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Area 6 : News & Views


The longest journey starts with a single step .....................................................ancient Chinese proverb

Kathryn Watts reporting worldwide.


The Minority villages of Vietnam

When I look through the pictures of children that I have collected whilst travelling, I feel that they radiate the very energy of happiness in their faces and in their actions that I have experienced directly from them. And all from such a young age. They all appear to enjoy life so much and are involved in helping one another, inherent in the spirit of their community. They seem to have grasped concepts such as trust and sharing which at such a young age is rare in Western countries.

We managed to spend a day at a minority village. This was after a long journey down dirt track roads to an out-of-the-way place on the boundaries of a National Park. Here we stayed in a wooden hut on stilts and experienced an elephant ride through the Park. A bum-numbing experience!

I was fascinated and filled with respect for the way that the people in the minority villages lived. They were completely self-sufficient. The children herded up and rode buffaloes, women carried resources on their heads or as in the picture with baskets either side of a wooden pole on their shoulders.

This was along roads the colour of brick red, in vast contrast to the lusciously green vegetation which they grew themselves as a source of food. Clothes were washed at the riverside and people bathed. We were welcomed into this community, wandered with the women, were waved and smiled at by the children curiously staring our way.

Another community in Vietnam, outside Hoi An, again opened our eyes to a life which one could not imagine living. These people to an extent rely on the tourist trade by working hard at weaving beautiful rugs, one of which still sits proudly on my lounge floor. They make clothes, bags, statues and other ornaments, all of amazing colours and design.

The Big Chicken in the picture was a well-known symbol of this village. We wandered around through the muddy narrow paths surrounded by plants and vegetation that shadowed our bodies. Every now and then the paths would open up where a hut had been built. Many children would gather in the doorways waving at us. Mostly we were welcomed, although understandably some were apprehensive. Young children would walk past us carrying a younger brother or sister strapped to their back with a piece of cloth like in the photo. Again the close kinship was clearly visible.

We stopped to look in a hut where a family lived, after politely asking. We saw an open room where everyone lived, cooked, talked, played and slept. It was a whole new unimaginable existence to people who know so well the concept of having many rooms that make up a house, such as the bedrooms, bathroom, living room, and kitchen. It was difficult to perceive how they coped. It all made me wonder whether we, after being used to so many comforts and luxuries, could live in the same happy and contented spirit as these people.

It was in the lusciously green highlands of Sa Pa, surrounded by the paddy fields that we came across a minority village where we were invited to stay the evening, an experience which I shall never forget. The town itself was where many different tribal people lived. Their costumes, heavy jewellery and colourful attire made the place all the more alive. We were escorted around by young girls practising their English that was very good, embarrassingly unlike the few words that we had learnt in Vietnamese to get us by.

The town stood proud looking down towards the hills, valleys and mountains from where we had originally slowly climbed in a bus. The descent was quite a different matter. We took corners fast around treacherous bends. We unfortunately managed to hit another bus, however it was sorted out in minutes and we were soon taking off again, no further note of caution taken as a result. I think that this is a regular thing, and all part of the fun if you can call it that!

We spent the day walking the paths where we met young boys and girls wearing amazing costumes and carrying sticks with which they herded up their animals. We climbed down into a valley surrounded by rice and paddy fields to a minority village where we wandered around the huts and enclosed hens and chicken pens, and among the food that they grew. The house we stayed in was again one room, as shown in the photo. The wooden hut had wooden boulders inside helping to hold steady the structure. The floors were concrete and a family was sitting on pieces of chopped wood and a dog was lying on the floor. A small baby was siting in a playpen made of wood and looked up astonished when we entered. We were welcomed by the people who were most hospitable. We spent the evening talking in a group.

Another of our many experiences of the Vietnamese people was while waiting for a bus. There is no time scale in Vietnam to go by. If a bus is due in ten minutes there is no telling whether it will be ten minutes or indeed four hours. The people have such a laid back mentality to life. No frustration is felt. It is interesting in contrast to the hectic lifestyles of people in places like London, and the apparent frustration of people waiting for a train on the underground.

We began speaking to a community of people who lived in houses and small shops along the roadside. They asked us to sit with them and persistently tried to practise their English. It was amazing that although we could not communicate with each other, most of the time we managed to understand each other using sign language and shared a sense of humour through such communications and use of facial expressions. We would often all find ourselves laughing at exactly the same things. They trusted us to hold their small children while they went off briefly, they even had a go at another Vietnamese woman who was persistently trying to sell us drinks which we did not want more of after already consuming more than enough. It was a simple yet memorable afternoon, yes, all four hours of it! In the company of people who really made the afternoon special and personified the lifestyle and laid back attitudes of their culture.

The people in this country fascinated me, taking things in their daily lives as they came. No effort is ever too much for them to do things for one another, even for foreigners like ourselves. I never once remember seeing anyone moaning about hard work or the traumas of everyday life. Not even the older men who cycled us around the city on their rickshaws, in the noonday sun. They all appeared to get on with life and enjoyed every minute that was given to them. Western people might usefully live with the same patience and enthusiasm for life. I am not at all sure that affluent Westerners are more fortunate than rural Vietnamese people, for in many important ways these villagers have a quality of lifestyle that is entirely missing here, and perhaps we have much to learn from them.

............................... Kathryn Watts

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