It was at last time to return to the center, returning to my family and community in Hue. This Monday morning in Da Nang, before hopping on the bus back to Hue, was something more of a solemn goodbye. I got a good night's rest once again, awakening from bed to the sounds of Bach playing with my uncle in the room and shouting for the T.V. The weather was still cloudy and humid as it has been for quite some time. Today, Bach had to go to the day care this morning, his mother taking him over. "See you in three years Bach" I told him, patting his head. I'm still not sure if he understood me, but he smiled back, holding my hand for one last time for a while. I ate a quick breakfast, the bus back to Hue scheduled at around eight fifteen, a bus just like the one I took on the way to Da Nang. I said farewell to my uncle and his wife, telling them that it would not be too long before seeing each other again (especially now that my family plans to go back). We called a taxi over, Vinasun the company was. What was interesting was that we bought our ticket right before the bus entered, which was lucky because if we had missed that bus in the morning, we would have had to wait until four in the afternoon. Before hopping on the bus, I took a chance to take one more look around, admiring the beautiful city of Da Nang, breathing in the air. I'd definitely come back.
The ride back was mellow, filled with napping, reading, and laying around. The whole trip back was actually an hour longer than usual, as there we made a pit stop at a restaurant for an hour long. Upon seeing the banners, signs, and architecture of the houses, I sat up anticipating my return to my home away from home. Before heading the center, I decided to make two stops, lunch, then to one of the markets to buy a special something for someone. I bought a decorated green sun-hat for Vung, the child that I accidentally hurt while playing one of the games with the children. With a full belly and a clear conscience, I rode back into the center, the children napping at the time. It looked as clean and beautiful as it always has been since I've entered the center, the center, the children still keeping up with their daily chores.
"Alright Ben, have a good time, and rest" my uncle Duyet told me, just before riding out of the center to tend to his business. I was restless, unable to nap. It was around one o'clock, me having an hour to relax and also prepare for my class for the students scoring below average. Having been riding over from Da Nang this morning, my morning class was canceled for the primary schoolers. I must comment that cancelling classes for these reasons do bug me very much, having planned lessons for specific classes, but having to push things back do to scheduling that I cannot control (my uncle planning much of when I enter and leave all the places that I go to in Vietnam). As I stepped outside of my room to begin my class, I saw some familiar faces.
The two new children to the center, Vung and her cousin (whom I forget the name of) were sitting on the walkway with their mothers. "So what did you do?" said Vung's mother, staring right at me. I spent that five minutes of time before class explaining what happened, my sorrow, and handing Vung her gift, which she gladly accepted. The most interesting part of the conversation actually was not just about the accident, but the frustrations and difficulties that the two new children were having living at the center. "They miss home too much and cry every night" said one of the mom's. "Ben, what do you think?" they asked me, "do you miss your family being so far away?" "Well... I do, but I understand I have a responsibility to my future and ensure that I turn out well not just for my parents, but for myself, and the ones that I love outside my family" I replied. I did also express my condolences, saying that it is common to miss home, especially if moving to place where you will call home for your whole childhood. My brothers greeted me from the house, asking me if my trip to Da Nang was fun, and also what I did. I told the mothers and children that I would be back to talk further after class, heading down to all the houses to call up the children for my class (many of them just waking up from their nap).
At last I began the class, the children looking a little tired upon waking up. My goal of this last month of teaching at the center was to focus on speaking, and that is exactly what I did with this class. After giving them this week's vocabulary, I urged them to speak with me about themselves, introducing themselves to the class, and forming sentences with the vocabulary I had given them. I saw much improvement in their grammar, giving more confidence to me in my teachings thus far. After two hours elapsed, I ended the class, eager to go greet the older girls house, the Anh Dao house, where I would be eating at for the week. Right after walking down the steps coming out of the library, I saw the moms and the two new children standing with the surrogate mother of the house, Ms. Hen, the girls of the house, and the accountant of the center. My brothers from the older boys house were also watching after on the porch of their house, though all turning their eyes to me as I walked towards the two houses (which are about twenty steps from the entrance of one another. My heart sank. I knew exactly what they were talking about.
The crowd at the front porch of the Anh Dao houses greeted me, asking me how my travels were, and saying that they had cooked lunch for me (which I was unable to eat as they were asleep the time I entered the center). The accountant (shame I haven't remembered her name yet) asked me to tell my reasons about living and traveling away from parents, definitely in order to persuade the mothers to allow their children to stay at the center. I told them my story, my reasons, my passion for my family in taking the risk of living and traveling far away. "You know, although being away from your family can make you sad, you have to think about the opportunities and benefits that you provide on both sides" I told them. "If you love your family, you do whatever it takes to ensure that not only they can live comfortably and provide for themselves, but that you can secure a future of prosperity so that you can help them and others that you love" I continued, "sure, I understand that you miss them, I would too, but you have to also think about what you can provide for them if you do stay here."
We began our dinner for the day, of which this particular house eats very early (five o'clock in the afternoon!). The sisters were very eager to talk to me, teasing me even, telling me I had to eat all the food they cooked and banning me from helping them clean up or cook. During the dinner, Mrs. Minh (her wedding on the 3rd of September) came down to talk to the mothers, as well as Eva, the french volunteer, both concerned for the status of the two new children. They debated, the mothers joining us for the dinner as well. After a while we all became quiet, us children I mean, the adults arguing back and forth. Vung's cousin wanted to leave, her mother concerned for her safety and not certain that her daughter would be able to go to school comfortably while at the center. Vung too felt homesick, saying that she and her mother really missed each other. By the time we finished and cleaned up the dinner table, all of us in the house went off to the front porch to decide on this matter - to stay or to go. All the older girls tried their hardest to convince the two girls, telling them that the sorrow will go away once they get used to living at the center. At last, Vung, decided and told to her mother that she wanted to stay, saying that she wanted to go to school near the center, and work hard so she could support her mother in the future. My heart lit up then, surprised that she had the courage to tell that to her mother, who was still a little hesitant. I knew in from glancing at Vung's mother's eyes that she understood Vung's decision, tearing up a bit. Our attention then focused on Vung's cousin, who was clutching her mother as we, me, the girls, and the employees of the center faced them. "So what will it be?" said the accountant, her voice and tone sounding almost as if it was an ultimatum. It was tense at that moment, all of us staring at the two. "She will leave with me," said the mother, "she is too homesick and cannot stay here, I regret." We all agreed on the matter, wishing the two well, and giving them a proper sendoff. I watch Vung in particular as she waved goodbye to her cousin and her cousin's mother, seeing her look a little sad, but at the same time comfortable with her decision to stay in the center. We all let out a sign, and I said goodbye to the girls' house, heading down to the houses of the younger children, eager to catch up on the events of the weekend.
Another downer, Phuoc, the child who was crying the week before, had left the center yesterday with his mother. The children told me that he missed and his mother missed each other tremendously, Phuoc being an only child, and his father having passed away when he was young. Pity, I wanted to talk to him further about staying in the center. I sat near the entrance of the center, sitting with the young children thinking about the course of this day, feeling sad over the loss of two of the new children to the center. Its a tough decision for people to make I know, not everyone is able to make that decision to give their children to strangers to take care of, regardless of how attractive and comfortable the new home may seem.
The children told me the last weekend was normal, rainy, and full of the same activities that they do all the time. One special treat was that Mr. Van or Bac Van, and his wife, Mrs. Ngoc or Co Ngoc, came to the center on Saturday to meet the children and the director. They both have accomplished much in their lives, for France, and for Vietnam (I will talk about them in another entry). They both are benefactors for the center and have continuously helped it over the years and are working to expand the center even, amongst many other projects in Vietnam. The rest of the day was full of catching up, playing with the children, watching a Korean drama dubbed in Vietnamese, and relaxing back in my home away from home away from home in Hue. When I headed back, I did some more reading, deciding to sleep a little bit earlier, tired from all the talking, the pain of losing loved ones, and the running around. I was happy that Vung decided stay, especially after the fact that I caused her pain. Thinking over her decision put a smile on my face, right before I settled in to snooze the night off.