Saturday, March 1, 2014

“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” ~ Arthur Ashe

Vietnam January 2014

The things I am feeling can't be described with words, words won't do my emotions justice.
I'll try my hardest to give you an idea though:

All the way from earth to the moon and back, take this trip a thousand times and you will get a rough estimate of how much I love these kids.
Count every grain of sand on every beach, all the stars in the universe... And that should give you an idea as to 'roughly' how much I love these kids...

I feel my heart beat even in my toes. Even before the plane touched down I was children were so close! Returning here feels like coming home. This sense of peace and ease and how all the unnatural seem natural and comfortable to me, surprises even me.
Sleeping with at least ten different types of bugs? Rock hard mattresses? Squeezing 23 people into a 12 seater bus? Khong sao! No problem!

Getting to the orphanage again was nothing short of amazing. The older children were all at school which worked out perfectly as I was able to spend more time with the younger ones..... six months since I have seen them and even though growth is slow due to poor diet, my babies had grown!

Long, a sad, constantly crying baby was running out towards me yelling my name.... smiling! Goodness me the change!

I was greeted with many smiles and hugs and kisses... by children and carers alike. Even the new carers knew who I was which was lovely.
Little Long, just under two now, took me by the hand and kept saying “Sen” and was leading me to the disabled room. Amazing how even he understood, Sen was my special little princess and how I would want to see her first..... getting into the room, my tummy was doing back flips.....

She was lying in her cot, repeatedly banging her foot against the metal rails of her cot.
She was huge! Appropriately dressed in a Macca’s outfit (where the hell did they get that from?!), I lifted her out of her cot and she was heavy.... she squirmed a bit, I cried a bit (ok, alot!) and cuddles ensued. I had a following of about 10 children all watching me... some were laughing at my tears, something they would do frequently everytime I cried!

She looked healthy and well taken care of. I must say, all the children looked happy, healthy and comfortable. I commended the carers and the Director on how well of a job they were doing....
I caught up with a few carers, surprising myself at how much Vietnamese I had retained and was able to comprehend. I was already getting playfully told off for only going to be here for such a short time. Better than nothing!

By this time, the older children were coming back from school..... I went and stood at the entrance of the orphanage, so as they walked up the dusty road, they would see me waving...... they began to trickle in.... huge smiles and “ANNA!” was heard..... when Ngan reached me, she got her cuddle and then went and ran back out the gate and began yelling to all of them ‘hurry up! Anna is here! Anna is back!” and then it was a chorus again of children running down the road, arms outstretched, calling my name, making sure I saw each of them. Can was riding his bicycle and he got so excited, he actually crashed it!

Lan Chi was one of the last to come and she realised it was me from way back and was running, yelling my name with such emotion, she had me crying before she got to me... and when she crashed into my arms, I saw that she was so overwhelmed, she was crying..... we held each other for a few moments and once composed, she let go, smiled at me and gave me another huge hug. When I left, Lan Chi gave me a card asking me to please never ever forget her. She said that she will remember me always as she loves me and I will forever be in her heart. Melt.

Once everyone was back and I had seen them all, I felt... alive. Butterflies had been replaced with pure sheer joy. If I was a bubble I would have burst.

I could not think of anything that has ever given me this feeling of pure euphoria. And my joy lay in the 84 little faces right in front of me. When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving you, a joy. I feel that with these kiddies.

When you feel someone else’s pain and joy as powerfully as if it were your own, then you know you really loved them.... I feel like this with these children. Reading back on some of my blog entries, I realised how much I was here for them. Especially for the year I was here, I think that year cemented our relationship. They have come to know me and trust me. We each felt each others pain, wiped each others tears away, I went in to fight for them with school principals, I made them own up to their mistakes when they stole, they understood limits and barriers when it came to sharing toys.... yet, they also understood I was fair, that I treated all children the same and that I loved them all unconditionally (regardless of favourites. If I couldn’t take out all of them, I wouldn't take any one.)

Even the carers observed that the children listen to me. They laughed that they don’t do that for many other people! When I brought the toys and I had 34 boys all fighting to play with the box of lego I brought..... they knew they had to share and that it had to stay in the room and not for it to disappear. I was so proud of them for sharing, packing it all up and even pulling out their drawers from their bunk beds to check for pieces underneath to return to me.
I understand their sorrow. I see the pain in their eyes and I share that through my tears. They see joy in my eyes and they share that through their smiles.
I once read that a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love; something to do and something to hope for.
My children encapsulate all these things. It is no wonder they make me so happy. I am lucky I don’t just have someONE to love, I have over 100 little souls; they give me something to do, to strive for and hope for, for them. And for me.

I have found my bliss with these children. Just thinking of their laughter, gives me courage. For me it is not about the having, but of being. Nothing to do with possession, but with enjoying. It is a warm glow of the heart at peace with itself. I always return to this when I return here to my children.

PV arrival was also nothing short of amazing. I didn’t really have a high expectation of them remembering me but again, I underestimated my disabled children and they did remember me. Ba, came running out, threw herself on me repeating my name and sobbing. The others, Truc, Cuong, Loc, Lanh, Thao.... all had the biggest grins when I approached them. The physically disabled reached out to me and squeezed my hand. Again, these kids trumped me. Hands down.

PV now have 56 residents..... when I left six months ago there were around 24.... the carers here, super women with what they have to deal with, were smiling and happy to see me. 3 carers to care for 56 residents who in reality, need 1:1 care!!!!!

Donations fund two carers there, which brings us to 5 carers in total. Ridiculous. The Directors submissions for funding for more carers have all been rejected. But I am sure you will agree with their logic that they need 11 people to work in the office on their butts all day – and I’m not just talking about their a$es.... literally smoking cigarettes all day!!!!!!!!!!!!
Time here flies and I guess I've found here what Csikszentmihalyi calls 'flow'.
I blink and two hours has passed: I'm sitting on cold tiles on the floor in the girls dorm. You can barely distinguish me from the kids in the thick crowd of little bodies.

I've brought colouring in and painting and crystal growing and making mask kits.... There is a soft buzz in the room, as the girls engage in these activities.

I have also brought a bag of make up, lipsticks and nail polish.
And then the room erupts in giggles as my girls transform themselves into 'Dep gai' : beautiful girls....

Armed with red stained lips, they plant kisses on my cheeks, inspecting the outline and giggling behind their hand. Sound of pure joy and bliss for them and for me watching them.

The boys are just as engaged with painting, Vietnamese monopoly, cards and the box of Lego. As an educator I observe the children: last time they played with this Lego was six months ago. How do they understand and compute at building structures? You can see nature at play: the ones with the brain who 'get it' and make intricate patterns and designs. The smile on their faces as they approach me and show me what they have built is so proud, filled with such a sense of achievement. Watching them brings tears to my eyes.

As New Years was approaching, many children were returning home for the week. This meant that I had to say goodbye over four days this trip which stretched it out and made it that much harder.

The boys, majority on average about ten now, are ever so cool and so won't give me cuddles anymore unless I corner them. High fives or a hair ruffle are about as close as I get now! Thank goodness my toddlers and younger boys still latch onto me so I can get my fix!

Girls, in true female form are nurturing and loving and giving.... And these girls are no exception...lots of cuddles and helping me by taking my bags and controlling the toddlers tantrums.

The older girls are getting at the pubescent stage where they have lots of questions. And the question for me was about lesbians. Took me aback a little as I never expected them to know that word but my girls all between 12-16years old are growing up.

They asked me many questions about my life back in Sydney and whether I was happy; they asked many questions about my separation with my ex partner and were trying to make sense of it.... They all still remember him as he visited a few times and I could see that they still adored him but loyalty to me was paramount so they all offered to beat him up for making me cry....

As each one left I received cards and stuffed toys and roses made from paper and jars full of paper stars and cranes they made....
My cards were very sentimental and of course made me cry as we read them... And then ten pairs of hands were all on my face wiping my tears saying 'no cry'....

Then they asked me to sit down as they wanted to dance for me.... They have never done this before as they were always so shy!
It was truly touching and beautiful- the intensity of the moment was dissipated unbeknownst to my toddlers who jumped in the middle and tried to imitate the girls dance moves... Laughter through the tears....

And then when I had to leave... We were all trying to be brave and every one was holding back tears.... Last few trips I was reciting to them 'it's not a goodbye just a see you later'.... And this departure was no different.

I came unstuck when sensitive Thanh, oldest girl there and one I share a special bond and connection with said to me 'I will miss you, I love you'.
And then my tears ran a river down my cheeks. As I looked up, all the girls were then crying, my undoing proving their undoing. Damn it damn it damn it was all I could think....

The air was thick and suffocating me, my lungs were stifled and I felt like my heart had stopped, suspended in my cheat just surrounded by pain.
Four years and it has not gotten any easier.
I went back and hugged each one of them but the sounds of sobs escalated and I knew that I had to just turn and walk out: don't linger, rip it off,quick like a band aid.

Is it over yet?
Can I open my eyes? Is this as hard as it gets?
Is this what it feels like to really cry?

The car ride back was torture.... I worked myself up so much I was dry retching and the tension went straight to my head which felt like it was getting pounded by a meat cleaver.

And in the words of Paulo Cohelo, I shall leave it here: Real love is composed of ecstasy and agony...

Lantern we lit and flew together on my last night with the words "Anna loves you all" written on it.