by Paul Wicker
This was my third trip to Vietnam Friendship Village to attend the biennial international planning meeting. It has become a bit of a routine process. You see old friends — members of the international committee, Village residents and staff. There are two days of formal meetings that produce the next two-year plan.
Things were pretty normal up to that point, but then came a surprise party. It was hosted by some of the Village residents and foreign volunteers. This was, without exception, the best party I had ever experienced in Vietnam. The menu consisted of Lê Văn Đô’s mystery punch, dumplings wrapped in leaves (Bánh bột lọc) made from a recipe supplied by Hóa Bùi and Hang, and — the pièce de résistance — crepes coated with sugar and honey, preparation of the latter supervised by French volunteer Julie Duvert. I believe that I hold the record for the number of crepes consumed due to the efforts of Nguyễn Long who made sure that my plate was never empty. We all had a great time, sharing food, singing and communicating through language as well as non-verbal means.
The Vietnamese are always asking you to sing your favorite songs, so after the delicious meal, it came time for the “Voice“ competition. German Committee members Rosemarie Höhn-Mizo and Brigitte Mueller kicked it off by singing “Auf einem Baum ein Kuckuck” and “Die Gedanken sind frei,” both songs with a special meaning. The first one is like a children’s song, but one can also see the cuckoo as a symbol of freedom and the huntsman as a symbol of oppression. Japanese partner Shige Ahara sang “Smile” and the international duo of Shige Ahara and Auguste Bechler sang “What a Wonderful World.” Auguste Bechler, Alain Bonnet and Julie Duvert formed a French trio to sing “Aux Champs Elysées.” The Vietnamese villagers sang “Trái Đất Này Là Của Chúng Mình” (“This World is Ours”) and Mai Ngô sang an American pop song (from the Disney film Frozen, if I’m not mistaken).
Then it was crunch time for the Americans. Don Blackburn claimed that due to fatigue he couldn’t remember the words to any song unless there was a Karaoke machine. It was going to be up to me to uphold our national honor in the sing-a-thon. I racked my brain for several minutes and the only thing that popped into my head was, “Home on the Range.” I remembered the first stanza, but the next hurdle was difficult for everyone: I can’t sing. It was pretty embarrassing, but thankfully the crowd was in a forgiving mood.
After the evening was over, the members of the international committee realized that we had learned an important lesson from the party. We have always referred to the young residents as “kids” or “children.” The residents hosting the party are now young adults and it is time to make some changes that reflect that reality and take advantage of their skills and capabilities.
A big thanks to Long Cảnh and Julie Duvert for organizing this splendid gathering.
by Paul Wicker
I have returned to my home in Van Canh Viet Nam
To the place called Viet Nam Friendship Village
This is where my family is
These are my brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandchildren
Home is where you are loved and love in return
We are all the same people
No matter the language, culture or appearance
I have known this since I first came to Viet Nam Friendship Village
I have arrived
I am home