As I write we are careening towards Hanoi en route to catch our overnight train to Sapa where we will begin our four-day trek through the majestic terraced rice fields, over rolling hills, and deep into plunging valleys.
Regardless of what adventures may lie ahead, I think it's safe to say that every single person had a day they'll remember. We started at the Commune headquarters, where the communal chairman and his vice-chairs joined Deb Leever, the ChildFund country coordinator, to give us an overview of the projects being taken on in this incredibly remote and incredibly poor community. We heard in great detail about the exact preschool that funds this group have raised will help build before heading back into the village to see the current school and the site of its future replacement.
We arrived to find two dozen adorable little munchkins waiting with great anticipation. The look on their collective faces said to us, "who are they? Why are they here? Will they play with us? Did they bring candy?" Thankfully, we did bring sweets and we had every intention of playing with them! Imagine the cutest kid you have ever seen then multiply it by 100, put a Hawaiian shirt on him or her, and offer up some delicious chocolate coffee cookies and you've got these dudes and dudettes!
Once again we laughed, we played, and we chased. There were singing games, dancing games, chasing games, and games that involved blindfolds. Gary was doing somersaults and Nordic tracks, still in those shorts. He was about one level removed from Richard Simmons! We ran in circles, we ran around rings, and we even hopped on one foot at one point. Why? None of us are entirely certain.
After being run totally ragged, we split into two groups to meet some families in the local community. My group arrived to find a lovely family of four (plus grandpa) waiting with a warm welcome and a delicious cup of green tea. We had the opportunity to ask questions about their life, their hopes, and even their fears for the future with the father noting that his biggest wish in life is for his children to have the chance to go to university. It is amazing how quickly we grow accustomed to our lifetstyle, our luxuries, and our norms. These kinds of experiences certainly put things into perspective.
We continued our visit after lunch as the comunity and ChildFund arranged a donation ceremony to officially "hand over" the group's donation. The entire community turned out for what was a brilliant show of dance, song, and several speeches (including one from Peter, who gave his translator a real stress with his pace and giant vocabulary). Money handed over, children hugged, and hands shaken, we hopped back in our vans where we are now dodging trucks, water buffalo, and more motor cycles in an effort to make our train to Sapa in just a few short hours.
Just a quick word on vans. As there are two, each has a distinctive feel. Van A have deemed themselves "van awesome" and fill their time with sing-alongs, dancing, and paying out van b, which they have deemed "van boring." Van B, on the other hand, are referring to themselves as "van brilliant" and enjoy, as Sue put it, intellectual conversation and topics far above van A's understanding. Where do my loyalties lie? I couldn't possibly say!
Stay tuned for a great deal more adventure from this wild group of generous misfits (especially Sue and Georgia).