss. Girls and boys on a bike, boys and boys on a bike, parents and kids on a bike, grandma and baby and kid on a bike?! And so on. Every once in awhile I'd spot one person to one bike. Selfish punks, I thought. Turns out it's a nighttime thing. Today most everyone was going it alone. Maybe it's a workday thing.
Anyway, all of a sudden we slow way down, edge our way into on coming traffic, and turn left into what looks like the outdoor seating area of a sidewalk cafe. Oh my god, screamed my head, save the children! But the seas parted and we drove up a little street that I hadn't noticed, up to the curve in the curb where there was a little iron gate. We all worked to drag my stuff inside (which really, there wasn't that much of) and we're in this gorgeous house. I mean really gorgeous. Startling. Dark wood on the floors and furniture, obscenely high ceilings, long curving staircase. For the next hour or so, Mama pulled me around by the hand showing me extremely helpful things until I wanted to kneel down and thank her for making me feel so normal. How to lock the doors. How to turn on the AC in my room. Where we wash our laundry. Things I totally needed to feel in control of my world again. All in pantomime and a few key words. "Okay? Okay?" Very fun. I was so tired, and yet here we were, me going though drills of undoing the padlock through the little door on the gate, Mama on the other side, locked out, trusting me to do it right.
And then, they were gone, and I was alone. And somehow very awake. I decided to unpack, and discovered the amazing puddle of exploded shampoo. I spent the nest few hours tentatively hanging up a few clothes, wiping shampoo off of my sneakers and out of my books, throwing away ruined bags of Yogi tea (aw, man) and doing a little jig when I realized Kenny had replaced the wad of cotton at the top of the Tums bottle (you saved the tums!).
And then I fell asleep.
A quicker jaunt through day two, in highlights:
-miscommunication funnies, like:
Mama: "Okay? You Hep B?"
Me: "What? Hep B?!... oh, happy! Yes!"
Me: "In America, the police will pull you over if you're not wearing your helmet."
Max, wide-eyed: "They pull you off your motorcycle?? Do you get hurt?"
-being pulled to the market by Mama after I told her that I had no towels or alarm clock, discovering the amazing market and then coming home and realizing I had just bought two big fluffy towels and an alarm clock for a total of about $5
-meeting the kids and the mom, being totally impressed with how smart, funny, and modern they are. And being so, so grateful that we get along fine and what's more, I really like them so far.
So tomorrow they have a picnic thing with other families in their company and then I'm coming over around noon... not sure what for yet, but I do know we get to go to the river house on Sunday. Yay! Yay for life! Yay for change! Yay for all you can learn in a day!