Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When in doubt, choose change...

Hey All!
I seriously feel like I have been here for months!
3 weeks in and so many stories, I don't know where to start! It has been eventful to say the least:
* I went and got a massage at the most expensive place in Tam Ky (a present from Dr Brett) which left me with a headache at the end. Apparently massaging up my nose was part of the deal. Then I got a head massage which entailed her grabbing fistfuls of my hair and pulling them really hard till my eyes watered.
* I think I have already mentioned that no foreigners come through Tam Ky. I went to the supermarket "Co - op Mart" and it's always an adventure going there. I am like the tourist attraction. People follow me, some go on a stealth mission and follow me throughout my shopping experience,  hiding behind shelves if I turn to look at them. Others are more obvious and are curious to see what I am buying so just rummage through my trolley. My fun was trying to decipher Viet writing and whether I was buying shampoo, conditioner, body wash or body whitening lotion.... yes, they are obsessed here with having white white skin and all their moisturizers have body whitening ingredients in them. My friend Sarah is a Goddess here as she has white skin!
* I have been meaning to ride a bicycle around Tam Ky for exercise and so far have only managed it once with the rain. But even riding a bike around here attracts me a following! It's funny when motorbikes ride past me and they look and then do a double take with a look of surprise on their faces "oh look! It's a westerner!" and they slow down and say "Hello, what's your name?". The other catch phrase they all seem to know is "Hello, how old are you?" but if you deviate from a predictable response they get all confused and have no idea what to say! When I say Hello how are you back in Viet they get all excited and laugh... it is really cute!
* I ended up getting a mild case of hand, foot and mouth disease  - or something of its kind. The babies had an outbreak of it and of course, they shared the love. My face was very attractive with blisters for about a week...... soooooooooooooo itchy!
* Back at the Baby Orphanage, the weekend I was in Hoi An, they had a very special visitor... the Vice President of Vietnam! She took a special liking to Sen and even cried when she held her. Awwww! Sen knows who to woo and when to be cute. I was abit gutted I missed her, would have been a great chance to ask her about taking Sen back to Oz! But now I know she has a connection to this orphanage and Sen made her cry, I could perhaps use it to my advantage when I start petitioning and writing letters.....
* Sen was burning up when I went in one day and picked her up. I could tell straight away she had a temp. She was grizzly and no one could figure out why.... der! So I took her temperature with an old school thermometer and it came up as 39 degrees. I showed it to the carers and they said that was normal and she was fine! I argued with them to give her panadol but to no avail. She was also wearing the normal 6 layers of clothes they put on babies here and I wasn't allowed to take any off. I then by-passed the carers and took her to the Director and told her she needed Panadol now. She listened to me and got the nurse to give her Panadol. 39 not a temp! I wonder what they consider a temp to be then?
* It is the small things here that make me send messages of thanks to whoever is up above. Some of the other volunteers bought the children fruit to eat as they do not get any fruit - unless we bring them some. As soon as they saw the plate come out, Brianna was charged and surrounded by so many little outstretched hands. The plate nearly went flying, she kept walking backwards until she hit a wall and at one point I thought she was toast. Julia then emerges with another plate and she was not as quick as Brianna, so her plate was demolished by the children quick enough to get to her. It was quite sad really. It is like survival of the fittest in there. We finally got them to sit down at tables and divided the fruit up. I did see some of the older ones who finished their fruit, go up to the slower toddlers table and steal their fruit. When I yell at them to stop that they just laugh at me and imitate what I am saying. I feel sorry for them and can't get angry.... pecking order...... all this for fruit! I think of all the fruit back at home and the children in the child care centres I have seen who 'don't like it' and we fight with them to eat it!

* I know I have mentioned before from a previous trip that they feed the children lying flat here. Brianna, who is a speech pathologist, told them she was a feeding Dr and so called a meeting with all the carers where she explained to them the mechanics of swallowing and how food travels down and if fed lying down it could go into their lungs etc. We got the carers to lie flat and fed them yoghurt and they all choked or instinctively got up to a sitting position to swallow. we asked them how it was and they said it was very difficult. really? No! How do you expect the disabled children to swallow then? It was a very successful meeting. I think they responded so well because we took the time to explain to them why it is bad. We westerners come in and tell them ' you shouldn't do that, feed the children sitting up' without ever any explanation as to why they should do that. Now they know why! And I am pleased to say that for the last week, at feeding time, all the children have been up and the disabled children, at least at an angle! Small steps....... Sen wasn't swallowing 3 weeks ago when i got here - they just lie her flat and drip the food into her open mouth until she spits half and they shovel that back in or chokes on the other half and it goes down somehow. She started swallowing this week! I been feeding her at an angle every day and every day i prop her a little bit higher and higher. Im nearly at a sitting position!

* They moved the disability room over to the other block last week and when they were doing it the Director came and asked me which room I liked best and that they would put Sen in there. I told them it didn't matter, it was the carers that made the difference, not the walls..... but I was touched that she would ask me anyway!
* A preliminary assessment on Sen shows that she has curvature of the spine - kyphosis I think is what they called it.... if we do not get this rectified, little Sen is going to be a hunchback for the rest of her life. I am told I will need to get a brace for her as now is the time I can fix it and teach her how to sit up straight and train her spine. I am having trouble finding a  brace here in Vietnam, in fact, finding any disability and OT materials for the children is almost impossible here unless we get it made from scratch. I torture Sen every morning to try and sit up straight and I hold her shoulders back to force her and she gets so cranki with me.... she swipes at me and has a whole body tantrum where she kicks her legs. Fiesty!
* Feet are considered dirty here and I was told that when you sit down on the floor, you should never have the soles of your feet facing or pointed to anyone..... I have had toe rings and anklets on since I was 16 and forget they are there. One of the first things people here notice about me are my pretty feet! It's really weird and they almost make me wanna take em off but I feel naked without them and have not been able to take them off yet! I am in an agrarian community where pedicures are unheard of unless they are elite society and they do not work in the fields. They point to my toes and anklet and then point to themselves, gesturing for me to buy them some also. When I returned from Hoi An on the weekend, they were all eyeing me out and checking my wrists to see if I added any bracelets..... They all asked me to buy them jewellery from Hoi An but here, word spreads like wild fire and if one gets something, you have 18 other carers surrounding you for them to get their piece also. It's not only survival of fittest for the children, but for the carers too!

* I wanted to do something for the carers to show that I do appreciate their hard work.... New Years is coming here and wow is it major! Picture Xmas, New Year and your birthday events all in one. That's basically what this is. Families here save up all year for this "Tet" holiday. Literally. It is the one time of year that they buy clothes, shoes, new products for the house..... celebrations go for like a week before and a week after. The entire town is decorated in yellow flowers and they sell flowers on every corner. Mandarin trees are also bought as gifts. At midnight at Tet, you go visiting other people's houses. If you are 'unlucky' and have had bad luck for the year, then you are not allowed to visit other houses! Our program managers husband died 4 months ago and so she is not allowed to visit any houses because now she is unlucky. One of my favourite carers at the orphanage got divorced and so she is also considered unlucky. Interesting! I digress... sorry! Soooooo..... I went and bought 24 hair clips, one each for the carers at the orphanage. Think of the ugliest, fake bling bling chunky hair clips you can and that is what I got. They love them. the bigger, the better. So, for Tet and for Happy New Year, I gave them a clip each after a meeting I had with them. I told them that I was here to support them in their roles but that we cannot do it without their help and cooperation. I asked them to give me feedback in regards to what they wanted us, the volunteers to do to help make their job easier, what we did to annoy them and since I was staying for longer term, I could implement changes and help tell new volunteers what works best. They were good and responded well when I told them I wanted to improve things! And then I gave them their clips.... they were so excited and I got so many 'sniff kisses'. The carers that randomly got the bigger clips with more fake bling bling on them were parading them around and thanking me telling me that I must think they were the prettiest carers since they got the best ones! I was glad they were happy. Some would not open them and said they were saving them for actual Tet to wear them then. Awwww!
* Peace Village has also been great so far. The older children are amazing and so happy to see us every time! We have been doing YOGA with them and the other volunteers have said that when they started doing it, they could not even cross their midline! And now? They can do stretches, cat poses, coordinate their movements and even do deep breathing! All these children have physical deformities and intellectual disabilities. Yoga is not an easy thing for them to do. I have no idea about yoga so we have started doing aerobics and body combat with them now too... not that I exercise and know about these either but it's easier for me to just jump around..... we pump the 'doof doof' music and punch the air and walk around in a circle marching to the beat.....aerobics Vietnam style!
I going to love and leave you all here.....

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