The 21st Century is a time when the necessity of us to combine our forces to create change is growing. Extreme inequalities in the distribution of wealth mean that almost 3 billion people live in poverty, surviving on less than 2 USD per day.
I found this as a reality during my time in the Fighting with the Poor Program in One World Institute, Norway. Coming fresh from my urban life, with a nice steady office job, I never actually imagined this as a reality somewhere in the world, but merely as some numbers and statistics on official reports.
I used to think that my grandparents lived all their lives in the country side, where life is hard, so after all not everybody has the opportunity to live in the city… but we all survive in the end.
It was around 4:30 pm in the afternoon, at this time of the day we were usually looking for places to stay for the night; this day we have been riding our bikes for around 10 hours (as usual) and we still had some kilometres to go to reach the next town and look for accommodation. We were still in the middle of beautiful jungle which surrounds most of the Ho Chi Minh road, when suddenly a flat tire made us stop cold.
It was the second time during our travel of 1500 kilometres in which a front wheel had failed us. The first one, luckily happened close to a village so fixing it wasn´t a problem at all.
We started to set up the camp in an old abandoned outpost since the Vietnam War time, while the other drove full speed looking for help. English is an issue in small Vietnamese communities so to make it easier for us to explain and for people to understand we took a picture of the flat tire to show to people.
Mountain Village on the Ho Chi Minh Road
Many tries and nobody felt so eager to help, some road construction workers where even mocking our bad luck. An hour went by, it was starting to get dark and the rain was stronger; all of the sudden, as we where placing our tent a vietnamese guy came to our rescue with not much introduction he started to fix the tire and later on our team mate came back, he succeeded in finding a small convenience store and the owner set up a price, they agreed and he took off to help before our team mate even finished telling him the location. A good guy and a fast motorbike tire changer.
Our host in his workshop
As he was finishing the job we explained by signs our intentions of camping in the old building; he didn’t agreed and very kindly just waved to us to follow him home. We knot our heads in agreement.
We drove together and reached his place: a small shop/house where him, his wife and son lived on the backside while their shop was the front part of their home.
As you may imagine three foreigners in a small Vietnamese village in the middle of the mountains was a big event. Kids were following us, people were laughing and waving as we approached the entrance of the house. We sit in the small porch and waited for instructions from our hosts, we were wet and cold from driving down the hill, but happy and relieved to find a place to spend the night.
What started as a big problem became a great experience. The shop owner and his family are great people, they put a roof on our heads for a night and invite us for a nice meal together with them. All of us tried to communicate on one way or another. At some moment one of us was even speaking Spanish trying it instead of english, but it didn’t workout so well.
Fish, rice, and soup was the menu for that night and I can tell you that was one of the best meals we had in South East Asia.
Although communication was rough everybody had a good time that night, we laugh and share as much as we could.
The family called the police, mandatory for families in Vietnam, to inform the authorities when foreigners are spending the night. They came took pictures of our passports and afterward left, promising to come back in the morning to make sure we kept on moving the next day, it was a bit strange but I guess rules are rules.
Village children coming to know us
That night two of us slept in a wooden bed with no mattress and the other in a somehow “beach-chair” covered by a mosquito net. Little but enough to get a good night sleep.
Next day we packed our bags and out host gave us some cookies for breakfast. We thanked them deeply and kept on driving down to Saigon through the Ho Chi Minh Road.
All in all this family’s generosity will remain in our minds for the rest of our lives.