Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cold Weather February 15, 2011

Vietnam is in the tropics, which makes one think that it is always hot here, but that is not so.

In the following pictures you will see people wearing layers of coats and sweaters indoors, with hats and wool scarves over their heads. That is because there is no central heating in North Vietnam or any kind of heat in most residences and buildings, nor anywhere in Vietnam, for that matter. The hotel where we stayed in Ha Long Bay was not heated. Homes we visited were not heated. The Church was not heated. The only heating in the hospital was in ICU, but the offices and examining rooms were not heated. The room where Dr. Le performs endoscopies and colonoscopies is not heated. The convents are not heated, the guestrooms were not heated. Nothing. It may be 90º in Saigon, but in the North the highs are in the low 60s and the lows in the high 40s. All the beds have thick comforters and for some reason the room and tile floors seem colder when I go to bed than when I get up in the morning. Very expensive hotels and International businesses may have heat, but most places do not. No one complains (except for me to myself and to you who are reading this). It is just the way things are here. Somehow I knew not to complain out-loud about it. Central heating is just another luxury that I take for granted. Snow is rare here, but it has been known to happen. In North Vietnam in the winter you just get used to wearing your coat all day long, outside, at your desk at dinner, etc.

We visited another leper camp today and a home for disabled children.

We had a unique and treasured opportunity to meet with the former Archbishop of Hanoi, the Most Reverend Ngo Quang Kiet. He is highly respected among the Catholics of Vietnam. I know it was a highlight of this trip for Fr. Bình. Kim Dung said: “The archbishop is my hero.” We were an hour late meeting him because we got delayed due to a back-up at a small, river-crossing ferry. But the archbishop waited up for us until 10:30PM at the Trappist monastery where he is in residence.

Due to the distances we traveled to make all our visits that day, we were still hours from home. I finally got to bed at the motherhouse at 2am. We decided to delay the start of the next day’s activities until after lunch.

Putting together the gift packets for those at the Leper Camps.

The local pastor, and chaplain to the leprosy community introduced us and took us around to meet the residents.

One of our gifts is some “Lucky Money”, a traditional Lunar New Year’s gift. This woman has no fingers as a result of her struggle with leprosy. I eventually had to help her put the money in her pocket.

Sr. May (left) of the Sisters of Our Lady of Unity in Bắc Ninh has worked with Kim Dung and SARA for 10 years.

Kim Dung had a long and emotional conversation with this elderly woman. The video below is a brief portion of that conversation.

Video of a conversation with a woman living with leprosy.

It was often the case that I would stand patiently in the background as everyone discussed (in Vietnamese) the next steps. Eventually, someone would turn around and tell me what to do.

Kim Dung and SARA have been coming to some locations for 15 years. These two men are wearing jackets that SARA provided during previous visits.

At each leper camp there were greetings, introductions, expressions of gratitude and gracious applause. My only role was to say my one big line in Vietnamese (to thunderous applause and laughter): “Chúc mừng năm mới!” which is, “Happy (Lunar) New Year!”. Though the Lunar New Year started on February 3rd, it is still an appropriate greeting for about a month afterward.

Westerners are rare in these areas so many were eager to greet me and say hello.

Driving through the countryside we saw a lot of rice planting taking place.

These farmers are separating the rice starts and planting them in rows in the paddies where they will grow until harvest.

This farmer was happy to allow me to take his picture.

Very frequently we saw where deceased family members were buried right on the farm in a corner of the field. In that way the ancestors are always close and remain part of day-to-day life.

During a long wait at a ferry crossing we saw one vendor had a pet monkey. This young woman who volunteered with SARA, Thật, is a postulant for the Sisters of Our Lady of Unity in Bắc Ninh. She has made a new friend.

Monkeys love bananas!

Sr. May connected with this little girl at an orphanage for disabled children, which is operated by members of her religious community.

Kim Dung visits with a bed-ridden child.

The local pastor showed us how these little boys could sing the Gregorian Chant, “Salve Regina”.

We had the privilege of meeting the former Archbishop of Hanoi, the Most Reverend Ngo Quang Kiet.

Fr. Bình has great respect for this prelate of Vietnam.

Everyone knew that this was an honor for us to be in the presence of this great man.

The archbishop’s English was excellent. He told me that four of his seminarians had studied and Mount Angel and he was grateful for their formation there.

Kim Dung was delighted to have her picture taken with her hero.

Everyone got a picture with the Archbishop, even our photographer, Nguyệt Le.

The grounds of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Our Lady of Unity in Bắc Ninh.

This is the clinic that Kim Dung built on the grounds of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Our Lady of Unity in Bắc Ninh, with the help of many benefactors.

Near the entrance one can see on the left and right of the doors the plaques describing the clinic and its benefactors.

The clinic that SARA built.

The Archbishop of Portland, the Most Reverend John G. Vlanzy, also supported the construction of this clinic.

The entrance lobby is also where the pharmacy is located. I, personally, had to get some cough medicine here. (It did the trick!)
View of the Motherhouse grounds from the roof of the clinic. The guesthouse where we stayed is to the left (Fr. Bình is on the front steps talking to Huong). The church is to the right.

Some of the sisters are working on detailed embroidery.

Close-up of the hand-stiched embroidery.

Picture of final the image. The two figures to the left of the umbrella are shown in the previous detail, but in different colors.

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