The Happy Now

A few years ago, Michael and I took a trip to a mountainous village near Sapa in North Vietnam. It was a long overnight journey in a near freezing sleeper train and when we arrived, it was a further overland drive to the village itself.

It was a blissful place with lovely chalets overlooking the most surreal views. We could see terraces of planting from just outside our verandah and there were men and women dressed in their tribal wear hard at work under a rather bright sun. Alongside them were bullocks ploughing the fields. It was idyll.

Later in the day, we walked out to the front of our lodgings where we were met by a group of tribeswomen eager to show us their handicraft and, really, for a natter. We took a walk down the road with them and were shown where they lived, which plot belonged to whom. They were all bright smiles and laughter.

We then asked them why some plots were bare. (We are ignorant urban folk.) It was then that more of their story came out.

Some plots were completely devoid of life; the earth was bone dry and cracked. It was an unusually warm and dry spring and the parts which could not be irrigated were left unplanted. Up in these mountains, the climate permits only one crop a year unlike the lowlands where every plot could yield at least two cycles of crops. Land left bare meant hungry mouths. 

The other story was told by one of the younger ladies with a sweet round and ruddy face. She was as cheerful as the rest but, somehow, beneath that was a speck of sadness. When I asked another lady about her, I was told that the young bullock that belonged to her had died. This put her in a lot of debt and it also left her with no help to till the land.

We didn't know what to say. Everything would seem to sound trivial. Here we were, tourists there for a day or two. We swept in to enjoy all there is to admire but we didn't have to put up with the vagaries of life on their land.

I did feel very sorry for what they had to live through but I couldn't pity them because they have something that escapes so many of us: resilience, grit. And now, as I swipe through my albums of pictures and come across my pictures of North Vietnam, I remember the beauty, the resilience and the warmth of these women.

As we celebrate International Women's Day, I hope for all that for all the mothers, daughters and sisters out there. May we live to pour sunshine where we go.

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