International English Teaching Project

di Paola Micheli e Alessandro Vitelli

Date: 2015-10-16 - Comments: 1 - Author: - Category: Stories

Our short visit to Hau Thao resulted in two of the most memorable days of our 2 month long trip through Southeast Asia. Leaving from Hanoi, we took a 5 hour bus ride north to the city of Sapa. Once we arrived we were greeted by dozens of women and children dressed in the native clothing of the mHuong people. Although they were very persuasive, we kindly decline their offers because we had already set up a homestay through our friend Bea’s H’exchange program. Our destination was the house of Mae, a wonderfully enthusiastic and spirited Hmong woman who prefered smiling to almost everything it seemed. Due to a wedding that had kept her up celebrating early into the morning, we were greeted by Mae’s sister Shu who arranged for a taxi to drive us up to the village. We had been looking forward to getting there by motorbike or by hiking, but due to rain and our limited time we settled for the car. Once the car dropped us off we were greeted by one of Mae’s friends, Mama Si. She along with her three children walked us up the muddy and rocky mountainside to Mae’s house, which after a long trek with heavy backpacks seems like the top of the world. A couple minutes after setting our bags down in Mae’s house, Mae showed up trailed by her three little boys, Sung, Chang and Tho. Mae greeted us enthusiastically and proceeded to tell us all about the celebrations that had been going on the evening before. Within minutes we were all laughing as if we were friends. After settling in, we decided to explore the village. On our way down the hill we stopped at Mama Si’s house where we watched the newly born litter of piglets scramble to be nursed by their mother. After taking numerous pictures, Mama Si invited us in for tea. We sat around the fire while the men washed, cut and prepared the bamboo for dinner and Mama Si chopped the chicken and vegetables to accompany it. The experience was peaceful and comforting. There were no distractions as we soaked in the smell of the fire, the sound of the insects outside and the occasional dialogue between Mama Si and her family. It was a truly magical experience because it was natural and simple. I don’t know how long we were there, but on leaving I noticed that it had grown dark and the stars had come out. That evening we were greeted with the same hospitality from Mae as she prepared dinner with her husband. Her three sons warmed up to us quickly when we showed them how to play rock, paper, scissors. We played with the boys, talked with Mae and her husband and had a wonderful night in their, dark, smokey house. The next morning we woke up and decide to set up an English lesson for the boys and their friends. We drew and wrote out simple English words while the boys sat around the table and diligently followed. The children were very focused and enthusiastic about learning English and being able to draw with us. The rest of the day we spent seeing more of the village, buying some groceries for dinner and playing with the dogs and boys outside. It rained on and off the whole time, but when we were lucky enough to look outside between downpours we could see the incredible green mountainsides and brown houses that surrounded the area. On our last evening with the family, we cooked spring rolls together and shared stories. Mae’s sister in law stopped in and we made a celebration of our last night with rice wine and plenty of food. The youngest of the boys, Sung, was a champion eater and made us all laugh with his insatiable appetite. He continued to slerp down his rice after all of us had given up on fitting anymore food into our round, full bellies. That evening we all watched a superhero movie we had brought for the boys. Even though the movie was in English, the boys seemed to understand it as well we did, evidenced from their spurts of laughter and enthralled faces. The next morning we ate breakfast together and packed our bags for our departure. Before leaving, Mae dressed me in her traditional Hmong clothing and wrapped my hair about my head in the way all the women in the village had it. As the time for us to leave neared, we took pictures with the family and played our last games with the boys. We were quite saddened as we waved to the family and made our way down to where the car would pick us up. Mae accompanied us and gave us both gifts and many hugs before she put us in the car and we drove away. Had we had more time, we would have happily stayed with our new and beloved Hmong family. Of our entire trip, our short time with Mae and her incredible family was the only real experience we had of living side by side with the native people of the countries we visited. The tradition and richness of their community is intoxicating and refreshing for those of us who have lived such diverse lives. It was the exact experience we had been hoping to find on our adventure to Southeast Asia.