Sunday, March 13, 2016

International Women's Day, March 8th 2016

How lovely to be in Vietnam once again on International Women's Day! As with every holiday, celebration or anniversary, the Vietnamese create a very festive day to honour their women. Women are honoured in their homes by husbands, sons, fathers, uncles and at work by co-workers, bosses and each other!! Flowers, the expected and most usual gift, appear everywhere on the streets. Vendors peddle everything from single roses to elaborate assorted bunches and breathtaking arrangements.

I spent time on Women's Day and over the days since, in reflection, grateful for all the women in my life, and in particular,  all the strong, creative, dedicated women whom I have met through my work and adventures here in Vietnam.

Etched in my heart is the brief time that I spent with women in a brick-making facility. The women work from 7 am until 2 pm daily with no breaks. They earn the equivalent of about $150 dollars a month. But they were proud, cheerful and very welcoming. Quyen and I were invited into the facility where we were enticed to "haul bricks" with them. They laughed when I grabbed small piles of wet clay bricks and added them to the carts heading for the kiln. I gasped as I watched them shove the trolley weighing at least a ton, by hand into the furnace. Such big smiles of accomplishment when we praised their work and we laughed together about their strong muscles and my flaccid old ones.

Another image from that day remains with me. The woman pictured below is about 65 years old. She was our hostess on a visit to Dai Loc. Wife of our host, she was not introduced, but smiled in welcome. While we went to view their considerable holdings outside of the town, she stayed home to cook and not until we were all seated and served did she shyly join us at the table. The house was large and airy accommodating our hosts, their son, his wife and three boys. But she cooked as her mother and grandmother had cooked, outside, preparing and chopping the food on a banana leaf and using a charcoal burner.

Not only are they trojans when it comes to physical work, many women in Vietnam are now also very astute business women, buying and selling real estate and running large factories and companies.

Yes, no doubt about the strength of these women who in a very real way are the backbone of the country.  But it is in the end, family, which is the focus for most Vietnamese women. Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters all caring for one another from one generation to the next.

I have also been proud of the young women who have joined us on this Journey of the Heart. Bruce's granddaughter Keryn shared her knowledge of nutrition with staff of both Reaching Out and Children's Education Foundation. It warmed my heart to see her reaching across the gap of language and culture to promote healthy lifestyles for young girls and the disabled.

Most recently Bruce and I have been hosting Ann Wittmeyer, the daughter of a US Army Veteran. She came to Vietnam to walk in her father's footsteps. Denny Wittmeyer served in Nha Trang in 1966 and 1967. Not only did we visit his sites there but here in Hoi An, Ann joined us on visits to the home of a disabled child, Reaching Out Craft Shop and Tea House, the Hoi An Home for the Aged and the Kianh Foundation ... a school and rehabilitation center for disabled children. Everywhere we went, Ann brought her wide smile, gifts and financial donations.

Yesterday I was reminded of the grace and elegance of Vietnamese women as I watched a small troupe of Cham dancers at the Cham Towers in Nha Trang. These relics remain from the 1000 year era of Cham domination. An ethnic group, whose religion is a hybrid of both Hindu and Islam, is endeavouring to maintain their culture.

And so my dear women, I salute you, my sisters, my soul sisters, my daughters, my friends, my colleagues. I am grateful for your companionship, your generosity and your grace. I thank you for making me smile!

And perhaps I can make you smile....this is a typical Vietnamese male. After a brief introduction on his drum, he switched on some recorded music and attentively supported the dance troupe.

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