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in Can Tho
From Monday to Friday... Up around 5:30 am, well prepared
by the outside noise, notably that of the public loudspeakers (in every streets)
starting at 5:00. I went downstairs, switched on the coffeepot bought in Saigon.
I bought also the paper filters there, unavailable in Can Tho. Gag : the first
day, my cleaning lady emptied the used filter, washed it with the dishes and then
dried it !
shopping street in Can Tho
went to the "bathroom" and remembered, amused, its epic installation...
Replace the "Turkish" toilet by a western one ("No,
Mr Thum, the seat of the WC should not be leveled with the ground : please, fill
in this hole") and install a shower with a water mixer ("No,
Mr Thum, I do not want a shower of ice-cold water and a shower of boiling water
which cross themselves to make some lukewarm water"). It was necessary
to constantly watch the works ;)
But I could henceforth
take a shower in the morning (and another one to three others during the day because
of the heat), without pressure of water and with a very variable temperature...
I got out (dried myself just for the principle, because
anyway, with the heat and the humidity I was going to be dipped again two minutes
later) and prepared my "breakfast" tray, to bring up to my living room.
Privileged moment, during which I read the "Courrier du Vietnam" (when
one has no other media, it is a treasure) or learnt an Assimil "Vietnamese
without any trouble" (hem !) lesson.
At about 6:30 or 7:00, according
to days, I got ready : dressing (clothes remained dry a few minutes only) and
a second dose of deodorant. I closed the house : fenced door for the bedroom-office,
for the terrace and at the entrance (so many locks doubled by monstrous padlock).
Being original, I put my helmet on. I sat on the motorcycle and got ready mentally
: be attentive, concentrated. One second of inattention in these streets would
be fatal, with this traffic...
Short route (6 of my 9 schools were less than 5 minutes from
my home). The guard of the school knew me ; fortunately, because otherwise I would
have never been allowed to enter.
Among the crowd of pupils,
many enjoyed my arrival ("Look, a foreigner !") Laughter, kind
mockeries, one came to touch me and pull the hairs of my arms if one dared : that
The pupils of the bilingual classes,
them, knew me well and surrounded me, greeted me (sometimes with a very respectful
reverence, even the boys).
Sometimes also they went crazy
: "Mr Pierre , ouééh !"
exrcises at every recess :
Vietnamese kids stay in shape
waited for the first course and entered class. The class chief (a pupil) gave
"All raise !", "Good morning Mister Pierre
(The whole class stood up and repeated)
I : "Good
morning class, how are you ?"
Either I spoke a little more with them,
or I sat directly in the back of the class to attend the lesson. When it was finished,
I had an interview with the teacher, to discuss of his methods, his class, his
pupils. After this interview, often constructive, I left for another class, in
the same school or in another one.
Thursday was different,
it was my "big day". I met with all the teachers of a level for a few
hours to help them prepare and to insure the coordination ; when we had the time,
I also animated educational workshops.
Back to the normal
In Vietnam, schedules are particular : one begins
at 7 o'clock, stops from 11:00 till 13:00, then works again till 17:00 or 18:00.
So, usually I was back home around 11:00 am,
for the noon break. I ate and offered myself a small half-hour nap, in my air-conditioned
room. That was so good ! For a moment, I escaped this clammy heat which makes
the work here really painful. In the afternoon, I left for more visits or dedicated
me to the other tasks (papers, etc.).
In the evening, I stopped working
at 17:00 or 18:00 (the Vietnamese take their dinner at this time). I relaxed,
read, played with the computer or ended a small job, wrote... In Can Tho (and
in Vietnam) in 1997, we didn't have Internet yet.
At about 19:00, I exchanged
the pair of shorts (not much appreciated by the population) for trousers and a
T-shirt, and took the motorcycle again (after the perpetual fun of padlocks and
locks). Direction : restaurant. At the beginning, my destinations were varied
enough. Quickly however I had just one : the Mékong.
This small restaurant is on the Ninh Kieu
wharf, the small "backpackers - tourists - expatriates" district of
Can Tho. And yes, there are tourists in Can Tho ! The Mekong was held by a very
nice family, and of course one quickly got acquainted...
I arrived, I settled down at a table, often on the walkway (which serves as terrace
and as motorcycles parking). Not need to ask : a bottle (66cl) of BGI beer was
on the way, with a beer mug, the menu (that I made in three languages for them)
and a cold towel.
Most of the time, I didn't even have the
time to serve my beer. If they had not followed (or even jumped on) my motorcycle
at my arrival, the kids were quickly there : "Craven A! Tchoup-tchoup! Massage!
These boys and girls were 6 to 16 years old and did
not go to school. Some were really "in the street", but most had a "family"
which sent them to work all day long, mainly on the wharf because it's there that
the foreigners were. Their needs were simple : a little money (otherwise they
were beaten or did not have to eat), affection, contacts, amusement.
of people considered them as vermin, and it's true that they looked like it, notably
by their "children who live all the time in the street" attitude, without
limits, without education.
Thi, whom I nicknamed "Gaston Lagaffe"
comics character who makes all kind of blunder)... Thi proved many times I'd been
Others tried to help them.
With some other expatriates, I believe to have attempted all of what we could
think of with our weak amateurs' means : promotion of the street childrens' house,
alphabetization every afternoon in a nearby school, a teacher whom we paid to
give courses on the spot (in a restaurant which lent us a room), small jobs, visits
to their families, supply of clothes and food, etc.
worked, either because the children didn't want to restrict their freedom, or
because their parents didn't want that they waste time instead of gaining some
cents... The food ? If we didn't make them eat it in front of us, they took it
to their parents. Same for medicines ! Clothes ? They resold them at the market,
or even to the shop where we had bought them, for the tenth of their price.
But the worst was the glance of some passer-bys ! An
expatriate whom I had had to hurt one way or another had even launched the rumour
as "I loved children too much", while she had been one of the first
to try these same attempts of help ! Jealous ?
So it was a big disappointment for us
and after one year of efforts, we abandoned, just having a few comforts :
satisfaction to have tried, to have given them (another) chance to get out of
Good moments with them, because once the contact established,
they could be nice, charming, funny, helpful and rather honest... As long as one
did not tempt them too much and as long as one respected them.
as for me, it's with them that I learnt Vietnamese the most, thanks to their patience
with a foreigner who speaks bizarrely ;)
And in a sense,
that distracted me from my classes, privileged with regard to the other Vietnamese
classes and even more with regard to them. I had the impression to be even more
Phat, whose mother made work
from morning till night and
to take refuge at my table for
one moment of tranquillity
Let's resume our story of a typical day...
about 21:30, streets emptied and it was blatant in this place : it is there indeed
that the Vietnamese come to make their evening stroll, the whole family on the
motorcycle (sometimes up to 6 persons !) : they go around, and around... At the
evening end, as everybody, I went back home and once in the house (padlocks, locks...)
I offered myself a small glass of red wine for the pleasure. (Padlocks, locks...)
start the aircon, go to bed...
Saturday... Yes, work to do ! Well, actually
I had done a lot during the week, so I could take it more easy. My cleaning lady
arrived at 8 o'clock, and as I was more or less used to the noise, so I could
sleep till 7 am. A morning of administrative job, notably the establishment of
my schedule for the next week, always a true puzzle : juggle with 42 schedules
plus mine... Often nothing to do in the afternoon but rest.
On Sunday, up
at 7 o'clock most of the time, for a holiday... Most of the time. It was not rare
(once on three) to be asked for job-related activities : meeting, extracurricular
activity... These often beginning at 7 o'clock in the morning !
And the rest, will you ask me? Well, daily life, including :
go to the post office to look for my mail, go buy food (we have a small "Seven
Eleven" which even has some Gouda cheese, some ham and Nutella chocolate
!) go order drinks (brought at home), etc.
I often took advantage
of my routes between schools to make these common small things, which often took
here another shape or another sense than in Belgium.
activities? Limited. Strolls, see friends...
No way to go
to Saigon often : far, exhausting, expensive... And little interesting (big polluted
and congested city). I preferred to stay in my nice town and to take advantage
of the quarterly meetings to go back to civilization (which one, anyway ?)
went several times for a stroll by boat :
small canals (arroyos),
And appreciate a good meal in an orchard,
With the family of the owner.
will be the object of a page too...
Page créée le 27 novembre 1998 - Mise à jour le
13 juillet 2002
Pierre Gieling - tous droits réservés