The worldwide Augustana College experience

Mekong Delta

I know that I’ve been blogging a lot, but we’re moving so quickly from city to city that I probably leave out 95% of the things we do. On Sunday, our group traveled to the Mekong Delta. The people there are largely called “the boat people” and it’s no wonder why– I saw some of the most colorful, diverse boats I’ve ever seen. Every house was located on the water (literally half the house was on stilts in the water). Boats are a way of life for the people who own them– wake up at 4:30 and hop into your boat to sell your wares at a floating market, work in the afternoons to support your family. People save up for years in order to afford a boat that will be their sole source of transportation and income [pretty jarring when you realize that most teenagers are disappointed if not outraged if they do not get a car around the time their 16th birthday rolls around].

This trip really made me reflect on how lucky we are as Americans. Every market we’ve gone to, we’ve slid over a 100,000 VND note and asked for change for our $7,000 pair of chopsticks (or whatever the vast price difference is). As if we couldn’t afford to pay $5 instead of  $0.35. I’ve seen people work harder in the last few days than most people work in their entire lives: 65 and 70 year old women rowing their boats to the market, 3rd graders going to school for only half a day so they could help farm in the afternoons, and their conterparts trying to sell gum on the streets of the larger cities in order to send the change they make every day back home to their mothers. Here am I, 21 years old and on the trip of a lifetime, complaining about spending 12 hours traveling from site to site on the DMZ. Life’s rough.

The trip to the Mekong gave me a fresh dose of perspective. Many of the white collar workers I encounter on the trip are only white collar workers because their families worked their tails off to get their son or daughter there. The families here are much less afraid to throw support at one another and show their affection. At our home stay (which we did en masse in a house attached to some bungalows) we got to witness the way one family interacted. Yes, the TV was on–though only in the background. Instead of eating while zoned out in front of the TV, we all ate together on a porch perched half-way over the river. Afterwards, we lounged in hammocks and talked until after our home stay family probably wanted us asleep. I hope that 10 years from now I won’t remember the rustic bathrooms or bug nets over my bed. I hope I remember the comforting, relaxing feeling of bonding and laughing outside with the people I care about in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

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